Sermon Series: Heidelberg Catechism

This is For You

August 17, 2017 - August 20, 2017

1 Corinthians 11:23-32

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Bill Henderson

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I have experienced partaking the Lord’s Supper in many different ways over the years. Here at Brunswick I have the sacrament in the worship center, the sanctuary and under a tent. I have also celebrated it in a college dorm, at the bed of a sick person in the hospital, in a home, and on a beach. And I have also seen various things used for the elements. Over the years I have had for the bread: a loaf of raised bread, a round pita loaf, flat Jewish matzah, round moist matzah balls, gluten free bred, saltine crackers, Scottish shortbread and the absolutely amazing, perfectly cubed white bread. For the cup, I have drunk Welch’s grape juice, some poor imitation fruit juice, dry red wine (bordering on vinegar), some fruity red wine and German white wine. But the concern of the catechism and scripture is not with these things – namely the place where the meal is celebrated or the make-up of the elements. The point is to bring us to Christ, to remind us of his mercy to us, and to find comfort in His words;  Jesus says, This is for you.

 

Each week at Brunswick we celebrate this sacrament – when you partake of it, do you know what it means? Do you understand how Christ communicates his grace to you in this meal? Do you come to this table to experience that grace and a strengthening of your faith? The mercy and grace of Jesus Christ is here at this table revealed.

 

The British mystery writer P. D. James recounted an incident in her childhood when she was sitting in the pew in her Anglican Church. She wrote in her autobiography “I can remember the great glory of those occasions of Holy communion and my sense that something mysterious and extremely important was happening at the altar and that left in the pew with my brother and sister while my parents went up to receive the wafer and wine, I was temporarily deprived of something which would one day be mine also and which I would enter into as I might an inheritance.” Even as a young girl PD James sensed the value of partaking of the sacrament.

 

The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus himself the night before his crucifixion. He had asked his disciples to prepare the Passover Meal in a room he had picked. Passover was the central Jewish feast at which the people retold the story of how God had freed them from their slavery to the Egyptians after the plagues. God had told the Israelites to place the blood of a lamb on their door frame so the Angel would spare the firstborn of the Jews, while striking down the firstborn of the Egyptians. Then Pharaoh let the Jews depart. This event marked the beginning of the Jewish people’s trek to the land promised them by God.

 

In the midst of the Passover meal, Jesus gives it a new and fuller meaning: he will give his body and shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins and the granting of life eternal to God’s people. The bread that was broken represented his soon to be crucified body and the wine of the shared cup represented the sealing of the new covenant of grace. What we call the Lord’s Supper is in effect the new Passover for Christian believers. No longer is it the body and blood of a lamb; now the body and blood of Christ, perfect and without sin, establishes the new covenant between God and his people.

 

An early church father who lived about 150 AD, Melito of Sardis, wrote a sermon on the Lord’s Supper comparing and contrasting it to the Passover:

 

The law is old, but the gospel is new;

the type was for a time, but grace is forever.

The sheep was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible,

who was crushed as a lamb, but who was resurrected as God.

For although he was led to sacrifice as a sheep, yet he was not a sheep;

and although he was as a lamb without voice, yet indeed he was not a lamb.

The one was the model; the other was found to be the finished product.”

 

The words which instituted this sacrament that the apostle Paul uses include:

 

This is my body which is for you;

This cup is the new covenant in my blood

Do this in remembrance of me; that is, of Jesus.  

 

What do these words do? They establish a bond between Christ and you. Compare for a moment a wedding – the bride’s dress, the flowers, the music played, the scripture passages read, the promises spoken, the rings exchanged and placed on fingers, the family and friends who witness the ceremony. All these elements reinforce the meaning of marriage – the joining of two people together before God in a covenant agreement.

 

In a similar way, but with the means of grace undergirding it, we hear the words Jesus used to institute this meal before his crucifixion, we see the loaf broken and the cup poured, we eat bread and drink -touching and tasting the elements - we hear the exhortation to come to this table, we join together in declaring the great truths (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again) and we come to the table not alone but with our brothers and sisters in the faith. All these features of the sacrament bind us more deeply to Christ as have faith in Him. When we take the bread and drink from the cup we have true spiritual fellowship with Christ and obtain more and more the life that is in Him.

 

The Heidelberg catechism reminds us of this reality. Christians must receive for themselves the merits and benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection by faith (it can’t be earned). Those who take part in this sacrament with faith, experience a union with divine nature of Christ directly and through the Holy Spirit.

 

But where is Christ in the meal?

 

I am reminded of the answer to question 47 in the catechism: Christ is true human and true God. In his human nature Christ is not now on earth;2but in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.

 

So, Christ is really here in this place as we celebrate this sacrament. I see him in the entire sacrament, for I see afresh Christ’s effective act of redemption. In this sacrament I see the sacrifice he made to provide forgiveness of my sins. When I may personally struggle, wondering if my sins are indeed forgiven, I see in this sacrament acted out that indeed in Christ they have been forgiven.

 

The Lord’s Supper is full of comfort and solace, but only for the believer. If a person doesn’t trust Christ as their savior, there is no benefit here at the table. And there is a warning to Christians. Do not, like some in the church at Corinth, think of yourself in a spiritually superior and self-important way. To do so is to make a mockery of Christ’s sacrificial death for needy sinners.

 

How should you come to the table – prepared, but not perfect. Preparation requires confession of sin and repentance, an ongoing turning away from sin. You must do this because the elements remind you that Christ’s body and blood were shed for you. Jesus wants you to free from slavery to sin. This table is full of grace precisely because it reminds us that Jesus alone can remove our sins from us.

 

Do you come with humility and thankfulness affirming the gift of salvation Christ offers? Do you come seeking a strengthening of your faith? Are you actively seeking to love and serve Him more faithfully? Even the smallest of faith can be fed and increased at this meal. Christ is here, according to his promise, to honor all levels of trust and faith in Him.

 

What we are to both expect and experience at the Lord’s Table is very different than the very first Presbyterian church I attended. A table was set with a tablecloth covering the elements; male elders marched up the aisles like a police force in their black suits. There was total silence in the church as the people sat in the pews, confessing all their sins since the last time the sacrament was held (in that church the sacrament was held 4 times a year). It was a very serious event. There was no speaking, no music, nothing at all until the sacrament was over and the table re-covered with the tablecloth.

 

In reflecting on that experience some 40 years ago, I realize that experience and setting of the sacrament communicated only half the message. It was correct in its call for a solemn and sincere time to recall Jesus sacrifice of his own life for us. But the sacrament is by its very nature full of grace. As Christ communicates His grace to us it should lead us to real joy in and thankfulness for Christ.

 

When we come to this table in a few minutes we will declare that we are but one part of the much larger church in all time and in every place. And we will do this sacrament, at Jesus’s command, until our Lord comes again and eats this meal with us, face to face. And when we come to this table we will hear Jesus say to us: this is for you. AMEN.

 

To contact Bill Henderson about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180