This Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, we Baptist use to celebrate what we call “The Lord’s Supper.” It is a moment in which we share a bite of bread and sip of grape juice together. We offer this moment to anyone and everyone who wishes to honor the significance of the moment.
Other Christian denominations celebrate the moment differently than we do. Some do what we do every Sunday. Some do what we do every day of the week. Some denominations call the moment a sacrament because they believe that grace of God is contained in the bread and wine, not juice, that they use. And because it is a sacrament, because God’s grace is believed to be in the bread and the wine, only members of that denomination can celebrate that moment. We Baptists would be disinvited from participating in that moment with those of other denominations. We will talk more about that in a few minutes.
What is this moment all about, this celebration of the Lord’s Supper? What was it that Jesus did in establishing this practice? How should we think about the Lord’s Supper and how should the Lord’s Supper change the way we think, speak, and behave?
I would like us to begin with the first description of this moment that was memorialized in writing. The Apostle Paul captured the practice of the Lord’s Supper in a letter he wrote to the church at Corinth. The versions of the Lord’s Supper found in the gospels would be written years later.
Paul wrote, “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” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). There are just 100 words used to describe an important moment and command that Jesus spoke to his apostles.
Paul said, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23a). Paul may not mean here that he received a special revelation from Jesus about this event as much as Paul means he received Jesus’ words from the other apostles who were present at the occasion. Paul is also clear in these opening words that Paul had previously taught the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, some in the Corinthian church had turned the supper more into a frat party with gluttonous eating and drinking to intoxication. Paul wanted the church to remember what was going on between Jesus and the apostles.
Paul said the setting for this event was on the night Jesus was betrayed. Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the chief priests who arrested Jesus and in turned betrayed Jesus to the Romans to be beaten and executed as a criminal. Jesus knew these things were going to happen. None of the apostles, not even Judas, knew how Jesus’ betrayal would play out. But Jesus knew his body and his blood would be required of him and that Jesus would soon die. Jesus had told his disciples that such betrayals and death would come to him, but Jesus’ disciples could not or would not believe.
This brings us to a key understanding about the ways of God. Although God’s ways are higher than our ways and there is much mystery in the way God acts or does not act, God is not secretive. God speaks about what is to happen before it happens so that we can know the wisdom and insight of God. Jesus had told his disciples that he “must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). Even at the dinner Jesus and his disciples shared Jesus said, “18 I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am” (John 13:18-19).
Yet even though Jesus told the disciples what would happen, the disciples were unmoved in understanding. A song writer put Jesus’ experience this way. In Jesus’ words, “I've tried so many ways to show you my love, And show you who I am, Sometimes I wonder if you've ever learned, Or if you understand.” And yet Jesus knowing all that would happen offered one more way to know what was about to happen to him.
It was that night of betrayal that Paul said Jesus chose to take bread, give thanks, break the bread, and say, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:24). The pieces of bread were then distributed to be eaten by the Twelve apostles, including to Peter who would later deny Jesus three times, to Judas who would later betray Jesus, and to the other ten who would desert Jesus upon Jesus’ arrest.
What were the Apostles eating that night? Was it a piece of bread blessed by Jesus was to be used as a way of remembering Jesus giving of his body to them, for them. Jesus in using the bread was foretelling the destiny of his mortal being. It would be given over to abuse and execution.
It was that night of betrayal that Paul said Jesus chose to take the cup and again he gave thanks. “25 He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Jesus in using the cup of wine was foretelling the purpose of his shed blood. Jesus was establishing a new covenant between God and humanity. The cup was to be a sign of God’s forgiveness and calling to his side those who would remember what had been done by and through his Son, Jesus.
For Paul concluded, “26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The bread and the cup are symbols of Jesus’ death for us. But what was the point of Jesus’ death?
Some Christians believe that on the cross, God turned Christ over to Satan on the cross in exchange for the souls of humanity held in bondage of sin. Satan was not, however, capable of holding Jesus. Others believe Jesus, who was without sin, gave himself to God for the satisfaction of the dishonor brought by the sin of humanity. Having freely given himself with no debt owed, God, who is just, would confirm a great reward upon Jesus. We Baptist, if we can agree on anything, tend to believe that Jesus by offering himself as a sacrifice, by substituting himself for us, actually bearing the punishment that should have been ours, Jesus appeased the Father and effected a reconciliation between God and humanity. The covenant of reconciliation between we who are sinful and God who was sinful was made between us and God by the voluntary act of Jesus to bear our sins and punishment upon the cross.
