Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Communion: How, Who, When & Where

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/23/2012

video available at

recap of mini-series on communion: meaning and significance, presence of Jesus in the meal, a sharing in the suffering and resurrection life of Jesus that speaks to our past, our present, and our future.

A celebration intended to reveal Christ among us has far too often made his presence obscure to those who haven’t yet put their faith in him. This isn’t a recent phenomena – it began even in the early days of the church.

We’ve mentioned before that our main task is not necessarily to understand precisely what’s happening in the communion meal, but rather to learn to obey Jesus in our celebration of it, and let him do among us through his Holy Spirit whatever he wants to. Today my aim is to help us obey Jesus as best we can by tackling the questions about the meal Jesus gave us of how, who, when, and where. We’re going to take the scenic route on our way to this particular destination…

Our text today will be 1 Corinthians 10-11. [comment on the church in Corinth]]


For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

comment on baptism, communion references; all had access to the signs of God’s favor, power, and presence, but only a few actually trusted God with their lives.

Favor, received with pride – trust in self - disobedience – death… dead end


Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

This is an encouragement not to get complacent, and think that the gifts God gives makes one exempt from the labor of faithful living or immune from the consequences of faithlessness. Everything – the signs of God’s presence and power as well as the trials and temptations of life, and even God’s discipline – is designed to draw us deeper into a trusting a faithful God.

Favor, received with humility – trust in God – obedience – favor… life


Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 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? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

complex argument here, especially for we moderns who have no experiences with ancient sacrificial religious practices…

pagan sacrifices were divisive by nature. The more one could afford to offer to a god in sacrifice, the more favor one could appropriate. One’s religious observances were a primary way of doing 2 things: (1) distinguishing yourself from others by purchasing the highest level of favor from the gods that you could afford, and (2) choosing which activities you wanted an endorsement to pursue: drunkenness from Dionysus, or lustfulness from Venus, violence from Mars, etc., etc.

This is in contrast to what happens for a Christian when we participate, through faith, in the sacrifice of Jesus. First, we are unified in the fact that the same sacrifice is required for, and offered for, each of us. My sin is no higher or lower than yours – it took the Son of God to pay for mine, it took the Son of God to pay for yours. My worth is no less or more than your worth. Our value in God’s eyes, based on the sacrifice offered on our behalf, is the same – the worth of his only begotten Son, Jesus.

And not only are we unified with each other, but we are also brought into communion with a God who is love through the sacrifice of Jesus. So there is no room for playing the field, for using the system. It’s not merely a business transaction.

A pagan might be able to buy an endorsement for drunkenness, and go pick up a six pack of lust, and a bag of new York cheddar violence. And Dionysus doesn’t care, as long as he gets his. And Venus doesn’t care as long as she gets hers. And Mars doesn’t care, as long as somebody gets what’s coming to him. Because the reality is, it’s all just different demonic manifestations of “not-love.” And all “not-love” cares about is the destruction of his supplicants.

But a follower of Jesus, in joining in the sacrifice of Jesus through the communion meal, is consuming and being consumed by love, and love alone. And if you know anything about love, it’s that love, in the end, wants all of us. Because all love wants is life for the objects of his affections, and only love will give life to them. So love is jealous for our lives, and doesn’t take kindly to anything that might bring destruction to us.

[significant other example…]

Now, before we get to the next section of the text, a couple of paragraphs on, a little background about the “love feast” or “agape feast”…first believers gathering for meal, fellowship, sharing, and climaxing with a communion celebration. Love and unity in action…


In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 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. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 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!

comment on divisive, displeasing nature of Corinthian church’s practice…gluttony, exclusion, dishonor, drunkenness. Note ironic tone in vs. 19 – “no doubt there have to be differences to show which have God’s approval.”

11:23-34 (2 clicks)

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 when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

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.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Therefore, 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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 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.

“in an unworthy manner…” Not, am I worthy of this? Rather, am I receiving this in the way that is worthy of it, in the way that it deserves? [chocolate bar illustration]

“ought to examine himself…” examine = test and approve. Not a question of should. Rather, a question of why. Why am I coming to this meal today? Am I here so that I can win the approval of God and others and go about indulging my own desires? Am I here because I am better than the sinful slobs who so often surround me?

Or am I here because I am in need of Jesus, Jesus who I will meet in worship, and in his words, and in my brothers and sisters gathered around me, and in the bread and cup of the Lord’s meal?

Remember – pride leads ultimately to death. We want to stop it in its tracks while there is still time to humbly receive the life that is right before us. If our examination reveals humility already at work in us, praise God.

Note: not about introspection and cataloguing of our sins so that we repent of every one. We’d be here all day… We’re just trying to make sure pride hasn’t been invited to dinner, and if it has, that we send it away sulking before we eat. Otherwise it will gorge itself and the rest of us leave unnourished.

“Without recognizing the body of the Lord…” It is essential that we recognize Jesus present with us not just in the bread, but specifically in reference to the church gathered together, the body of the Lord.

