Communion Meditation: Give Thanks, Remember, and Trust

(The following is a Communion meditation shared in my local church as we look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday.)

The Lord’s Supper is also called Communion or even the Eucharist. That latter term, Eucharist, comes from the greek word eucharisteo, which means “to give thanks.” In Luke 22, when Jesus instituted this meal, breaking the bread and drinking the cup, it says he did so by “giving thanks.” Since we’re less than two weeks away from what might be my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, I thought it might help us approach Communion today by considering why it’s a meal about giving thanks.

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Communion Meditation: Reason to Celebrate

(Below is a Communion Meditation I shared at my local church. This was one way to remember and rejoice in Christ through Communion, not a detailed explanation of it.)

Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, can confuse and remain unclear. And not just the tricky theological questions, but the practical ones most people in their seats have going through their minds. What should I be doing while the bread and cup are passed? Should the tone be somber or celebratory? Should I confess sin, listen to the song, sing, give thanks, or think about the death of Christ?

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Communion Meditation: Our Need and Christ’s Sufficiency

(This communion meditation took place in a series at our church on spiritual desperation.)

One morning this week I reflected on how God designed simple, tangible, physical things in our life to show us how needy and dependent we are. Every day I need hours of sleep. I can skip sleep or try to cheat it, but I pay the price. Every morning I wake up reminded my energy is limited, my body is weak, I’m not strong enough to just push through, and my health is in part dependent on physical rest. It’s similar with food. At least three times a day I have to eat. I get hungry and thirsty throughout the day and my body’s strength, health, and ability to work effectively and think clearly depends on food.

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Communion Meditation: God’s Work, Not Ours

(This is a communion meditation shared at my church to prepare us together. I hope it encourages you with the gospel of grace.)

This year we’ll be thinking about the Reformation, since it’s considered the 500thanniversary. As we take communion this morning I want to prepare our hearts by sharing one thing we can learn from the Reformers like Luther and Calvin.

One emphasis among the Reformers for baptism and the lord’s supper that many of us as evangelicals miss is these ordinances are first about what God is saying to us and what God is doing to us. While we respond and remember in baptism and communion, we cannot miss that they are first God’s work and provision. We primarily receive something in communion rather than do something. The Lord’s Supper is more about the claim Christ is making on us and the gift he is offering to us than what we do for him.

In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us a visible, chewable sign he has given us forgiveness and assurance through his body and blood. They give us greater confidence in God’s promises and faithfulness as we taste and touch them. The elements of bread and wine are God’s tokens, God’s visible word promising in Jesus there is redemption from our sin, shame, guilt, and bondage this morning.

That’s why when Jesus ate the first Lord’s Supper with his disciples, with both bread and wine he gave something to the disciples. At the table he was not receiving something from them as they ate but he was giving them something. He says take and eat, this is my body for you. He tells them, I am the bread of life that feeds you, and I am the Passover lamb whose body is broken so you might be whole. When he gives the cup he says, this is the blood of the new covenant for you, take and drink it.

He’s not asking them to focus on what they’ve done and see this meal as their time to do something, but it’s a time to receive something from Jesus who offers forgiveness, a covering for our guilt and shame, and life with God as our Father. The food is the gift of his faithfulness, provision, and promises not our faithfulness or devotion or activity.

My encouragement this morning is that if you’ve never said yes to God’s gift of salvation in Jesus, Christ still offers himself to you but the meal is for those who have trusted in Jesus’ sacrificial life and death as the one and only means of forgiveness and salvation. Our prayer is that even today you would receive God’s gift offered in the person of Jesus. If you are a believer, as we pass the bread and cup, take time to rehearse the gospel to yourself. What is it you bring in here today: Weariness, doubt, sin, the sense of feeling frenzied, a dry heart, guilt or shame? Jesus offers you something different through himself, so apply the gospel and find freedom and life in who Christ is for you.

 

On the night Jesus was betrayed he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to the disciples and said “take, eat, this is my body.” And he a cup the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying “Drink of it, for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured for the forgiveness of sins.”

Communion Meditation: Signs & Symbols

(This post is a communion meditation shared at my own local church.)

The Lord’s Supper deals in the realm of symbols and signs. Signs and symbols are visible, tangible representations pointing us to something behind the symbol. The thing itself is a signpost reminding us of something bigger and grander than the symbol. Let me give a couple examples.

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Communion Meditation: Contention or Communion

(This is a mediation shared with my local church to prepare our hearts for communion. I hope the gospel of grace in Jesus encourages you.)

We often call this time together “communion.” Do you ever ask yourself why we use that word? If you look up definitions for the word “communion,” it means to be united, to be one, to share intimacy together or to participate in something together. The word likely combines two Latin phrases: com, meaning “with,” and unus, which means “oneness” or “unity.” The Latin-speaking Catholic church referred to this as communion because it was with oneness or unity.

