Summary: Why do we celebrate HC?
Y HOLY COMMUNION?
1 Corinthians 11.17-34
The story is told of a little girl who was watching her mum prepare Sunday lunch. She noticed that her mum cut the each end of the ham before putting it in the roast tin. She asked ‘why?’ Her mum explained that she did that because it allowed all the juices to enter the ham and so flavour it and also because that was the way her mum had roasted her hams. So the little girl goes off and asks her grandmother why both ends of the ham were cut off before roasting. Sure enough she got the same answer but her grandmother added that she should ask her Nana because that is what she did. So the little girl phones her Nana and explained that both mum, and granny had said that they cut off both ends of the ham to allow the juices etc and that was the way she had taught them to roast a ham. Her Nana started to laugh and said – “I cut both ends off the ham because my roasting tin was too small.” You know there are times we do things for the wrong reasons because no one has ever stopped to ask ‘Why?’ There are also times when we continue to do things for a long period of time based on nothing more than ignorance. This morning we are going to stop and ask ‘Y Holy Communion?’
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, page 1152 of the pew bible. As you turn that up let me set this passage in context for you. This is Paul’s first letter to the Christian church at Corinth which we read in Acts 18 that Paul had visited. Paul had heard that there were several problems in this church – moral problems, marriage problems, Christians taking one another to court, party politics, idolatry, problems in worship and the question of life after death. So Paul writes this long letter to the church and addresses each of these issues. The passage we are looking at this morning addresses the issue of the Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion) within the church at Corinth. This is the earliest written account of the Lord’s Supper in the NT, even early than the accounts written in gospels.
There are basically four instructions given by Paul:
Look Back – verse 26
Look Forward – verse 26
Look Within – verse 29
Look Around – 1 Corinthians 10.17.
Turn to verses 23-26. Paul begins by pointing out that he is not passing on to them something which he himself has made up but what he has received from the Lord. There is actually a word play in this verse. Paul literally says “I passed on to you…on the night that Christ was passed on to the authorities.” Paul wants to remind them of the significance of what he has passed on to them concerning the Lord’s Supper. He wants them to fully appreciate and understand the significance of the meal which they participate in. The death of Christ is central and dominates this whole passage and therefore must dominate and be central to the meal also. The actions of taking bread and taking wine, praying a blessing over them and passing them to those gathered around the meal table was something which happened in every Hebrew home and especially at Passover. Christ was giving this ‘traditional’ act new significance and meaning by stating that the bread was his body and the wine his blood. It is the ‘words of Christ’ which give the actions their significance. It is the identity of the One who spoke those words as he broke bread and poured wine that give this meal new meaning and purpose in the life of the believers. So let us look at what Paul says he received from Christ.
He first of all places it in a historical time frame. It was a certain man (Jesus) at a certain time (on the night he was betrayed) did certain things (took bread and wine). This was not something Paul had conjured up in his mind. He states quite clearly and unambiguously he had received the same from the Lord Jesus.
There is a fourfold action in the bread and the wine. Jesus takes, he gives thanks, he breaks/pours and then he gives it to his disciples. That fourfold action is remembered in our service of HC. We take bread, we give thanks, we break it and then we share it with one another. The same is true of the wine. We take it, pour it, we give thanks and we share it. But without the ‘words of Christ’ the bread and wine have no significance, no meaning and no purpose. Look at the significant words which Paul says Christ spoke concerning the bread and the wine. ‘This is my body…this is my blood…a new covenant.’