CommonUnity – Week 6 – Communion

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July 19, 2016

CommonUnity – Week 6 – Communion

CommonUnity – Week 6 – Communion

Communion ImageToday we will be bridging between our last series of CommonUnity and the next series we will be going into “The Gospel”.  In Acts 2 We see the list of the things the early church devoted themselves to….
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Today we are going to be looking at the practice of breaking bread in the early church.  We will look at the context of this important practice and look at how it has changed throughout church history.  We will also discover how this relates to both the Gospel and our Common Unity.
The term “communion” means “a shared or mutual participation.” It comes from the word “community.” In communion, we see there is a shared participation of the redeemed community; that is why it is called communion.  Throughout Church History this has been called many things by many different church traditions. This celebration is also called the Eucharist in some traditions, particularly in the Roman Catholic tradition. Eucharist comes from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” Jesus gave thanks, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples; raised the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples. It is a thanksgiving feast. I believe that also true here at Grace. But, the Bible has a word that it uses for this celebration, and the term is “the Lord’s Supper.” Paul actually uses that phrase in 1 Corinthians 11 to describe what we are going to do today. The Lord’s Supper is what he calls it.
Today we are going to look at what the Bible says and teaches us about communion. For some of you there may be some mystery around this celebration that we are called to practice. Some of you have come out of a different denominational background and you were raised to believe in different things about communion.We will try and sort through all these different ideas and look at what the Bible says about these things.

THE PRECURSOR TO COMMUNION

In order to understand what communion is all about we have to step back into the Old Testament. To see the context of this we will begin in Matthew 26 we see that Jesus is in His final week of ministry and it is here that Jesus begins the tradition of communion.  Matthew 26:17 says… On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
Communion was actually part of the passover meal.  If you have never experienced a Passover celebration it is amazing.  There is so much symbolism that point to Jesus it is incredible.  Just so we are all on the same page,  The passover was a celebration that reaches all the way back to Exodus 12.  It was a celebration to REMEMBER the redemption of the people of God.  The nation of Israel where in captivity and bondage in Egypt.  God sent 10 plagues to on Egypt to finally bring them bowing before God and release His people.  The last plague was the death of the every first born in the land.  But God was merciful,  so he made a way for Israel to be spared.  They where instructed to take a lamb and sacrifice it and cover their door post with the blood of the lamb.  When The death angel would come to kill the first born if he saw the blood he would pass over the house and spare the family inside.
Through the years the Jews would celebrate passover to remember that they had been redeemed.  They where called out by God and they were one people because of God’s grace on them.
In Matthew 26:26-29, it says…   While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
This passage also finds a parallel at the end of the Gospel of Mark 14:22-25. Matthew and Mark are almost word-for-word identical when it comes to the portrayal and the story of Jesus and the Last Supper — celebrating the Passover. He takes an old tradition, adds to it new significance, and says, from now on, do this in remembrance of me — not the Passover, but me.
So why does Jesus do this?  Why does He change this tradition?  Because He was about to fulfill the tradition.  He was going to complete the picture.  In John 1:29 as Jesus is about to go and be baptized John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus was going to the cross to become the perfect spotless Passover lamb for the whole world. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Jesus is called the pascha. That means “the Passover lamb” in Greek. It is a technical term for the lamb that was slaughtered every year in celebration of the Passover. He takes the old tradition and gives it new significance. The Passover is the precursor to what we do here.

THE PURPOSE OF COMMUNION

So what is the purpose of communion.
Second, let us look at the purpose of communion from Luke 22, Matthew, and Mark. When they describe the Last Supper, they use almost identical words. Luke uses some different words, and he includes a phrase that Matthew and Mark do not include, even though they probably knew that Jesus had said it. It is an important phrase for us to consider when we think of the purpose of communion.

COMMUNION AS A MEMORIAL

Why do we practice communion? Luke 22:14-19, states…

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 
Just as a note: If you experience a full passover Seder these two things are not right on top of each other.  Jesus likely broke the bread early in the meal, and it was after they had finished the meal, toward the end of their evening, that he takes the cup. The two are separated by time here. Only Luke and Paul give us some of the detail as to why we practice communion.  See the Phrase,  “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Remember passover was a celebration, to remember what God had done for His people Israel.  Now Jesus says the celebration changes… Now you are to do this to remember and celebrate what I am going to do for the whole world.
It is because of the statement, “Do this in remembrance of me,”  we at Grace embrace a memorial view of communion.   This may be different that what you have been taught in other churches or denominations.
There are a couple different views of Communion.  There is the memorial view and there is the sacramental view.  The word sacrament meant to make Holy.  In some denominations this means that when you take communion you are once again made Holy before God.  This is the sacramental view.  In Matthew 15:11 Jesus says,  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”  The opposite of that is true as well, when we eat the communion it does not magically make us Holy before God again.  We are already Holy.
Hebrews 10:8-10 says…  First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Because of the Gospel… the good news that Jesus did it all for us.  We hold to the memorial view for communion.  At Grace, we do not believe that communion is a necessary step toward salvation.
We believe that you are saved completely apart from the communion service. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” When we do this we are remembering the work of Christ on our behalf. Our redemption. We are reflecting upon his body and his blood that purchased for us our salvation. The bread and the wine, the bread and the juice, act as symbols — tokens — that represent the body of Jesus Christ that was broken for us, the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins. What a beautiful picture that is.

