Sermon: This do!

Bible talk by Steve Millay

This do!
September 12th, 2013 4:54 pm     A+ | a-
Reading: John 6: 26-58

As they both walked along, their thoughts were filled with the things that had just happened. In a few short hours they had gone from being filled with hope and excitement to feeling sorrow and pain, and now they were confused and puzzled by the things that were happening. As they strove to fight back the tears, it was obvious to any that passed by them that they were sad. Very sad.
Perhaps they just needed someone to talk to about it. A stranger came along and as they talked to him, they just spilled out their hearts. They told him everything that had happened, trying to make him understand. Then the stranger began to quote from the Old Testament. And as he spoke words of scripture to them, everything started to become very clear. They listened closely to every word and were in awe to hear the things they heard. Now the pieces were beginning to make sense, but soon it was time for the conversation to end. They had reached the place they were traveling to. They begged the stranger to stay with them. The stranger needed to go on. But they insisted. They didn’t want to lose the burning feeling they had inside. The stranger finally agreed to stay and eat with them. As he sat down at the table with them, he took a loaf and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them to eat. All of a sudden they stopped and looked in amazement. Their hearts pounding fast, and their minds in a daze. The stranger was no longer a stranger, they knew him. It was the Lord.
But as soon as they recognized him, he was gone – leaving them astonished.
They probably sat there for what seemed like eternity, not saying a word. Trying to understand what just happened. But soon, they knew what they needed to do. They rose up and traveled 7 miles back to Jerusalem. They found the apostles and could hardly contain their excitement as they told them what happened, how the Lord was alive! And how he appeared to them during the breaking of bread.
As they spoke, perhaps the apostles began to remember the last time that they broke bread with the Lord. Perhaps they remembered how he also took the bread, broke it and said, “Remember!” One thing is clear though, from this day forward, the breaking of bread became a very special part of the believer’s life. This all happened on a Sunday. It was the first day of the week and the disciples may have been so touched by what happened on this day, that from that point forward Sunday became the time to get together to meet with the brethren and break bread.
There are only a very few verses in the Bible that actually describe the breaking of bread or provide us information on how to keep this institution. One thing that makes it difficult is that the term “breaking of bread” often meant simply sharing a meal. It is therefore difficult to separate out the passages that are specifically talking about what we now term as the “Memorial Service” or the “Lords Supper”. Regardless, the breaking of bread eventually seems to have developed into a fellowship meal. We find this was the case when Paul writes to the Corinthians some 20 years latter. And Paul scolds them for letting such a precious thing become just a common meal in which no real remembrance of Christ is made and no consideration is given for the body.
After this, the Lords Supper seems to have gone through a lot of changes. The fellowship meal became known as the “Agape” or “Love Feast”, while the “Lord’s Supper” became more concentrated and focused on the emblems.
Over time, these two things would become separated from one another. By the 3rd or 4th century the “Love Feast” had become a charity meal. Augustine describes it as a supper provided for the poor. In some places though it was described as a meal specifically for widows and elderly woman of the congregation.
By the middle of the 4th century the church leaders began to debate the worth of the “Love Feast”. The abuses were outweighing the benefits and in AD 367 it was forbidden to be practiced. It still continued in some places and in 692 A.D. at the council of Trullan it was forbidden as being sinful. What a sad testimony though, that something known as the “Love Feast” became such a source of controversy that it ended up being considered a sin.
As for the “Lords Supper”, as the church began to grow and develop, it became increasingly organized, and with the organization came the rise of ceremony, ritual, and tradition. This impacted every area of church life and practice, including the Lord's Supper. No longer was it a simple memorial meal shared by Christian families in their homes and with fellow believers. Instead, it came to be viewed as a Sacrament, with a host of laws & regulations surrounding it. Along with all this came bitter disputes and theological controversies.
The emblems of the Lord's Supper (the bread and fruit of the vine) were fought over:
Does one use leavened or unleavened bread? This became a major point of controversy and division between the Roman and Greek churches.
Does one use wine or grape juice?
If one uses wine, does he mix it with water, and if much?
Does one stand, sit, or kneel when receiving the emblems?
Some taught that the emblems literally became the body and blood of Jesus.
Some argued that to be valid a Bishop must perform the “Lords Supper”.
Some contended that the “Lords Supper” was a re-sacrifice of our Lord for the forgiveness of sins; thus, it had the power, when eaten, to forgive sins.
Some debated over what would happen if a mouse or insect consumed some of the emblems? Would they live forever? Some ended up believing that they would.
Some debated over what happens to the bread and wine after they enter the human body? Could these precious things eventually just become common human waste? After much debate, they finally decided that the bread in the wine stay inside the body until the final resurrection.
Some felt that the “Lord's Supper” should not be celebrated in a church building, because it might encourage 'false devotion. Instead it should be celebrated in private homes and only in the evening.
The emblems were adored, worshipped, and given almost magical powers; people claimed to be healed simply by eating them.
The emblems were also regarded as being so sacred that in time the people were no longer allowed to drink from the cup because it was feared that they would spill a drop of it on the ground.
