Summary: How did Holy Communion come about? What does its mean that we have been named as it beneficiaries?
“Gifts and Giggles from the Grave” That is the title of an internet article about wacky wills and bizzare bequests (money.aol.com). Here’s a sampling. Economist Jeremy Bentham left a large fortune to the University College in London on condition that his preserved corpse annually “attend” the board of directors’ meetings. For many years he was recorded as “present but not voting.” Mark Gruenwald, of Marvel Comics fame, left instructions for his heirs to blend the ashes of his body with ink and use the mixture within the pages of a comic book. 4,000 copies of Gruenwald’s “ink-and-ashes” edition was distributed in 1997. And then there was a Portuguese man who had no family of his own so he picked the names of his “heirs” out of a Lisbon phone book. When he died at age 42, Luis da Camara’s last act on earth bestowed $12,000 each to 70 astonished people who had never heard of da Camara before.
What are the chances that some rich person has picked your name out of the phone book and is planning on bequeathing you thousands of dollars? Not real good I imagine. But you have been named as beneficiary of a will more valuable than Luis da Camara’s. The terms and benefits of this will are found in the sacrament of Holy Communion - your heavenly brother’s last will and testament. Today we begin the first of four sermons on Holy Communion. In answer to the question: “What is Holy Communion?” the 16th Century reformer, Martin 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.” Today we want to direct our attention to how Holy Communion came about and what it means that we have been named as beneficiaries.
Listen to our text from Matthew 26:17-19, 26-29. “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover…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.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The very first offering of Holy Communion took place the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Equally important to note is that it was offered during another divinely ordained meal, the Passover. The Passover was the last meal the Israelites ate before leaving behind their slaving days in Egypt. Among the items on the menu were unleavened bread and roasted lamb. The bread without yeast was both practical and symbolic. Since the Israelites would be leaving Egypt in haste, like a businessman rushing out of the office to catch the last bus home, they didn’t have time to wait for yeasted dough to rise before baking it. But God also used the unleavened bread to impress upon his people that just as no yeast “contaminated” their bread that night so no sin was to contaminate their lips, hands, or heart. Of course that was impossible. It was one thing to bake bread without yeast but quite another to go a whole evening, much less a whole lifetime without a sarcastic remark calculated to hurt a sibling, or a half-truth designed to outwit a seemingly dimwitted parent for example. That flat piece of unleavened bread might as well have been a miniature stone tablet of the Ten Commandments. It was equally condemning because it upheld an ideal that the Israelite could not live up to.
That’s why the roasted lamb was an indispensible part of the Passover menu. This was the lamb whose blood adorned the doorposts of those Israelite houses in Egypt. Like a scarlet velvet rope that marks a boundary the paparazzi may not cross to get at the celebrities on the red carpet, the blood of the lamb kept the angel of death away from these homes and from claiming the firstborn children who lived there.
As the disciples ate the Passover meal that night before Jesus’ crucifixion, they would have been reminded of these truths: God’s desire for them to be pure, and God’s bloody plan to save them for their impurity. And so it was fitting that during the Passover meal Jesus took bread and said: “Take and eat; this is my body.” And then he took wine and gave it to the disciples saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27, 28). Did the disciples make the connection? Did they understand that just as the unleavened bread had strengthened their forefathers for their journey to the Promised Land so Jesus was now offering his body to sustain them on their journey to heaven? Did they appreciate that Jesus was giving them his blood - blood which, the very next day, would be painted on the wood of the cross - that doorpost of the world? (William Cwirla) Just as the angel of death had passed over those blood-trimmed houses in ancient Egypt, he now passes over all those who stand under the bloodstained cross of Christ. No, you weren’t there on Good Friday to stand under the cross, so in Holy Communion Jesus gives you his body and his blood.