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5th August 2001
THE CERTAINTIES OF COMMUNION.
When I was a student minister forty years ago, one responsibility every Sunday afternoon, was to take my portable communion set, with its four glasses, little bottle of communion wine, small silver tray and box of communion bread and visit the home of Mrs Mary Patterson who lived with her daughter Mrs Rosa Thorpe. Mrs Patterson was 94 and her daughter seventy. With one of the elders of the church, I would visit, spend some time chatting about the church they could no longer attend, read the Scriptures, and lead into the service of Holy Communion. The Elder would share in the readings and the prayers, and I would distribute the emblems of the Holy Communion. After prayers of intercession we sometimes sang a hymn before going to the next home where some member may be ill. During the week, the portable communion service went with me into hospital or reformatory wherever I was visiting members.
I will still take my portable communion box with its glasses and silver tray with me when I visit the sick or those prevented from attending. The regular partaking of Holy Communion is one of the essentials of the believer's life. When on holidays in the outback of Australia near no church at all, one Sunday morning, my wife and I stopped the car, and by the roadside shared the Lord's Supper together. The teaching concerning the Lord's Supper was in decline in the three denominations that compose the Uniting Church in Australia long before Union. It is not surprising that members of the Uniting Church have less of an understanding of this Sacrament than members of other denominations. There are some great certainties concerning the Lord's Supper we should remember.
1. THE CERTAINTY OF THE LORD'S SUPPER.
One of the ten top events in the life of Jesus was what happened after the Passover meal had been shared in the Upper Room, during the last night of His life. On the first day of Passover, the disciples asked Jesus if they should go and prepare the Seder for Him. He told them to meet a certain man in whose house they would remember the release of Israel from Egypt. Jesus told them to say, v18 "The Teacher says, "My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'"
This Seder or Passover, was the annual meal of remembrance for Jews in how God delivered their nation from slavery in Egypt. After this meal, Jesus instituted a simple meal known ever since as The Lord's Supper. There is here a connection between the Old Testament and New Testament, between prophecy and fulfillment. It is about God's great acts of liberation and deliverance. As the Passover reminds Jews of the last meal before their deliverance from Egypt's slavery, so this last meal of Jesus before the Cross, reminds us our liberation from sin. One was through the blood of a sacrificial lamb and the other was through the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is the Lord's Supper, because He instituted it and invites us to attend. v26 "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you." He has instituted it for our good. Partaking of Holy Communion is not an option but a necessity.
We share it on the Lord's Day. The early Christians gathered on the first day of every week, Sunday, the day of His resurrection, to celebrate the Lord's Supper. His supper on His day. Martin Luther and all the Reformers except Zwingli, taught that Communion should be held on the first day over every week. Holy Communion was celebrated weekly. Rev John Wesley not only went to Holy Communion every week, but insisted on weekly observance of the Lord's Supper. From a reading of John Wesley's diaries, for over 50 years he averaged partaking of the Lord's supper four times every week. No wonder one of his published sermons is called "The Duty of Constant Communion." It was "the Lord's Supper for the Lord's People on the Lord's Day." But during the 19th century the Methodist practice of weekly communion declined to fortnightly or monthly. Both John Calvin and John Knox urged weekly observance of the Lord's Supper. Only the shortage of ministers to celebrate the Lord's Supper in early Scotland gave rise to infrequent observance, although the early Presbyterians would celebrate the Lord's Supper in their local church only once a month or once a quarter, they frequently went to join in with another church if it happened to be their turn.
All three of the denominations that make up The Uniting Church in Australia, came into Union with a decadent practice. It is pleasing to see a growing concern to have more frequent communion within the Uniting Church. I expect our Chaplains and pastors should be taking Holy Communion with them with they visit absent members. Central to all our ministry should be the regular observance of the Lord's Supper as a means of God's grace. It is a certainty beyond argument or question.
2. THE CERTAINTY OF HIS AUTHORITY.
Jesus said on that last night on earth as He took some bread and a cup of wine, "Take and eat, this is my body…." "This do in remembrance of Me." This is a command: "take", "this do" It is not given as an onerous command but as a command to help us. It is saying that Jesus Christ is Himself the Christian's spiritual food. In taking and eating we are involved. He gives, but we must receive. To take worthily requires penitence and faith. It was the same when we first received Jesus as Saviour: we received Him by penitence for sin and faith in Him as Lord. It is a two way process: He commands and we obey; He gives and we receive. The New Testament pattern of worship was to worship every day. Acts 2:46 "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people." Their prayed in each other's homes, and worshipped in the Temple.
