Come To The Table Part 2
Jason Cole tells the story about a ministry he was involved in as a teenager. On Sunday afternoons their youth group would take the Lord’s Supper to homebound or hospitalized members of their church. On this particular Sunday he and his friends were sent to visit with a gentleman who was in the hospital. When they got to the man’s room they discovered the man was asleep, lightly snoring the afternoon away. They called his name, lightly touched his shoulder, but they couldn’t wake him up. They didn’t know what to do.
They knew that it was important that the man took communion, that’s the whole reason they were there in the hospital. Jason writes, they noticed that the man’s mouth was open, and his friend had an idea. So they broke off a tiny little piece of cracker, and placed it in the elderly gentleman’s mouth, and then they poured in a tiny sip of grape juice; and sure enough, the man swallowed. Since the man was still asleep they quietly made their way out of his room and went on to their next visit. Jason writes, we left that day fully believing that we had made God happy with us, and with that man. He had done his Christian duty and took communion even if he never woke up.
While Jason’s story strikes me as funny, it’s also a little sad. Because, unfortunately that man in the hospital is not the only person to ever take communion and not wake up. There are people who gather in buildings every Sunday who just go through the motions of taking communion, but really are not in communion with the Lord or other struggling pilgrims. They have gone through the motions for so many years that they can even take communion in their sleep.
It’s far to easy to just assume that if there are a group of people in a room and it looks like they are doing everything right, then their hearts are where they need to be. But that is a dangerous assumption. I admitted to you last week that there have been far too many times in my life where I gathered with a bunch of folks in a room, took a small stale piece of bread, and a small sip of juice, and basically just slept through the whole thing. I had gone through the motions, and while it may have looked like I was in tune to what was happening I wasn’t actually taking the Lord’s Supper.
The text that was read for us this morning, comes from the pen of Luke. It’s the story of what happened in those first few weeks following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. In Acts 2:42 we read that the people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
Fellowship was the defining mark of the first church. Their fellowship allowed them to be aware of the struggles and successes in each other’s lives. Fellowship made it possible to feel empathy and express sympathy for one another. Fellowship allowed these new Christians to have relationships that went so much deeper than just knowing things about each other. You can join a Social Club or help with a political campaign if you want to get to know new people who share your interests. But being in fellowship with Jesus and with other Christians will add you to a family of believers that demands more intimacy than simply knowing the names of each other’s children or grandchildren.
There is something unique about Christian fellowship. The fellowship of the first-century church is going to eventually force them to cross cultural and racial barriers. The church is not only going to be made up of Jews that have been longing for the Messiah, but there are going to be Jews who have adopted different cultures and practices after being removed from Israel by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The Blood of Christ demanded fellowship between Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, masters, and slaves.
The fellowship the early church enjoyed around the table was not based on a potluck, an occasional meal, or passing some tray around a room while they looked at the back of one anothers heads. Every day they fellowshipped around the Lord’s Table as a way to remind themselves and their community that Jesus is greater than culture. John would say it this way in 1 John 1:3-4 What we saw and heard we pass on to you so that you, too, will be connected with us intimately and become family. Our family is united by our connection with the Father and His Son Jesus, the Anointed One; and we write all this because retelling this story fulfills our joy.
Just like the early church, when we take communion we are not only claiming our dependence on God, we are claiming our dependence on one another. Communion is a way to declare that we are a family who is connected with the Father. We take communion because we need each other. We need to be challenged, encouraged, and heard. And we gather at a table because we need these things in an intimate way. You and I have to gather at the table because we need to share and confess some things that are difficult, and at times inappropriate, to discuss in the larger body.
When we gather to break bread, we are focusing on Christ's body and blood that binds the body together. We are being reminded of the cross and the power God poured out at Calvary. Eating the bread with other Christians not only affirms the reality that Jesus came to die, but it affirms the fact that His body, the church, continues His work of redemption in the world. When we drink the cup with other Christians, we are declaring our sinfulness and rejoicing in God’s amazing grace and mercy.