COMMUNION AS FELLOWSHIP

There is a second purpose in our celebration of communion (the Lord’s Supper). In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17   Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
Paul highlights the unity of the body during the communion celebration.
The practice of communion does not look the same as it did two thousand years ago. In the early New Testament they were sharing a meal together around tables, so that they were looking at each other. It was a very social experience.  Largely, today we all face the same direction. You do not get to look at each other in the eyes, rejoicing in our common salvation. Often, when we celebrate communion here, we are thinking about the first purpose of communion only. In remembrance of him, we are thinking about how grateful we are for our redemption. There is nothing inappropriate about that; however, another purpose that we find in 1 Corinthians 10 is that we, as a redeemed unity, rejoice in the common bond we have in Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of communion. It is in memory of Him. It is a memorial view. However, it also highlights the unity that we share in Jesus Christ.

THE PRACTICE OF COMMUNION

So what are the guidelines for how we should practice communion?
Many churches practice communion in many different ways.  This varies based on the tradition you might have experienced from different church backgrounds.
First let us look at Acts 20:7. We get a glimpse, if you will, into the practice of the first century church. Acts 20:7 says, On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. “On the first day of the week ….” We know from other passages in the New Testament that the church met on the first day of the week. They did not meet on Saturday (the Sabbath). They wanted to distinguish themselves from Jewish assemblies, so they met on the first day of the week in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Here, also, we find that on the first day of the week, when they met, they broke bread together. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. They celebrated communion together.
We get the same hint in 1 Corinthians 11. In the New Testament, it seems as though the church celebrated communion every Sunday as they joined together. However, in no place does the New Testament say, “Thou shalt celebrate communion every single time you get together, or every single Sunday.” The New Testament does not say that you have to celebrate communion on the first day of the week. Some churches I have know practice communion every week, some practiced it quarterly,  I even have know churches to only practice it once a year on Easter Sunday.  Here at Grace, we have adopted to celebrate communion once a month, in order to keep it special and to keep it regular. The New Testament is clear that we should practice communion repeatedly, but there is no strict rule that we should do communion on any set schedule.
The passage that gives the most guidelines to the practice of Communion is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
As we look at this we will discover some interesting thing that will help us to understand communion better.
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.
Notice the first thing Paul deals with is the dis-unity of the church. Paul understood the importance of the Common Unity they should have in this practice.  In fact Paul says because they are not unified they are actually doing more harm than good practicing communion.  (Vs 19 Paul is being sarcastic).
 
20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat,
 
In verse 20, what does Paul call the celebration? He calls it the Lord’s Supper. This is the only place in the New Testament from which get a title for this celebration. It is actually never called the Eucharist or communion, but it is called the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament — right here in 1 Corinthians 11:20.
 
21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
 
This was a meal.  This is one of the reasons we do our Family Fifths.  It is an opportunity to practice this kind of hospitality and to celebrate a meal together.    The problem in the early church was that they were not caring for each other instead they would come together but then they would not share and “have everything in common”  instead they woudl have thoer own little clicks and have private meals and call it unity. Those who “had” were eating and indulging to the full, and they were overlooking those who “had not.”
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 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.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
 
Here we once again see. Whenever you do this.  There is not prescribes pattern, but there is a prescribed reason.  To show the Lord’s death.  To proclaim the Gospel!
 
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
 
Ok, so here is the cool part I realized this week.  I never saw this before, probably because I never slowed down and thought about it.  “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ ” What is the “body” in this context? Is it the elements of communion,  or is something else?
We are the body of Christ, the Bible says. In the context, probably, the indication is that it is one another for whom we are to have proper regard. Do you remember the contextual problem? Those who “have” are not having proper regard for those who “have not.” When we examine ourselves, it is in the context that our horizontal relationship is to be right with God. Actually prepare yourselves. Get right with God, but also examine yourself with regard to your fellow brother. Do not eat communion bread or drink communion wine while having disregard or disrespect for your brother and sister — for the body of Christ around you. If you do so, you bring judgment against yourself.
We are now one, and the Lord’s Supper is a reminder of our unity–not that we are to work to one day be unified, but that we have been unified by the hand of God. Unity is a gift. When we act as though we are divided, we divide the body of Christ.
 
30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
 
This is so important.  That we are in unity.  It is so important to God that we see in the church at Corinth there were physical consequences for their not regarding each other the way they should.  That is how important our unity is to God.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.
 
Open, Closed, or Close?
 
34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.
So how did we get from full meals to what we practice today? We know that at Passover, when Jesus attributed new significance to the Passover meal, there was a whole meal. In 1 Corinthians 11, twenty-five years after that event, the church is eating a whole meal for communion. In the second century churches began to do token communion services. They would eat their dinners at home and then they would show up at church to have token communion services.  This was probably as a direct result of Paul’s rebuke. In order to deal with the problem, the early church probably said, “Let us set aside the meal. Let us just have a ceremonial token communion celebration with just a little bit of bread and just a little bit of wine, so that we are all on the same playing field.” Unfortunately, this might have just allowed the disparity of those who had plenty and those who had little, to go unnoticed.

In Closing

Remember in Acts 2:42, the breaking of bread is described as one of the things to which we should devote ourselves.
This celebration is the clearest symbolic expression of our redemption in Jesus Christ: the body of Christ that was broken for us, and the blood of Christ that was shed for us, giving us the remission of sins. We are to devote ourselves to this symbolic representation of all Christ did in redeeming us.
Take Communion:
Jesus’ prayer that night helped define the disciples. It transcended anything they had heard before. So much so that they recalled it word for word for decades to come. And at the heart of his prayer, he prayed that the Father would keep the disciples unified—“that they may be one.” And Jesus prayed that prayer several times (John 17:11, 21, 22, 23).
Every time the disciples took the bread and the cup again, that prayer must have echoed quietly again—”may they be one.”
The bread and the cup call us to unity. They confront our selfishness and snobbery, our pettiness and prejudice. Every time we eat, we ought to affirm again we are for each other precisely because we are for him. Lets pray.

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