Summary: What exactly is Holy Communion? This sermon takes a look at what the Bible says.
“We’re having a potluck next week. Please plan accordingly!” What’s your reaction when you see such an announcement in the church bulletin? Are you among those who loves potlucks because you enjoy jamming your plate with two different kinds of salads, perogies nestled against cabbage rolls, meatballs nudging a slice of lasagna on which is balanced a dinner roll and a deviled egg—and then in your other hand is your dessert plate piled high with goodies because you know that Mom won’t say anything since she’s not paying attention? Or do you let out a little sigh when you hear there’s going to be a potluck because now you have to prepare a dish late Saturday night or early Sunday morning and you had just wanted to relax on the weekend? Sure, potlucks are fun, but they do take a little work. That’s why we don’t have them every Sunday.
We do however gather for another meal here at church much more frequently. And I hope that you have no reservations about it. It’s not a fancy meal or even particularly filling, but it is so much more satisfying than the best church potluck. This Sunday we’re starting a four-part series on the sacrament of Holy Communion and we’ll discover today how Holy Communion is way better than a potluck.
As an outline for this series we’re going to follow Martin Luther’s four-part explanation of Holy Communion. In answer to the question: “What is Holy Communion?” Luther, wrote: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Luther’s explanation is not highly regarded by non-Lutheran Protestants who say that Jesus’ body and blood are not really on the menu—just bread and wine. Nor would Roman Catholics agree that the bread and wine are only to be consumed, not worshipped or venerated because the priest has permanently turned it into Jesus’ body and blood.
So how did Luther come up with this explanation, and why do we agree with it? Because Luther took seriously what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Paul had to share the basics about Holy Communion with the Christians in Corinth because they had forgotten that it was the Lord’s Supper and not their own. What was happening in that congregation is that Holy Communion seemed to be celebrated during the fellowship meal after the service. It might seem strange to us to have Holy Communion during a potluck after the service, but it’s the way they did it. There was nothing wrong with that except there didn’t seem to be a holy reverence for the sacrament. In fact, by the time some got around to receiving Communion, they were already drunk from the wine they had brought to the fellowship meal (1 Corinthians 11:21)! To make matters worse, the fellowship meal wasn’t really a potluck. People didn’t share their food. So some feasted while others had nothing to eat.
Therefore Paul thought it was necessary to first of all remind the Corinthians how Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night of his betrayal. The very next day Jesus would be hanging on the cross. So the party atmosphere of the Corinthians’ fellowship meal was not in line with how the sacrament would have been received the first time. It was a solemn occasion on which Jesus was making out his last will and testament.
But what did Jesus, the lowly carpenter from Nazareth, have to leave his disciples in a will? He didn’t own any land or property. The only thing Jesus had to give was himself. That truth struck me as I studied the text—how Jesus said “This is my body, which is for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Jesus did not withhold anything from us, not even himself. This isn’t an exact parallel but I remember how, when we had potlucks at the church in Tokyo where I grew up, members jostled for a good spot in line to ensure they would get at least a spoonful of any dish that Linda brought. Linda was from Indonesia where she had owned a restaurant. Her potluck dishes where never just thrown together at the last minute. No, she always went all out, serving dishes with juicy prawns and other delicacies. When Linda realized how much my siblings and I liked her cooking, she would sidle over to us and hand us dish all our own to take back to the house and enjoy later. Linda wasn’t just giving us a meal, she was giving us her heart.