Summary: This sermon looks at why we celebrate communion
Steve Cornell tells of when he was a young boy, two things stood out for him on communion Sunday. First, he knew it would be a long service because the pastor had no intentions of cutting short his sermon. Second, he was afraid because n his deep voice, the pastor would always make a strong point of reading our Scripture from today from the King James Version and speak of guilt, the body and blood of Jesus, damnation and even death itself if you took of the elements with an impure heart. Communion can be a strange experience for many, even believers but maybe even more so for visitors. Randy Mueller tells the story of a friend who attended worship for the very first time and it was a communion Sunday. When they called people to receive the elements, he thought it was pretty cool that they were taking a break in the service for a snack. So you can imagine the shock when the person serving communion saw the man rip off a handful of bread and drink not one small individual cup of juice but four, drinking one after the other. The guest didn’t quite understand why they used such small cups.
From the outside looking in, Communion can be a little strange, frightening, confusing and even uncomfortable. It’s a bunch of people standing in line to dip a piece of bread in some grape juice and say they’re eating the body and blood of Christ. But there is a reason why followers of Jesus have gathered around this table for nearly 2,000 years. For the past few weeks, we’ve been in this series, “CSI:Church” attempting to rediscover the deeper meaning behind a lot of the stuff we do at church. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is a sacrament. The early church borrowed the word sacrament from the Roman Army. A recruit for the Roman army became a soldier by undergoing a sacramentum or initiation which included taking an oath of office, and being branded behind the ear with the number of his legion. This resulted in new responsibilities as a soldier and new advantages soldiers lived better than the average citizen and veterans received special privileges and benefits. The church chose the word sacrament because communion is a rite that is simultaneously a spiritual and physical act, and in that the sacrament simultaneously receives new responsibilities and a new spiritual status before God.
A sacrament is basically an outward and visible sign of an inward change in a person’s life. Communion is one of two sacraments in the United Methodist Church, the other being baptism. A sacrament is determined by a simple question, “Did Jesus do it?” Communion was given to us by Jesus during the Passover celebration which was his last meal with his disciples. Jesus changed the meaning of the Passover bread and wine with these words, “’Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:26-27
Paul’s letter to Corinth is the oldest book in the New Testament. Written before all 4 Gospels, it provides our earliest glimpse into the early church. What we see is that Communion has played a very important role in the life of the Church from the very beginning. Now the Corinthian church had all sorts of issues, one of which was thinking that since they professed their faith in Jesus and were assured of eternal life, they could keep living the life of sin and sensual pleasure Corinth was known for. Some of their dysfunction also had to do with how they were treating each other in communion. Back then, communion took place during a communal meal. Some wealthy Corinthians had turned this gathering into an excuse to eat too much and get drunk, leaving little left over for the people who really needed it, the poor. Paul writes to address this and other issues. So what is communion?
First, it’s participation in Christ’s death. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Communion isn’t just something we do in memory of Jesus, but somehow by receiving communion, we are caught up in the work of Jesus on the cross—right now, in the present. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul asks, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” When we take comjunion, we are responding to Jesus’ call to die to ourselves and to sin itself and so one of the questions we need to ask when we come to this table is: What needs to die in me so that I may be like Christ?