Summary: As we get ready for the Lord's Table, we must prepare ourselves, because hard times are ahead. Even so, we can be grateful.
Several years ago, in a small-town church in upstate New York, a well-loved pastor who had been there for 35 years retired. He was replaced by a young pastor just starting out in ministry. The young man had a great desire to do well, but after just a few weeks he began to perceive that the people were upset at him.
It troubled him, so he called aside one of the lay leaders of the church and said, “I don't know what's wrong, but I have a feeling that there's something wrong.”
The man said, “Well, Pastor, that's true. I hate to say it, but it's the way you do the Communion service.”
“The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?”
“Well, it's not so much what you do as what you leave out.”
“I don't think I leave out anything from the Communion service.”
“Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous pastor administered the chalice and wine to the people, he'd always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would…”
“Touch the radiator?” the young pastor interrupted. I never heard of that being done before.”
So the younger man called the former pastor. He said, “I haven't even been here a month, and I'm in trouble.”
“In trouble? Why?”
“Well, it has something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?”
“Oh yes, I did. Always before I administered the chalice to the people, I touched the radiator to discharge the static electricity so I wouldn't shock them.”
He had done it for so long; the people began to think that it was an important part of the communion service. Today, that church is called by some, “The Church of the Holy Radiator.” (Terry Fullam, “Worship: What We're Doing, and Why,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 102; www.Preaching Today.com)
This morning, we are celebrating communion together; but before we do, I want us to put it in its historical, biblical perspective, so we’re not in any danger of confusing our traditions with the truth.
The truth is: that first communion meal was not celebrated in the comfort of a beautiful sanctuary with banners and flowers such as we have here. Not that there is anything wrong with a beautiful sanctuary. It’s just that when someone is going through hard times, banners and flowers can sometimes seem a little artificial.
On the other hand, a lot of hurting people can relate to the original setting of the communion meal. It was actually a part of the annual Jewish Passover Feast where the Jews remember their bondage in Egypt. And it was a time of real stress for Jesus’ disciples, because some very powerful people in Jerusalem had threatened to kill Him. You see their stress especially in the way the disciples prepared for the meal.
Mark 14:12-15 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” (ESV)
Now, preparations for the Passover involved sweeping the house clean of all leaven, roasting the lamb, setting out the unleavened bread and wine, preparing bitter herbs, and making a sauce out of dried fruit, vinegar and spices.
These were the usual preparations, but the unusual part was HOW the disciples were to find the right place. First, only two of them could go, and they were to meet a MAN carrying a jar of water just inside the city gates of Jerusalem. He would be easy to spot, because in that culture only women carried the water jars. Men carried the wineskins. Then when they met this MAN, they were to follow him to a particular house. They were not supposed to say anything until they got into the house. Then they were to speak only to the owner of the house, identifying Jesus simply as “The Teacher” should somebody else overhear their conversation. These were all pre-arranged, secret signals so the disciples could prepare and eat the meal, without being discovered, lest they be captured and killed.
Mark 14:16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. (ESV)