Luke emphasizes that as long as the first church devoted itself to these holy things, God was free to move powerfully among the disciples. While the miracles of the apostles surely were a reason that the community was caught up in a feeling of awe, probably the greatest miracle the early church saw was the intense sense of togetherness among all who believed. This was the undoing of what happened at the tower of Babel. Where the people were separated in Genesis 11, here around the table they regained community.
The table is not just about reconciliation between God and humans; it is also about our reconciliation with each other. When Luke tells the story of the prodigal son, we know that the father and the son are reconciled. But we are left with the raw, nagging question; will the two brothers be reconciled? The same question comes up in Luke's story of the last supper. There, the disciples begin to argue among themselves about who is the greatest. At their Love Feast an argument erupts, so Jesus takes them back to the possibility of reconciliation as long as we understand what it means to share this meal together.
We have some work to do in this area. When we meet at the table, it isn't just about getting our relationship with God straightened out. It's also about getting our relationships with each other straightened out. We can't just sit at the table and enjoy the time with Jesus. He wants all His table guests to love and enjoy each other. That means that forgiveness and repentance doesn't just move vertically at the table. They have to move horizontally as well.
This is our biggest struggle with how we presently share the supper. The Lord's supper as we practice it has very little to do with plural pronouns like us, we and our and more to do with singular pronouns like I, me, and mine.
Our practice of communion is characterized by I words: individualism, isolation, and introspection. It is, for many of us, a very private, individualistic act of worship. We are isolated from each other. We are quiet and introspective. The seating arrangements, the centuries of tradition, insulate us from each other. It is all very vertically oriented. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that that isn't very biblical.
One of the things that I have discovered in my own study of the Scriptures, is the fact that at times there is a difference between how things really were in the New Testament Church and how I have always thought they were. My perception and reality are not always the same. For example; going back to our text in in Acts 2, Luke writes in verse 46: They were unified as they worshiped at the temple day after day. In homes, they broke bread (the Lord’s Supper) and shared meals with glad and generous hearts. Over the last year the phrase, shared meals with glad and generous hearts has begun to jump off the page.
My understanding of communion has always been that it only takes place during the Lord’s Supper and that it is vertically oriented. The Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a time of quiet, individual reflection; a private connection between the worshipper and God. What I am realizing is that the Bible doesn’t say anything about having private time with God in the middle of a corporate Worship Service. In fact, I'm beginning to think that we can learn more about how to celebrate the Lord's Supper by taking a field trip to Western Sizzlin’ on Sunday afternoons and watching how people interact with each other. There may be more communion going on there than we have here during the Lord's Supper. The early church did not sit in such a tidy arrangement and pass a tray down a long row and quietly swallow a pinch of cracker and a thimble full of juice. Their practice of the communion was more communal.
We've opted for an approach to the Lord's Supper that looks more like someone who is eating fast food alone in our cars than the relational celebrations of the earliest Christians. And to be honest, it needs to be fixed. What we are planning to do here in this body might not be the best alternative, but it is a decision made out of faith, prayer, and a desire to redeem communion, so that we can see God move powerfully among His people once again.
I cannot find a single passage where the early Christians used the Lord's Supper as a time for remembering the death of Jesus. Thats’ why we don’t read about them taking time in the middle of their worship services for sober reflection and quiet meditation. Rather they seemed to believe that the purpose of the supper was to communicate the message of the gospel and commemorate the victory won at the cross, that’s why Luke says that they shared meals with glad and generous hearts.
I have to remember that there is a huge difference between the table and the alter. We learn from the Old Covenant that the alter was the place where Israel's sins were confronted, confessed and forgiven. Yet it was at the table, or the feasts, were the reality of deliverance was celebrated. The New Testament Church pictures the Lord's Supper as the table of celebration, not the alter. The cross is our alter. The Lord's Supper is our feast.
The table is not a place and time for individual devotion. The early Church though that it was intended to be a place of community celebration. Which brings me back to the story we began with. I also used to be a part of a ministry where we would take communion to our sick and shut in’s. We would go to people’s homes or to hospital rooms with a piece of bread and a cup of juice. But it is also one of the first places that I ever got in trouble doing ministry.