That is why Wesley Mission conducts some 50 services every week. There are many at weekday lunchtimes, weekday evenings and early mornings as well as on Sundays. We offer worship when people need it. The New Testament church was multi-cultural and multi-racial. At Wesley Mission members come from forty different lands of origin, have different coloured skins, different cultural backgrounds, different racial backgrounds. In Jesus Christ there is neither north nor south, east nor west, Jew nor Greek, educated nor unlearned, male nor female - all are one in Him. Here is the alternative, radical life-style. In the Church we have become radical, gone back to our roots, and we are one.
3. THE CETAINTY OF HIS FORGIVENESS.
Jesus said at this table: v28-29 "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Those words stick: "for many, for the forgiveness sins" Jesus shed His blood as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. That was to be remembered by Christians as the Israelites remembered the blood of Passover lambs on Egyptian houses preserved them from death. The symbol of shed blood for their sins preserved believers. Christians remember this every time they meet round the Table. These are the vivid reminders of the vicarious act of Christ: the giving of His body and the shedding of His blood.
The Lord's Supper is called a "Eucharist" from the Latin word which means "thanksgiving." It is a celebration of liberation from sin as real of as Jewish liberation from the bondage of Egypt. Jesus described Himself as John 6 "the living bread which came down from Heaven. .. Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, just as the scriptures says, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat". I am telling you the truth, what Moses gave you was not the bread from Heaven; it is my Father who gives the real bread from heaven. For the bread that God gives is He who comes down from Heaven and gives His life to the world...I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry, he that believes in me will never be thirsty...I am telling you the truth: whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they died. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. The bread I give him is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live." John 6:31-51
4. THE CERTAINTY OF HIS PRESENCE.
Different Christians have tried to explain it in different ways. Roman Catholics speak of the bread and wine becoming the real flesh and blood of Jesus. Lutherans talk about the bread and wine remaining physical bread and wine, but the real body and blood of Christ are underneath the elements. Most Protestants speak of the bread and wine as being just symbols of His real body and blood, but spiritually we are sustained and fortified by His real presence whenever we partake.
Christians eat and drink with the risen Christ every time we meet at the communion table. Faith in Christ brings us into a new relationship with God. It makes us the New Israel, the new people of God, having our sins forgiven, enabling us to share in eternal life. When the Old Covenant was established the people "saw God and then ate and drank together." Now every time Christians partake from the Communion Table, we share with Him. All this accomplished through His death upon the cross. That is why it is called "communion" meaning "having fellowship with each other and the Lord." It is a family meal, the family of God, where we share in love.
The trouble with many people is that they have never learned to really share. They live in spiritual, personal, or social isolation. "Psychology Today" said, "Social isolation is a killer. It is the major cause of depression, mass suicide, rape, schizophrenia, and many other emotional states and conditions." Social isolation, has caused over two million people to ring our Lifeline. Our counselors care. By sharing ourselves, our possessions, our time and interest we share Jesus.
5. THE CERTAINTY OF HIS COMING AGAIN.
Paul told us we will meet on the first day of the week to remember Christ "until He come." 1 Cor 11:26 The Lord's Supper points not only backwards to the events of the cross and resurrection, but forwards to His second coming. This meal is an anticipation of the Heavenly banquet we will share with the saints, all who have died in faith before us and all who will be gathered at His return. So at the Table we have both the backward look and the forward look. The Lord's Supper is an anticipation of all that is to come. Hence we partake at this table with hope. We lift up our heads, knowing our redemption draws near. At this table we are encouraged knowing that God has the whole world in His hands. The future is in His care.
So we come in faith, share in love, and look forward in hope. And whom shall be invited to the Lord's Table? It is His table and He invites whom-so-ever will come. John Wesley put it nicely, "I invite to the table of our Lord, every person whom I invite to the Lord." So I in my turn give the invitation, "Dearly Beloved, draw near to this Table of the Lord." We each need to build up our spiritual strength. Christians have three sources of spiritual renewal: the communion that speaks of spiritual life; the reading of the Bible that inwardly feeds us; and prayer that is the refreshment to our spirits.
Communion should be a frequent spiritual feast from meeting with the Lord, reading His words and speaking and listening in prayer. Here we are sustained. It is the Lord's Table for the Lord's people on the Lord's Day. Come not because you must, but because you may and be satisfied!
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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