1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
On this Maundy Thursday, when we are thinking about the very night that our Lord Jesus was sitting with his disciples around a table where he first instituted Holy Communion, it makes sense that tonight I am going to preach on the epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11.
One of the strengths as Lutheran Christians is that traditionally we have been very strong in the area of teaching the faith. To have the right teaching is important to us as it helps us to live our Christian lives knowing what we believe and why. If I was to ask you, ‘Why do we come to Holy Communion?’ you would all be able to answer me quite well. But if I was to ask you, ‘What happens in Holy Communion?’ many would find this question harder to answer. This is the question that I would like to focus on this evening.
As we are a church community who partakes of the Lord Supper regularly, you will know the words that are spoken. But have you ever thought about the first words that are spoken in the words of institution. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed…” Jesus was having his last Passover meal with his disciples, the very ones who would betray him. We know that Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the authorities for money. But he was not the only one who betrayed Jesus this night. Peter made the bold claim that he would not deny the Lord, but he did. The disciples who had followed Jesus, been with him, known him, received from him, were in a short amount of time going to abandon him and leave him on his own. These disciples that were full of all the right words, but in reality cowards, were the ones sitting with Jesus at that table. Before we condemn these disciples though, we need to realise that we are also like them coming to the same table. Yes we are Christians and followers of Christ, but we are also sinful people. We too like the disciples, run from Jesus at times; we don’t listen to him; we give up on him when the going gets tough; we too can often say the right words, but underneath in our hearts we can be cowards like them. Yet it is to the disciples and to us that Jesus gives his body and his blood. Many people tend to think that being a Christian is living the perfect life and that we come to communion because of our faith, but this is not true. Jesus gives to us his body and blood because we are sinners and he strengthens our faith through this. None of the disciples were worthy to receive the body and blood of Jesus that night, just as none of us are worthy to receive now. But he gives it to us.
St Paul says: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v.26). Tomorrow on Good Friday we remember the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus on that day as he was crucified. As his body was beaten and broken; as his blood was shed on that cross for all our sins. On that day he gave his body and his blood for you and me, yet it is in this meal at the Lord’s table that you and I receive what he did for us. You see as we come to the altar, we eat and drink his body and blood that was given and shed for you and me. In Holy Communion we receive all that Jesus has done for us on that cross. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our sin and gives us his gifts that he won for us. He gives us strength and he gives us faith; he gives forgiveness; and he gives us life. Every time we partake in Holy Communion we proclaim the Lord’s death: meaning all that he has done for us through his death on that cross, you and I now receive.
This reading also says we proclaim his death “until he comes”. We all know that Jesus has been resurrected from the dead; we know that he will come back again at the end of time. We know that we live in what is sometimes called an in-between time. We live between Jesus’ ascension and also his second coming where we will be called home to live with our Triune God in heaven. But one of the remarkable things about our worship services, where Holy Communion is partaken of is that at this very altar, Jesus comes to us and gives us now here in the present, what we will also receive at the end of time. In this meal the future that we will have with our God, one in which there will be forgiveness, peace with God, healing, and life eternal, all because of what Jesus has done on the cross, is given to us every time we come to this altar.
It was no accident that Jesus instituted Holy Communion right before he walked down the path to his death. The path where he took on all of the world’s sin onto himself, as he carried all of our sins to that cross, so that God’s anger and punishment that should be directed towards us, now is laid on him; where the death that we deserve was instead given to Jesus. Because he won the overall victory over sin and death, and they do not have any power over him, he is able to give us life with our God. In Holy Communion he comes to us and he gives us this life, by giving us himself.
One of the great temptations that we face as Christians in this life is that we think that we can live life as a Christian on our own. That when we struggle with sin that we somehow have the ability to overcome the sin in our lives. After all Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. We stand forgiven before God because of Good Friday. The reality is that we continually need Jesus to give us all that he won for us that day, as we still battle our sin each day. We need him to continually come to us and strengthen us in faith; build us up; assure us of our forgiveness before God. It is in Holy Communion that Jesus does this. In other words we as Christians need to come to the altar with open hands and receive all that he promises to give us. Often the evil one gets in people’s heads and tries to convince them not to come, because they are not worthy because of their sins. But this is precisely why we need to come and receive from him because through it he gives us faith and strength. The problem is rather when people come to Holy Communion thinking that they deserve to receive from him.
So I encourage you to regularly think about Good Friday when you come to Communion, even when it is not the Easter season, and to reflect on all that Jesus is giving to you through his body and blood.