This is what Jesus was showing to his disciples at that final meal and Jesus asked them that whenever they shared the bread and cup together to remember Jesus paid it all for them, for us once and for all time.
Jesus’ request of his disciples was simple. Do this. Give thanks for the bread, share the bread with those who believe in me, and together remember me and what I taught you about the kingdom of God. Remember me and my command to love one another. Remember me, the one who redeemed you from hell.
Do this. Give thanks for the cup. Share the cup with those who believe in me, and together remember that we are all in covenant with God. We all have a standing with God because of Jesus’ completed work on the cross.
There is something heavenly and something earthly about our celebration. There is something past, something present, and something future about our celebration. For as we eat the bread and drink from the cup we do so as a way of showing Jesus died and that at just the right time, Jesus will return to the earth.
The celebration of the bread and the cup is not about sacrificing Jesus again such that the bread and cup are now somehow made into the flesh and blood of Christ. The bread and the cup were not to become the something itself containing God’s grace that granted grace to whomever eat of it or drank from it whether they desired God’s grace or not. The bread and cup are for believers and is to draw us together not push us a part.
I have a book entitled, Martyrs’ Mirror. It was first published in 1660. The book, among other things, tries to give an account of ever Christian martyred from Jesus Christ to the year 1660. The book favors the story of the Baptist beginning with the Anabaptist and provides an index and story for over 1,000 early Baptists, Anabaptists, who were martyred, killed for their beliefs, between the years 1525 and 1660. These people were not killed by pagans but by others who claimed a belief in Christ. What was the crime of the Baptists warranting their deaths? There were two reasons. First, the early Baptists desired what they thought the Bible commanded and that was a believer’s baptism, meaning they believed you should make the decision to decide your belief in Christ when you make it for yourself. Second, the early Baptist desired what they thought the Bible commanded, a remembrance of Jesus through the bread and cup. They believed Jesus died once and for all and that act of love was best remembered in eating simple bread and drinking from a simple cup. A simple piece of bread and simple cup was what Jesus left his disciples to help the church to come, the church that is, and the church that will be to be united across the ages as brothers and sisters. It is for the reasons of Christ that though we are excluded by some Christian groups today for our beliefs, we choose to exclude no Christian who seeks to remember Jesus. We believe remembering Jesus is the clearest way for us to remember that we have been forgiven much and therefore, we must forgive much between us. The bread and the cup indicate a spiritual reality and the activity of the Holy Spirit among the community of believers. Our celebration is a sign that points beyond itself to the reality of the Christ who died for us, the Savior who was raised from the dead for us, the Lord who ascended into the heavens for us, and the God, who when the time is right will come again. The bread and the cup are the most powerful means by which the Christian community publicly gives thanks for the saving death of Christ, confesses faith in our Lord, and pledges obedience and service to God.
I want to close today, we the song, “Do you believe in Me?” It is a song about the celebration of the bread and the cup. The lyrics are written and sung from the perspective of Jesus to his disciples, who now include you and me.
Do you believe in me
And in the words I say
And in Him who sent me from above
Do you believe in my love
I've tried so many ways to show you my love
And show you who I am
Sometimes I wonder if you've ever learned
Or if you understand
Do you believe in me (do you believe in me)
And in the words I say (and in the words I say)
And in Him who sent me from above (sent me from above)
Do you believe in my love (do you believe in my love)
This is my body that is broken for you
Never forget what I've done
This is my blood that is shed for you
This is what makes us one
Do you believe in me
And in the words I say (do you believe)
And in Him who sent me from above (in Him who sent me from above)
Do you believe in my love?
What we will do here in a few moments when we share the Lord’s Supper is spiritually more profound and more significant than anything else we could do or witness today. It reminds us that Christ died for us and our separation from God is over. It means the divisions between us and within our families need to melt away. It means Christ came back to life and now sits with God speaking on our behalf. It means Christ will come again. If you have never publicly acknowledged Jesus who made this possible, listen to this invitation in Jesus’ own words, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). Dine with him. Jesus is inviting you into fellowship with Him, with the person seated next to you, and with me. That is the power of the Word of God and the spiritual significance of what we are about to do. Come to the table, let us break bread, let us be blessed, and reconciled to God and one another. Amen.