Summary: Just what are we to do until Christ comes? The answer may be surprising.
“Until He Comes”
1 Cor. 11:17-34
The mother sternly scolds her child, “You wait until your father gets home!” Until he comes the child frets and fears. A major company announces a new CEO is scheduled to arrive on the job at the end of the year. Employees, meanwhile, are told that, until he comes, everything will remain the same. The washer breaks down; the repairman can’t come until next week. Until he comes, the Laundromat will be a way of life. Jesus Christ is coming again; UNTIL HE COMES, WE PROCLAIM HIS DEATH THROUGH THE LORD’S SUPPER. While Scripture is filled with admonitions about how to live during these last days between Christ’s ascension and return, Paul alone gives us this admonition. How is it of value to observe the Lord’s Supper, even as we do today?
First, it is of value because it connects us with REALITY. This act is rooted in history. My wife and I were in Washington DC again. There’s something special about DC. It’s overwhelming to absorb all the history there. We always come away realizing that we’re part of something bigger, grander than just the present moment, and it empowers and frees us. So Paul writes, in verse 23, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread...” The action has a specific historical context. So we look back to Jesus’ last night with his disciples, and what was He doing? Observing the Passover - another act rooted in history! It was the celebration of the redeeming act of God passing over the homes of the Israelites when He cast the plague of death upon the Egyptians. What we do here today LINKS US WITH HISTORY, and puts us in touch with the God of redemption. It makes us part of part of something bigger, grander than just the present moment, and it empowers and frees us.
And even Paul recalls Jesus’ act in a specific context. He makes this reference while dealing with problems in the Corinthian church. Among other things, they were abusing the love feasts and destroying the observance of the Supper. So he points them to proper table etiquette as he recalls Jesus’ actions of sharing the bread and cup with his disciples. In the middle of his criticism of the Corinthian church, Paul appeals to the action of Christ. In the middle of the mud he points to a diamond! That’s the way Paul always operates. To cleanse the church of the incestuous man, Paul reminded them that Christ, their Paschal Lamb, had been sacrificed; to warn them against uniting themselves with prostitutes, he had to remind them that they were bought with a price; to emphasize their responsibility to their weaker brethren, he had to remind them that the weak man was the brother for whom Christ died. So in the same spirit he now reminds them that the table around which they gathered was the table of the crucified Lord. Paul always points to the death of Christ - a real act in history, the supreme revelation of God - to refocus the church. It’s what Paul meant when he said he would preach nothing but Christ crucified. Paul is encouraging them to see the reality of life in Christ.
Some years ago, Sally Field starred in a movie entitled “Places in the Heart.” It’s the story of a widow in the Great Depression who struggles to provide for her family against the odds of a power structure conspiring to keep her down. But the whole story is told within the parentheses of another reality. The opening scene depicts families throughout town praying before dinner. The final scene shows the characters in a communion service in a small church. The film makes a statement: THE WORLDS’ POWERS DON’T SPEAK THE LAST WORD - THE LAST WORD IS SPOKEN THROUGH THE REALITY OF THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST.
So today we point to that reality as well. We acknowledge that in the midst of the world’s evil there is the God who is good; in the midst of Satan’s wickedness, there is the God of holiness; in the midst of humanity’s sin, there is the God of grace. Whenever the world is at its worst, there stands the cross of Christ, the heart of God. And the value for us of gathering today is the same - no matter the difficulty, no matter the hardship, no matter the confusion, no matter the sin, no matter the question, no matter the temptation, no matter the need - there stands the cross of Christ, the broken body and the shed blood. This reality, and this reality alone, gives us strength and sanity as we live our lives in this often insane world.
The Supper points to reality, and also to REMEMBRANCE. Verse 23f. : “...he took bread, 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.’ In the same way, he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Jesus forecast his impending death with thankfulness! HE WAS THANKING GOD FOR THE OPPORTUNITY AND PRIVILEGE OF SAVING GOD’S PEOPLE FROM SIN! He was announcing that He was the Lamb of God provided to Abraham to replace his son Isaac on the altar; He was Isaiah’s lamb led to the slaughter to bear the sin of God’s people. So Paul says we are to remember - to refocus, to recall, to reconsider the cross of Christ; for it reveals both the depth of sin and the depth of God’s love.