Today we are 185 days into lockdown and 271 days into the year. The 10th month is almost here. As you look back over this period of time, what have you missed the most? What is it that you were used to and enjoyed and then missed, especially once lock down hit us? Some might say, “not mingling with friends”, others, “not working at the office”, and still others “not being able to attend school regularly”. Many Christians will say “not being able to fellowship at church with the Body of Christ” What would you say?
I retired at the end of 2019. January 2020 was largely a well needed holiday break. As February broke, we needed to find a church because at retirement we were told we needed to leave the church where we had been for the past 29 years. Although we tried in Pretoria, we could not find a church like we were used to … a Reformed, Evangelical, Anglican Church. We travelled through to the western side of Johannesburg and worshipped there a few times. Then we were approached to start a Sunday Evening Gathering and Bible Study in our home. After about six weeks of doing this, lockdown came around.
At level 5 of lockdown, all we could do was go to the bank and food stores. Today, we are at level 1 and have enjoyed getting back together as a Sunday Evening Gathering and for Mid-Week Studies over the past three weeks. Because the gatherings in our home were not intended to be a formal “Church”, we did not participate in Holy Communion (The Lord’s Supper). That is the one thing I have really missed. I know that some churches have had “Virtual Communion Services” … but for me, gathering together in person displays the intimacy of meeting with Jesus at the table. That is what I missed. Well tonight, for the first time since retirement, Jenny and I celebrated the Lord’s Table with another 6 ‘saints’, with a teenager and a child observing.
Different pastors and their people celebrate the table differently, but what is the Communion Service–or Lord’s Table–all about? There are different passages that could be used, as the Table needs to be based upon Scripture to lead into the memory of the act. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:
1Co 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.
Paul is using the very words our Saviour used at the Last Supper. The disciples were present. Jesus took the bread and prayed, giving the bread to the disciples to eat, saying, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” The key to understanding the phrase, “this is my body” is through the ending phrase, “in remembrance of me”. That is, the bread is symbolic of His body … it is not His body and never becomes His body. It never ceases to be bread. It is an element and remains such. The remembrance is that Jesus gave His body to die on the Cross … “which is for you”. Substitution is in mind. You don’t need to pay the sin price because Jesus went to the Cross for you. But you need to remember that before the Cross His body was so brutalized that just looking at Scripture might give us an idea of the magnitude of what Jesus endured through the beatings suffered before being crucified.
Isa 52:14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.
Jesus’ lacerated back and sides were nothing but shredded skin, tissue, muscle and meat. He suffered the most horrendous pain and punishment for sin … sin that was not His own, for He was sinless! His body was even further brutalized by the crown of thorns, the nails in the hands and feet and then the sword shoved into His side.
His death was penal in that He suffered the punishment due to us. As the song goes … “[He] took the fall” for us. His being cut off from the Father and losing all that love and intimacy for the first time in eternity, although temporal, was the most extreme agony because at that moment the full wrath of the Godhead was dispensed upon Jesus. “This is my body, which is for you.” And then afterwards, He took the cup of wine, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Where Malachi predicted the end of the Levitical Priesthood, Jesus fulfilled that Priesthood by making the old obsolete, bringing the new into reality through His perfect, sinless blood shed for sin not His own. No, we don’t drink blood just as we don’t eat flesh … but symbolically, the wine is seen as His blood shed to wash away sin. In the Old Covenant, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, sprinkling blood on the Mercy Seat to make atonement for his sin and that of the people, and God would pardon. That was repetitive, whilst Jesus’ shed blood was a “once for all sin” event. Again, substitution is in view.
So, what is actually happening when God’s people celebrate the Lord’s Table? “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Firstly, look at those last 8 words … “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” … Jesus died. He was dead. Yet, “until He comes” … Jesus’ Death and Resurrection make the Gospel. You can’t have one without the other, and this is great news for us believers, for as He died and rose again, so will we!
Then, you see those words, “For whenever” … implies a regular activity. The Lord’s Table was never intended to be a “once in a blue moon” matter. The intention is regular, often, for through the Lord’s Table we proclaim and announce, one to another, the Truth of the Gospel: Jesus died, Jesus rose and Jesus is coming again! And the remembrance is so powerful that it motivates faithfulness, holy living, fellowship and evangelism.
Dear God, thank You for every opportunity I have to celebrate the Lord’s Table. Thank You for this vivid memory of Jesus’ death and resurrection for me. Please help me to live a life shaped by Your Gospel, for Your glory. Amen.