If you can’t accept Jesus’ presence in your brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul is saying, then you can’t accept Jesus’ presence. Period. And so you remain in judgment, in pride, holding yourself distant from the saving grace of Christ.

“That is why many among you who are weak and sick…” Let’s start by saying what Paul does not mean:

Paul DOES NOT mean if someone is sick, or weak, or dead, it is because he celebrated communion with an unrepented for sin in his heart. If it were so, we’d perhaps have warrant to police communion. You know, to protect people from unwittingly bringing death upon their own heads. But also, if this were so, we’d all be unwittingly bringing death upon our own heads. Because we all have unrepented for sin in our hearts.

Weakness, Illness, and death (and all other manner of bad things) occupy the territory beyond the borders of God’s kingdom come in fullness. Sometimes they visit us because we live in a time when God’s kingdom is both already and not yet here, and our spirits cry out to God in longing for the restoration of all things and the sweet return of Jesus, the savior of the world, who will bring God’s kingdom in fullness in the fullness of time. Sometimes we encounter them when we step out of God’s kingdom through our own disobedience, whether because of willful sin, or sinful responses to other’s sin against us, or old habits, or lack of discipline. Sometimes God sends them our way to show us that we are living in dangerous territory and we would do well to run back into his arms. Sometimes God brings us face to face with them so we can reach through them and find his conquering presence on the other side. Or to form in us something essential for his purposes for our lives and this world.

What Paul is saying is this: the sickness experienced by many in the Corinthian church was an indication of the Corinthian’ unwillingness, and/or inability to come with their needs to Jesus, present in their brother’s and sisters in Christ, and present on the cross, due to their pride. They were therefore living, by their own wrong-hearted choices, in judgment, not in the grace of God’s kingdom. And so they were helpless against weakness, and sickness, even to the point of physical death -- as is every human being who is disconnected from Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. God was, out of love for the Corinthians, using every means at his disposal to bring the Corinthians humbly back to the cross of Christ and the communion of the saints.

Paul is driving at this basic point: We cannot come to Jesus to show that we are better than another person. We cannot come to Jesus and receive only the parts of him that we like and despise the rest of him. We cannot come to Jesus hoping to attain a magical potion that will protect us while we live according to our pleasure outside of his kingdom. If we pretend to come to Jesus in this manner, we will come away without him. Without the one who is our life, our strength, our sustenance in difficulty, and our hope. And so, naturally, our strength will be depleted, our bodies and souls will become sick, and in the end death will overtake us.

But if we come together to the foot of Jesus’ cross, unified both by our need of him and by our response to his holy call on our lives, in humility and love, we will meet with Jesus, and share with him in his redeeming death on the cross and resurrection life.

“And when I come, I will give further directions…” What those further directions are, we don’t know. Perhaps they have something to do with the ones I’ll offer to you now in rapid fire fashion.

Who can participate? Anyone who is willing to receive the bread and the cup with the anticipation of sharing in Jesus’ suffering on the cross and in his resurrection life, and who is willing to also receive the others Jesus has called to be part of God’s family with him as brothers and sisters.

Can all baptized students of Jesus participate? Yes. Can men and women who haven’t yet been baptized but have given their lives to Jesus? Yes. But I’d also encourage you to be baptized – talk to me personally if you’d like – as the worldwide church has from its earliest days recognized baptism as the primary sign of entrance into the community of faith. Can children who haven’t yet been baptized but who are embracing what they’ve learned of Jesus through the faith of their guardians? Yes, at the discretion of their guardians.

What if someone is taking communion who doesn’t fit the above criteria? Maybe they clearly do not understand what it is about, or if they do, are choosing to disregard its meaning and purpose?

Step one: relax. Jesus served Judas, knowing full well what was in Judas’ heart. Judas’ conscience was given the job of policing Judas regarding the bread and cup, and we would do well to allow other’s consciences the same privilege.

Step two: relax again. God’s kindness, the scriptures say, leads to repentance. Perhaps the person in question is afraid to stick out like a sore thumb by not participating. That might well be our fault, for allowing thumbs that stick out to get sore from the elements and our withering gazes, rather than giving their owners a ride in our car. Repentance on our part might be in order if that’s the case.

Perhaps they are curious, or at the end of their ropes, just wondering, hoping that God might actually show up. More power to them…maybe He will show up…he surely did to Cleopas and his companion that night in Emmaus, much to their surprise.

If simple lack of understanding is the issue, in love we can do our best to teach what we know about the meal, and let the person judge for himself whether or not to participate.

Who can lead it?

Anyone…history of priests presiding. Jesus is the true host of the meal…

When and Where? Whenever and wherever 2 or more are gathered in Jesus’ name and the Holy Spirit leads you to share the meal together.

I’d encourage you to exercise discernment about whether or not it will serve the purposes of unity and love and give glory to Jesus, but if the prompting passes that test, then go for it.

Small groups in homes? Sure. Bible study groups at school or work? Sure. Husbands and wives? Why not? In a hospital room? Definitely.

Sunday morning at church? Let’s do it.

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