After a few weeks of going to visit and take communion with our folks who couldn’t come to church, I got uneasy watching them take communion. So, I decided that I needed to take it with them. But then I realized if I went to visit four people, I was taking communion five times; once at church and then 4 times in the afternoon. I wanted to make sure that I was obeying God, so I asked one of our Elders about it. He told me that I was taking too much communion. If I wanted to continue in this ministry then I had to take the emblems to our people and allow them to take them in isolation. That was the last Sunday I participated in that ministry. I now realize that we had turned communion into a noun. In the Greek, it's a verb. It is not an object we take. It is an experience we share with gladness.
In his Gospel, Luke writes When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.” He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. (Luke 22:14-20)
I am sure that you have heard this part of Luke’s story many times. Often before we gather at the table we hear these words and focus on the emblems and the meaning of those emblems. And I believe that there is merit and value to that. We need to take some time to rejoice that Jesus loved us enough to sacrifice His body and blood on the alter of the cross. But I want you to notice something else this morning. In verse 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager (wanted to, my deep desire, longed to) to eat this Passover meal with you. As we gather at the table this morning do you share that same feeling?
Did you wake up this morning and have your heart fill with excitement because you knew that today you were going to be able to gather at the table? Did you have difficulty sleeping last night because you were longing to share this love feast with you brothers and sisters? Maybe as you drove to the building this morning you couldn’t contain your smile because you knew you were about to be able to rejoice at what the body of Christ means in your life, Maybe you broke out into song as you thought about the blood of Christ and how His mercy is overwhelming.
If not, then maybe we need to re-examine what we are doing when we gather at the table. Jesus knew what was waiting for Him on the other side of this table, and yet He was still excited to have this time with His disciples. The joy of the table is not found in the absence of troubles. The joy of the table is found in the fact that we have a Redeemer who is in the process at this very moment of making everything right.
Our Shepherds and I know this change is going to be awkward for many of us. But we rejoice in the fact that we are not stuck. There was a time when we chose to do communion in a way that actually prevented communion. Sitting in a line, passing a tray back and forth made it easy to hide from one another. But we were not called to hide from one another, you cannot love one another, pray for one another, serve one another if we are hiding from one another. We have been blessed with an opportunity to come together and rejoice in the wonderful amazing love of God.
Once again we see that the word, leads us to the table. If our servers can make their way to the back.
3,500 years ago, or so, God wanted to free His Children, His chosen people, from slavery in Egypt. Since Pharaoh decided to rely on his own gods, Jehovah went to war with those false gods and sent one plague after another showing His power and eminence. And after each plague Pharaoh would relent, only to later change his mind. God’s chosen people remained in captivity.
Finally, God made the choice to send the 10th plague; this plague would result in death to every house that refused to participate in the Passover meal. That evening God’s people sacrificed a lamb, painted the doors of their homes with the lamb’s blood. That evening they shared a meal where they ate the lamb with unleavened bread at home with their families. When the death angel saw the blood covering their homes, he passed over their homes and spared them.
Almost 1,500 years later Jesus sat in a small room with His disciples and made a small deviation from the Passover meal that would illustrate His love for them, and for us. By instituting the Lord’s Supper as part of a Passover meal, Jesus was reminding us that we were also once enslaved, held in captivity to sin. And just like the Israelites, we were unable to rescue ourselves. Only a miracle could do it.
This morning as we share this loaf, we are told we are eating the flesh of Jesus, the Passover lamb, who willingly sacrificed Himself to save us from death. This meal is a mark of God’s chosen people. It’s the sacrifice that spares us from death, not the bread, but when we eat this bread we are showing that we are part of the community that’s been protected from death.
[Prayer for bread]
After the first Passover, the Israelites were commanded to celebrate the Passover with their families. The Passover was a way to be certain everyone in the family remembered how God had protected the Israelites from death and freed them from slavery.
And today as we take this meal, we gather as a family. This meal is a testimony to our children as to how this family came to be. We were rescued by a common sacrifice that joined us together as a single family for eternity. This meal shows our children that we are part of the chosen people of God and that we are not ashamed of that fact. Rather, we declare the death of Jesus to our families, and to the world, by participating in this most ancient ritual.
[Prayer for the cup]