Do This in Remembrance of Me Back to all sermons
Date: February 3, 2013
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Synopsis: Every month, we observe the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) as a church. In this message, Pastor Cam admits that when he was growing up, he did not enjoy these services. But as a young pastor he discovered two clues in the passage (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) that changed his perspective and set him free. Find out what these two clues are and see if they change the way you participate in the Lord’s Supper. Do This in Remembrance of Me.
Last week we concluded a 2-part series on the church of Jesus Christ, and specifically at our purpose here at ECC. In a real sense, the messages from today and next Friday are a continuation of that series on the church.
As we think of the larger church, church with a capital C, the universal Church of Jesus Christ, there are two ceremonial observances that have both united and divided the Church of Jesus Christ down through church history.
I am speaking of the ceremonial practices of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. When I say that these two ceremonies have united the Church of Jesus Christ, I am basing this statement on the fact that, with a very few exceptions, every branch of the church, every denomination, every expression of the Christian church around the world and throughout church history has observed these two ceremonies in some form.
When I say that these two ceremonies have divided the Church of Jesus Christ, I am also cognizant of the fact that there is a wide diversity of ways that these two ceremonies have been practiced in different traditions, and an even wider diversity in the meaning and theological interpretation placed on the significance of these two ceremonies. Major church battles have been fought over these differences, and major church schisms have occurred because of these differences. Our vocabulary reflects these differences; do we call them “ordinances” or do we call them “sacraments”?
Well, we are not going to unravel and unpack almost two millennia of church history and expound on all these differences in these messages. But since we do practice both of these ceremonies here at ECC, we feel that it is important from time to time to stop and look at what these mean to us here and why we practice them as we do. You may not agree with us in every detail, but at least you will understand our practice and be able to participate meaningfully as God calls you to do so.
As we approach these two symbolic ceremonies, in a logical and ideal sequence we would look at baptism first and then the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is an initiation rite, a symbol of entrance into the church and into the new life in Christ, where as the Lord’s Supper is an ongoing participation in the fellowship or “communion” of faith. However, today is the first Friday of the month, and, as is our usual practice, we will be observing the Lord’s Supper at the conclusion of our service today. So we will be looking at Communion first, and then look at baptism next week.
I have been present in communion services from my very earliest memory, and I have been a participant in them since I was about 11 years old. And I have a confession to make. I didn’t like Communion services much when I was growing up. One reason, I suppose, was that it usually meant that the church service was going to be longer than usual. But I think there was another, more fundamental reason. That was because many of the typical Communion service of my youth left me feeling guilty, and even a bit depressed.
Usually at some point in the service the pastor or preacher would read very solemnly and rather sternly from I Corinthians 11:27-30 in the King James Version:
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
Then we would be admonished to examine our lives for any unconfessed sins, and to confess them so that we would not bring judgment upon ourselves by eating and drinking unworthily. I would try to do that, but usually we weren’t given very long. And of course there was always the dilemma of chronic sins. Did confessing a sin count if I knew that I would probably fall prey to that sin again? Did having such chronic sin struggles make me unworthy?
By then the tray would arrive, and I would be faced with a decision. Should I or shouldn’t I? Was I worthy or wasn’t I? I felt like I lost either way. If I passed the tray without taking any, I was left feeling unworthy. And yet if I took the bread and the cup, I was often left feeling guilty. Was I really worthy? If I wasn’t, had I just added to my condemnation? I felt like I was caught both ways.
Then at the age of 24, going on 25, I became a pastor. Now I faced a real dilemma. I was supposed to lead these services. I began to wonder: was this really the way God intended Communion services to be? So for the first time in my life, I really studied the passage in I Corinthians word by word for myself. What I discovered there set me free, and has influenced how I have led and participated in Communion services ever since.
I have shared this sermon in this church before. The last time was about two and a half years ago. But I think it’s a passage and a message that we need to come back to repeatedly, because I find that I was not alone in my misconceptions of the focus of the Communion service.
As I studied the passage, I discovered two clues that made a dramatic difference in my understanding of the passage. The first clue was the realization that this section of Scripture actually begins in verse 17. The second clue was in recognizing the difference between an adverb and an adjective. Those two simple, rather obvious discoveries made all the difference in the world.
So, how did those two clues help clear up the passage?
1. This section of Scripture actually begins in verse 17.
How does this clarify things? One of the basic principles of Bible interpretation is that every verse must be interpreted in light of its context. We can never interpret a verse or passage accurately unless we understand the context in which it occurs. In this case, most pastors begin their quotation of this Communion passage in verse 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…” and so on.
But that is not where this passage on the Lord’s Table begins. It actually begins in verse 17. If we study the whole passage, we find that this section was written by Paul to address a very specific and serious problem in the Corinthian church. And the warnings that Paul gives in the middle of this passage can only be understood if we understand the problem that Paul was addressing in the beginning of the passage.
Let’s look at the passage and see what we can learn about the problem.
Look at v. 17: In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. That is a pretty harsh criticism! “It would be better if you didn’t even meet together, because you’re doing more damage than good when you meet!” Why? What was going on?
To understand this, let’s read v. 18-22.
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. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!
We need to place these verses back in the customs of the time. The Corinthians came out of a pagan background. Celebratory feasts were part of their pagan worship, and they brought some of those practices that with them into the church. The Lord’s Supper was incorporated into a larger event, a kind of love feast. Now there was nothing inherently wrong with that. But here is what would happen. Apparently, people would arrive, bringing food for the feast. The rich people in the congregation had more leisure time, so they came first. They also had more resources, so they brought most of the food. When they arrived they would sit down and start to eat and drink. By the time the poorer members of the church (some of them slaves) arrived, the food was gone, and many in the congregation were drunk. The poorer members (who couldn’t afford to bring anything to the feast) would go hungry.
Now, here’s my point. We will never understand the warnings later in the passage unless we keep this context in mind. So hold that thought.
2. The difference between an adjective and an adverb.
This was the second clue I found. The specific word or phrase I am focusing on is in verse 27: In the KJV it is translated “unworthily”. The NIV and the ESV both translate it “in an unworthy manner.” They are both good translations. The fault was in my understanding, not in the translation. In the original Greek language this is a single word, and it is an adverb. Why is that significant? Well, if you remember your grammar lessons, an adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun. An adverb modifies a verb, adjective or another adverb. (Here you thought you’d come to church, not to a grammar class! But bear with me. This is important.)
So what does this all add up to? Let’s read verses 27-30 again, this time from the NIV:
27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner (unworthily) will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
My problem was that I had always read this or heard this as though it were an adjective, in which case it would be saying this. “Therefore if any unworthy person eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord, he will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats to see if he is worthy…”
So I was left examining myself to see if I was worthy to eat. But there’s the rub. Of course I wasn’t worthy. And I never could be worthy. It wasn’t just a matter of the amount of time they gave me to confess my sins. Even if I had a month to examine myself and confess my sins, I still wouldn’t be worthy. Because frankly, there is stuff wrong with me that I don’t even know is wrong with me! But the passage isn’t asking me if I’m worthy. Remember, the word is an adverb, not an adjective. An adverb modifies a verb.
There are actually two verbs in question; eats…and drinks. The adverb is referring to the way we eat and drink, the way we observe the Lord’s Table. How were the Corinthians observing the Lord’s Supper? Was it in a worthy manner? Absolutely not! There was drunkenness! There was gluttony! There were divisions between rich and poor Christians. No wonder Paul said, “Your meetings are doing more harm than good.”
The fundamental problem is expressed in verse 29. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. Eating, without realizing the significance of what they were doing. That was the real problem. If they really recognized the significance of these symbols (the death of the Son of God for their sins), could they possibly have approached the table drunkenly, selfishly, divisively? So serious was their sin that Paul wrote in v. 30: That is why many among you are weak and sick and a number of you have fallen asleep.
To add emphasis to my conclusion that it was the manner of their observance which Paul was concerned about, look at his final instructions on how to correct the matter in verses 33-34.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.
It is really a rather simple solution to a serious and profound problem.
At this point we may feel quite relieved. Certainly, the way we observe the Lord’s Table, with tiny pieces of bread and tiny glasses of non-alcoholic grape juice, no one can accuse us of drunkenness or gluttony. But maybe we need to consider the matter more carefully. Are there other ways that our manner of observance might be unworthy? Might we come to this ceremony carelessly, thoughtlessly, with our mind wandering throughout the service? Do we become impatient, wishing the preacher would hurry up, wondering what’s for lunch?
Since the problem is one of “not recognizing the body of the Lord,” let’s remind ourselves of the significance of this ceremony. That is Paul’s approach, at the very heart of this section, in the words that are so familiar to faithful believers.
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,
This ceremony was divinely authorized. It is not from men. It came from the Lord himself. It was given on the night he was betrayed. It was one of his final acts with his disciples before he went to the cross. It is therefore loaded with significance.
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.
The symbols of bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ. When we eat and drink, we are doing three things, according to these verses.
It is an act of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
It is an act of proclamation. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.” This is the central fact of the Gospel. “Christ died for our sins.” When we participate in this service, we are proclaiming, in symbol, the death of Christ.
It is an act of anticipation. Notice the words, “until he comes.” This same Jesus is coming back. That thought should be in our minds as we participate in this simple ceremony.
Do we recognize the significance of what we are observing? Are we fully engaged? Are we remembering the one who died for us? Are we conscious of the message we are proclaiming? Are we living in the hope of his return? Only then can we participate in a worthy manner.
Let me then raise a pertinent question. What about the common emphasis in many Communion services on confession of sin before partaking?
I would point out that there is no mention of confession of sins in this passage. Now of course, if God brings a sin to your attention as you prepare for the service, by all means confess it. But I would hope that if God brings a sin to your mind during the week, while you’re at work, or riding in a taxi or walking on the Corniche, you would confess it immediately then as well. We shouldn’t be waiting for the next Communion to confess our sins. And if you have confessed your sins at the time of their occurrence, then there is no need to bring them back into remembrance here.
While confession of sin is not inappropriate to the service, I do not believe that reviewing our sins and our failures and confessing them should be the focus of the Communion service. When we make it the focus, we change the atmosphere. Instead of spending this time remembering the Lord, we spend the time trying to remember our sins! No wonder we are left feeling guilty and defeated.
Yes, we are commanded to examine ourselves. But what we are to examine is our manner of observing this service. Do we recognize the meaning and significance of the events symbolized in this service? Is our attitude, our approach to the service consistent with its meaning? If it is, then come in worshipful remembrance. If not, don’t walk away. Instead, discipline your mind and heart, focus on the death Christ died on your behalf, and come in worshipful remembrance, recognizing the body and blood of the Lord in these symbols.
There is a phrase I read once that I think describes what our attitude should be as we approach the Lord’s Table. You’ve probably heard me use it.
A SOLEMN CELEBRATION
It should be solemn in the sense of a worshipful, respectful, humble awareness that we are standing on holy ground, and that we don’t deserve to be here.
But nonetheless, it should be a celebration that, because Christ died for us, we are forgiven and washed in the blood of Christ, and that we stand here clothed in his righteousness.
I used to leave communion services feeling guilty and unworthy. That is not what God intends. He wants us to leave the table feeling loved, feeling forgiven, feeling clean, feeling joyful.
“Do this in remembrance of me. And remember that, because of me and my death for you, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who have put their faith in me.”