Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 08/20/00
In our series of messages on the Lord's Supper we have looked in detail at the meaning of Communion and its right use. For the Lord makes Himself known to us in a manifold Word, each part of which supports the others. There is the Living Word, our Savior; the Written Word, Holy Scripture; the Audible Word, the preaching of the Gospel; and the Visible Word, the Sacraments. The Living Word is ultimate; the Written Word authoritative; the Audible Word effectual; the Visible Word meaningful. It is God's gift to us to help us focus attention on the meaning of the Death of Christ.
So we have looked at Communion as a meal to be eaten, in which we remind ourselves that we are as dependent on Christ for spiritual life as we are on food for physical; as a testimony to be given, in which we show forth the Lord's death until He comes; as a covenant to be ratified, as we renew our commitment to the Covenant of Grace; and as an expression of the unity of the Church, as we all partake of one loaf. All these aspects of the Supper's meaning are enhanced when we realize that it orginated in, is based on, and flows from the Old-Testament celebration of the Jewish Passover, for it was in the midst of a Passover Seder that the Lord took Bread and Wine and used them to focus the meaning of that meal more explicitly on its fulfillment in His death.
Passover was not very appetizing. Roasted meat seasoned only with bitter herbs, dry matzo bread, eaten in haste--you probably needed all those cups of wine to wash it down! So in the New Testament the Corinthian Church is rebuked for too much attention to feasting and told in 1 Cor. 11:34 to eat at home if they were hungry. Not that feasting is wrong, but they were abusing it. This meal is not designed to satisfy hunger but to arouse it. It is but an appetizer for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We are to focus not on the bread and wine in themselves but on what they mean.
For the Old Testament, Passover was a memorial meal, something like our Thanksgiving, when a speicified menu reminds us of the sacrifices of our Pilgrim fathers and their honoring God for preserving them and giving them a harvest in their new land. As we look back to them, so Israel looks back to her deliverance from bondage, as the oldest son asks, "Why is this day different from every other day?" Communion looks back to the Cross and the deliverance wrought there. Israel was supposed to eat the Passover girded, shod, and with staff in hand, expecting the Lord's deliverance. So we look back to the Cross but also eat in expectation that God, on the basis of the Cross, will continue to deliver us from evil this day: from the guilt of sin in our justification at our conversion, and from its power in sanctification here and now. And Communion also looks forward to our final deliverance in the return of Christ and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Let us therefore receive it spiritually girded and shod, ready for it to catapult us into the spiritual warfare that awaits us outside the walls of the church, in expectation that the God who parted the Sea will still use us and deliver us this day.
Passover was eaten in families and as a nation. The uncircumcised were excluded. So that meal helped to define the boundaries of who was inside and outside of the community of faith and to teach the members of that community who they were. Communion functions in the same way, providing a teaching opportunity which caused many of us as small children first to ask what this strange snack in Church was all about. It reminds us that we are one People because Christ died for us.
Communion shows forth the Lord's death until He comes. When John called him "The Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29), it was the Passover Lamb which gave meaning to this title. It had to be without blemish, as Christ was tempted in every way like as we are, yet without sin. It's bones could not be broken, and neither were His. Most importantly, the Passover Lamb was a propitiatory sacrifice, covering the Israelites with the protecting Blood without which there is no remission of sins, shielding them from the judgment about to fall on the Egyptians. So Christians are shielded from the judgment coming on the world for its sins: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." This too was fulfilled in the Cross of Christ:
At the fulcrum of the Cross
A host of concepts meet:
The Profit hidden in the Loss,
The Victory in Defeat;
The Acceptance, the Rejection,
The Worship and the Jeers;
The Freedom in Election;
The Ecstasy in Tears;
The Mercy and the Justice;
The Human, the Divine;
Pilate; Judas; Jesus;
The broken Bread, the Wine.
The Maker of Orion,
The Victim of the Scam;
The meekness of the Lion,
The glory of the Lamb.
Communion's roots in Passover highlight the necessity of commitment to Christ. God offered Israel deliverance from judgment and bondage on the condition that they were covered by the blood. They had to sprinkle it on the doorposts; we accept it by faith. What would have happened to an Israelite who did not sprinkle the blood? "After all, it's the spiritual significance of Passover that counts; my parents are Israelites; and God is a God of love." Whatever pious rationalizations you used, if you were not under the Blood there would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. So the Lord's Supper confronts us with the question whether we are willing--whether we are still willing--to accept the terms of the New Covenant: to be saved not by our own works or merit at all, but only by God's grace in the death of Christ. Are we willing to be saved by Another's merit and stop clinging to our own? Then we are invited to come.
Let sound the sackbutt, come, cornettoes, call
The folk to feast and joyous revelry!
Already lute and lyre fill the Hall
With sweetest sound of merry minstrelsy.
The Lord beneath His royal canopy
Himself shall sit as host, for He abounds
In kingly kindliness and courtesy.
Hold back for no unworthiness! He frowns
On base ingratitude, but loves the sounds
Of Joy unearned, unearnable; delights
To honor those who come. The Call resounds,
For one last moment echoes in the heights.
Surely you're coming with us? Do not doubt!
The Door that closes shuts forever out.
And the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come!"
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams