“PREPARING FOR COMMUNION”
It was only six weeks ago this morning that we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on what we in the western world have come to call “Easter.” It was just over five months ago that we celebrated His birth in what believers all over the world call “Christmas.”
Easter, or as I prefer to call it, “Resurrection Sunday,” is not a particularly chaotic or even hectic day. It usually tends to be a fairly quiet and uneventful day. Maybe that’s because the world tends to ignore Christ and His sacrifice and focus on things like eggs and bunnies.
Christmas, on the other hand, tends to become more chaotic and hectic every year. Maybe that’s because the world has injected so much of itself into our celebration of Jesus’ birth that it has become increasingly difficult to remember the baby in the manger at all. There’s just too much noise.
But most of us have learned to fight our way through it. We still decorate our houses. We still spend too much money. We still buy too much stuff. We still eat too much. But no matter how much we decorate or spend or buy or eat, it never seems to fill our souls. And so, if we’re willing to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that most of us still fall into the trap the world sets for us. But don’t you secretly wishing it would all just go away and we could return to some form of normalcy? “Peace and good will toward men?” To quote the immortal words of Ebenezer Scrooge, “Bah! Humbug!”
How much better would it be if we could simply redirect our attention to the manger and that little baby who is lying there? How much better would it be if every Christmas we could just focus our attention on Jesus and celebrate His birth? And how much better would it be if every Easter we could just focus on Jesus and celebrate His resurrection? After all, isn’t that what God has called us to do?
Well, actually, He hasn’t. There is no scriptural command for believers to celebrate either Jesus’ birth or His resurrection from the dead. Now to be sure, there is no command against doing either one. Both Christmas and Easter should be rich times of rejoicing and thanks-giving to God for Jesus, His “unspeakable gift.”
What did God command us to celebrate? He commanded His children to celebrate Jesus’ death with a memorial service. That memorial service is this service. It is where we take part in the Lord’s Supper. It is our Communion with Him. And it is, when properly and carefully prepared for, true Christian worship in its highest, purest, and most intimate form.
To most people the celebration of a death seems like a very strange thing to do. But think about it. Without Jesus’ death He would not have been resurrected from the dead.
Without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead He would not be alive today. And if Jesus were not alive today you and I would have no hope of eternal life. But He was resurrected and He is alive and we do have the assurance of knowing that He will resurrect us to eternal life as well. And that’s worth celebrating, isn’t it? I know that “celebrate” seems like a strange word to use, but it is the right word.
Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language defines the word “celebrate” as the public and formal performing of a ritual or a ceremony to commemorate, to honor, and to praise. Well, that’s exactly what we’ll do this morning as we come together at the table to partake of the elements that Jesus, the Great Physician Himself, prescribed for us.
But before we come to the table we need to prepare ourselves. And we dare not prepare our-selves lightly.
1 Corinthians 11:29
29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.
The Apostle Paul is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we need to prepare our hearts to come to the Communion table to celebrate the Lord’s death. This preparation is nothing like what we do for Christmas. This preparation requires no decorating, no spending, no buying, and no eating. Rather, this preparation requires us to examine our own hearts to see what we might find there. And when we do so, humbly and honestly, we may well be surprised to see what the Holy Spirit reveals to us.
But before we do that we need to consider the details of Communion, or at least what we know of the details. The fact is that the Bible says very little about the specifics of how it is to be done. The elements themselves are as simple as can be – unleavened bread and the juice of the grape. That much is made clear in the gospels. The bread is unleavened because leaven is used throughout the Scriptures as a symbol of sin.
In John’s gospel Jesus refers to Himself as “…the bread of life.”
*John 6:51, 58
51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven, not as the fathers ate, and died, (but) he who eats this bread shall live forever.”
Since Jesus calls Himself the bread of life, and since He is without sin, it naturally follows that only unleavened bread can be used as a symbol for Jesus’ body. So when we eat the unleavened bread, we are symbolically taking Jesus’ eternal life into ourselves.
At that first Communion service Jesus took the unleavened bread, prayed over it, broke it, and gave it to those who were His own. And He told them to remember Him, to commemo-rate Him, to memorialize Him, to celebrate Him, whenever they ate it.
19b “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Then there’s the juice. The Bible speaks of wine as being the drink that was consumed during the Lord’s Supper. But the Greek word for wine is “ŏinŏs,” and it is used for both grape juice that has fermented (what we normally call wine), and grape juice that has not fer-mented (what we normally call grape juice). So there is no distinction in the original language.
Thus there has been, and still is, a sometimes emotional and even divisive debate among believers as to whether juice or wine should be used in Communion. Most, though certainly not all, conservative Christians choose non-alcoholic grape juice. That seems to be the more reasonable position for us to take. Why? Because, just as the fermentation process does not take place in unleavened bread – the bread that symbolizes the absence of sin in Jesus’ body – neither does the fermentation process take place in fresh grape juice – the liquid that sym-bolizes the absence of sin in Jesus’ blood. And so, we use grape juice, not wine.
Again, at that first Communion service Jesus took the cup, prayed over it, and shared it with His own.
1 Corinthians 11:25b
25b “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
A remembrance, a commemoration, a memorial, even a celebration – that’s what we’re here for this morning. But we need to prepare ourselves for it. And let’s be clear. All true Christians are called to come to the table.
• Don’t stay away if there is sin in your life. Now to be sure, you need to confess that sin. Such confession is a vital and necessary part of your preparation. We’ll deal with that in a little while, but if a Christian stays away from the table because there is sin in his or her life, no one would ever come to the table. We all have sin in our lives!
• Don’t stay away if you have doubts. There are times when every believer struggles with doubts. Thomas would have his doubts, wouldn’t he? But Jesus still invited him to come to the table, and when Thomas confessed his faith, Jesus blessed him.
28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
• Don’t stay away if you are struggling spiritually. Are you weighed down with trouble, worry, and strife? Are you fighting a battle that is sapping you of your strength and even your desire to go on? You are not alone. Do you remember what Jesus said about that?
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
30 “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
So if you are a Christian this morning, this table is for you. Prepare yourself so you do not need to stay away. But if you are not a Christian, if you haven’t been born again to eternal life through faith in Christ, then do not come to this table. Why would you? Unbelievers have no part in His death. So unbelievers have no reason to celebrate it. Our prayer for you this morning is that you would humble yourself, repent – that is, change your mind about who Jesus Christ really is – and put your faith and trust in Him and Him alone.
But for the rest of us, those whom Jesus has saved and given new life, we are called to pre-pare ourselves. If we do not, or if we do so lightly or frivolously, we put ourselves in a very precarious position with the Lord. Worse still, we place ourselves in danger of dishonoring the Lord who saved us and gave us new life. This is what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he speaks of partaking of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner.”
*1 Corinthians 11:27-32
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unwor-thy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.
30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Look again at v. 27. If we take the elements in an unworthy manner we are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. What exactly is an “unworthy manner?”
Let me answer that question with a question. Would you come to the table with unconfessed sin? I am not talking about something that you have truly forgotten and the Holy Spirit has not brought to your memory. I am talking about a sin or sins you are fully aware of, but refuse to acknowledge, admit, and confess. Would you consciously and deliberately come to the table with that kind of unconfessed sin? That would be unworthy. That would be sin-ning against the body and blood of the Lord.
What are the consequences for such behavior? Look again at vv. 29-30. You would be eating and drinking judgment to yourself. Why? The answer should be obvious.
Such behavior would be unmistakable proof of an unrepentant heart, or a heart that was har-boring anger or bitterness toward a brother or sister in Christ. The results of a Christian with an unrepentant heart can be devastating. At the very least, they are sobering.
Look at v. 30. Think of it. Is your refusal to confess known sins to the God who loves you and sent His Son to die for you worth bringing weakness, sickness, or even death upon your-self? This weakness and sickness Paul mentions could be physical, emotional, or spiritual, but the death he speaks of must be physical death. We can say that with surety. It can’t be spiritual death because a Christian can’t spiritually die. The point is that if we, His children, treat the Lord’s Supper lightly or with indifference, disrespect, or disdain, God will disci-pline us. He must. His holiness demands it.
Listen, for two thousand years the world has treated the memory of Christ and His sacrifice with indifference, disrespect, and disdain. The world, with what it foolishly thinks is impu-nity, sins against the body and blood of Christ all the time. But we, God’s children, simply cannot do so. So when we come to the table we prepare ourselves in a worthy manner.
In v. 28 we see what that looks like. In v. 31 we see the outcome. Examining yourself hum-bly and honestly will allow you to see your sin as God sees it. Your forgiveness isn’t in question here. But you need to recognize your sin and agree with God that it is sin. When David confessed his sins he said…
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.
Then he describes the results of his confession.
5 I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; and You did forgive the guilt of my sin.
Do you see? The outcome of David’s agreeing with God about his sin and confessing it was that his conscience was freed from the guilt of his sin. It was that guilt that weighed him down and kept him from the beauty of pure worship and joyful fellowship with God.
6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him.
7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.
David came to see his sin as God saw it, and when he confessed it, God restored him.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.