Specials laws were developed to regulate the use. In about 200 A.D. it was taught that the emblems should be taken before any other common food was in the stomach.
Some taught that you should fast for 3 days before taking the emblems.
The CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (around 350 A.D.) developed an elaborate ceremonial system for the Lord's Supper. Those leading must wash their hands; great care must be taken that none of the emblems are dropped; the emblems were referred to as "the fearful presence" upon the Holy Table. The partakers were directed to receive the bread in hollowed palms, the left hand supporting the right.
Before the end of the 4th century, the Eastern churches thought it necessary to screen off the Lord's Table with curtains so that "common people" could not "look upon" the emblems and thus defile them by their gaze.
And the list goes on. What should have been a very simple and very precious thing believers do together became a major source of contention and controversy. What happened?
We recognize the bread and cup to be symbols. Just that, symbols of the broken body and blood of our Lord. But much of the controversy in Church history revolves around trying to make the symbols more than just symbols – in some cases making them the actual body and actual blood of the Lord. And the more that men made these symbols more than they were and the more rules and regulations they put on these things, the further they actually went away from what they really represent.
It is interesting that the disciple who seemed closest to the Lord did not even mention these emblems in his recording of the Last Supper. Perhaps John understood well that these things are merely symbols of something much greater. John does however record the following words of Jesus:
JOHN 6: Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For My flesh is £food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
Jesus clearly is comparing his own body to bread and his own blood to wine. This is the same comparison he makes at the Last Supper. He was clearly emphasizing a core part of our faith – that there is no other way, there is no other religion, there is no other name under the entire heaven – by which one can be saved. And ONLY those who have a close association, who have a spiritual relationship, who have a strong union, who have a communion with him will be saved! Only those. He is the bread of life! He is the blood of a new and better covenant.
But, if the bread and cup before us are symbols of something – then our partaking of the bread and cup is also a symbol of something. Paul writes: "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a participation in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a participation in the body of Christ?” When we partake of the bread and cup we symbolize our participation in the body of Christ. But, in the same way that we don’t believe that the bread and cup are the actual body and blood of the Lord, then our symbolic partaking of these symbols isn’t actually our participation in the body and blood of the Lord, but it’s only a symbol of that participation.
So what is our actual participation?
It is when we suffer along side the Lord. When, by serving him, we feel the pain he felt. When it feels like the whole world has turned against us. When they laugh at us and spit at us and call us names. When they push us aside and treat us as worthless. When we feel the strike of the hand against our face and we know what it feels like to be alone.
We participate in body and blood of the Lord each time we refuse to give into the strong temptations that are flooding this world, when we work hard to turn our heads and flee from the pleasures that come from sin. We become closer to him when we reach out our hand to the helpless, and give of our own things to those that don’t have things. When we speak a kind word to a stranger, when we lift up the broken. When we spend long hours in meditation and prayer never losing hope. We partake of his sacrifice when we cry tears of pain, and our heart is filled with sorrow because of the sadness of knowing that many reject such a great salvation. This is what we symbolize each time we partake of this bread and cup. We “remember” His sacrifice for us, and we “do” become part of that sacrifice by following him. (This he asked us to do, and this we do in his remembrance).
Through the centuries there have been many righteous men and woman who have been forbidden by Church leaders to eat of these symbols. The irony of this is that the act of being rejected of men is a participation in the sufferings of Christ. Therefore when one turns away a righteous person from participating in the emblems it is possible that in a room full of people, the only person actually participating in the blood and body of the Lord is the one who is not allowed to partake of the emblems.
This is one reason why Paul so clearly warns the Corinthians to discern, to recognize, the body when they partake of the emblems. They were partaking without caring about those who were part of the body of Christ. They were partaking only concerned for themselves. This action was not only was self-centered but it was a defilement of the symbols themselves. It was against everything the sacrifice of Christ stands for
“This do, remembering me”
With these words, we prepare now to partake of the emblems before us. These are perhaps the most wonderful symbols of our hope that we have. In them we see the sacrifice of our Lord. In them we see the oneness of the body. By partaking of them we see our own participation in that sacrifice. And this we will continue to do, until he come.
And we have this promise about our participation. That by eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood we will have eternal life, and will be raised up at the last day. We will be raised up. Yes, our body may lie deep in the earth – in the cold of winter. Yes, our breath may cease and those around us will no longer see our hands move, our eyes twinkle, our mouths smile. Those closest to us will not have us there to sing with them, laugh with them. Our children will miss us dearly. But this is why we have come here today – because He, our Lord whom we now remember in these emblems, will raise us up! We will come out of the ground, we will stand again on our feet, our voice will be heard once again, and our smile will shine. And we will abide with him forever and ever. Amen!

Steve Millay
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