This is what God does for us when we examine ourselves and see our sin as David saw his. Then our preparation for coming to the Communion table will not be “in an unworthy man-ner.” “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
But wait, there’s more. There is yet one other caveat that you need to consider as you pre-pare your heart to receive the elements of Communion. God calls us to set aside our anger and take care of any outstanding business you have with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
22 “…I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
23 “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there (you) remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be recon-ciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Jesus’ point in v. 22 is not that calling someone a name has the same effect as murdering them. But He is saying that the emotions that lead to verbal abuse are the same emotions –when left unchecked and allowed to fester and grow – that can ultimately lead to murder. How does that apply to your preparation for Communion? Listen to Jesus in Mark’s gospel.
25 “And whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against any-one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trans-gressions.”
If you need someone’s forgiveness for something you have said or done to them, go to them and humbly seek it. Conversely, if someone seeks your forgiveness for something they have said or done to you, receive them and give it. Is that easy? No, it isn’t! Sometimes, in the flesh, it’s almost impossible. But with Christ all things are possible (see Philippians 4:13).
Clinging to bitterness only succeeds in keeping you in bondage. You become a prisoner of your own hurt and anger. But there is great power and emotional freedom in forgiveness. When you forgive, it allows you to love the one who has harmed you. And it’s a reminder that only God has the right to punish someone for the wrongs they have committed.
Many of you saw the movie “Courageous.” Do you remember the police officer who had such a battle within himself with regard to forgiving his own father? When the son was finally was able to do so, the father had already died. So the son went to the cemetery, stood over the grave, and forgave his dead father for all the hurts and pain. You say, “Well, that’s a pretty silly thing to do. The father didn’t know the son was forgiving him. And even if he did know, he may not have thought he ever did anything that called for forgiveness.”
But, of course, that isn’t the point. The blessing of that police officer’s forgiveness wasn’t for his dead father. It was for him. God was dealing with his heart, not his father’s. This is such a critical truth for us to know and embrace. Forgiving others for their offenses against you can have a dramatic effect on your spiritual life. The fact is that forgiving others can enhance your relationship with the Lord Jesus as few other things can do.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to how to pray in Matthew 6, He gave them what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. Please turn there. I want us to zero in on one verse. In v. 12 Jesus says, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Or as some of you learned it, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”) That’s just one of Jesus’ specific instructions regarding our prayer.
But now notice something else. Look at what Jesus says immediately after He instructs us in how we are to pray. He elaborates on v. 12.
14 “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly father will also forgive you.
15 “But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your trans-gressions.”
The forgiveness He speaks of here is not the forgiveness that leads to salvation, but the for-giveness that affects our daily walk with God. It’s about our fellowship with Him.
Mark 11:25 (again)
25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against any-one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trans-gressions.”
In Genesis 37 Jacob’s sons were jealous of their father’s love for young Joseph. When their jealousy became hate they plotted his murder, threw him into a pit, and left him for dead. He was found by some Midianites who rescued him but sold him into slavery in Egypt.
But by Genesis 50 God had intervened in Joseph’s life and he had become one of the most important and powerful men in Egypt. Only then did God bring Joseph face-to-face with the brothers who had intended to kill him. By then Joseph had both the authority and the power to exact his revenge upon them. What did he do? He did exactly what you and I are called to do.
18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?
20a “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”
Joseph understood what so many of us forget. We are not in God’s place.
Legally, in the eyes of the laws of the land, Joseph had every right to exact revenge for the wrongs committed against him, but he chose to give up that right and let God deal with it. Furthermore, he was able to love those who had hated him. He never excused their behavior or denied his hurt. He simply gave up whatever rights he had to make them pay for what they had done. How does this play out in the NT?
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
So before you come to the table, confess your sin. And then ask yourself if you are clinging to any anger or bitterness over something someone has said or done? Can you forgive them? Can you let it go and let God deal with it? If you are willing to do so, your preparation for receiving these elements will not be “in an unworthy manner.” “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
Finally, if you are a Christian, and if have confessed your sin, and if you have forgiven your brother, you are worthy to come to this table, to receive the bread and the cup, and you can joyfully thank God not only for your salvation, but for the work He is doing in your life.
Confessing your sin, forgiving others, and thanking God! That is how you prepare to take Communion.
At that first Communion service Jesus thanked God for the elements they were about to receive. And we are called to do the same thing. While this is a time for serious and solemn personal reflection, please don’t think of it as a time for sadness. Don’t miss the fact that this is also a time for great joy and thanksgiving.
So let me encourage you to examine yourself, to “do business” with God. Ask Him to reveal anything that you have forgotten to confess and to show you what you must put right. You can confess here and now, but you may need to put something right somewhere else or at a later date. Commit to doing so. Make your heart right before the God who has saved you. Then humbly and joyfully receive the elements. Please join me at the table for our celebration.