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Communion Meditation: A Shared Table

(This is a communion meditation shared at my local church. I hope it can encourage your heart with the gospel of grace in Jesus.)

When we think about Communion we often talk about who Jesus is and what he has done for us individually. In light of today’s message, we should also think about the corporate dimension we celebrate in communion. What promises does God make to us as a body when we eat and drink? What are we saying and acknowledging to one another when we partake?

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Communion Meditation: Focusing on God’s Grace Rather Than Our Guilt

(This is a meditation used at my local church to prepare our hearts for communion. I hope it encourages you with the good news of grace in Jesus.)

This morning, I want to remind us Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper so we might feed on and be refreshed by him.

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Remember Remember

V
If you’re like me, when you read those two words “remember remember,” your mind runs to the movie V for Vendetta. Referencing Guy Fawkes and the failed Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605, the character known only as V quotes the famous poem: “Remember remember, the fifth of November…” As I much enjoy the movie and would recommend reading about the Gunpowder Plot in England, this post has little to do with V for Vendetta or Guy Fawkes.

I bring up the idea of remembering because I came across the word as I read I Corinthians 11. A section in this text deals with the Lord’s Supper—also known as Communion or Eucharist—and verses 23-26 are often quoted by pastors as they administer the bread and the cup. I love participating in Communion and find it to be one of the most spiritually enriching and faith-rebuilding gifts God has given us. Unfortunately, most churches downplay both its significance and its force, which is why so many evangelicals place such little value on it. The combination of its neglect and my appreciation for it tempt me to write more here than I should, which is why I’m restricting myself to writing about the aspect of remembering.

What it means to remember
In I Corinthians 11:24-25 (see also Luke 22:17-20) Paul recounts the instructions Jesus gave the disciples as he shared the inaugural new-covenant meal with them. Jesus says as we swallow the broken bread (his body) and as the wine (his blood) pours down our throats, we are to remember Christ. Verse 26 lets us know that each time we eat and drink from the Lord’s Table we are proclaiming his death. It is the visible gospel. The Word preached is the gospel we hear with our ears, but Communion is the gospel we see with our eyes and taste with our mouth. The Sacraments (Baptism and Communion) are the God-given visual aids for the church.

So then, what does it mean to remember? Does it simply suggest don’t let it slip out of your mind? Does it mean remember the suffering of Jesus so I feel really thankful or really awful—depending on your church’s view? I would guess that when most evangelicals hear the words “remember” or “in remembrance” during Communion we have a limited and rather low understanding of the word. To “remember”, for us, seems like a small mental activity with little force behind it. But, in the Bible, a call to remember—especially when tied to a covenant sign or ceremony—is a vibrant, powerful, and a participatory concept where we reapply and recalibrate our lives according to what’s being remembered.

“In our Western (Greek) intellectual heritage, ‘remembering’ means ‘recollecting’: recalling to mind something that is no longer a present reality. Nothing could be further from a Jewish conception. For example, in the Jewish liturgy, ‘remembering’ means participating here and now in certain defining events in the past and also in the future.”[1]

Here are two brief examples from the OT of how remember is used in an active way of bringing past realities into present living. To read other passages on remembering see the following: Psalms 25:6-7; 105:8; Lev. 36:42, 45; Jer. 14:21; Ezek. 16:60.

After the flood, God tells Noah the rainbow is the covenant sign that he will not cover the whole earth with water again. Each time the sign of the rainbow can be seen the covenant is remembered. “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’” (Gen. 9:16-17)

The preeminent picture of redemption in the OT is the exodus of Israel from Egypt. This event is tied to its celebration in the memorial meal of Passover. Every year on Passover the Israelites would again participate in this meal to remember who—or whose—they were. The remembrance meal isn’t simply a nod of the head to something from generations ago but it is a visible and lively memorial that God rescued Israel out of Egypt and established them as a people of his own possession. They participate in the meal because they are in fact participants in the reality of this redemption as Israelites. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statue forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12:14)

In his book on Paul’s theology, theologian Herman Ridderbos gives us some great insight into the term remember (anamnesis).
“The anamnesis [remembering] intended in the Supper is something different from and more than keeping in remembrance one deceased….It is not a question here only of the commemoration of what has once taken place in the past, but no less of its abiding, actual redemptive significance. Christ’s self surrender is now…the new and definitive fact of redemption which in the eating of bread and in the drinking of the wine the church may accept as such again and again from the hand of God.…It is not merely a subjective recalling to mind, but an active manifestation of the continuing and actual significance of the death of Christ.”[2]

The Puritan John Flavel provides a practical distinction in two ways one could remember Christ’s death. The first is speculatively and transiently, but the second is affectingly and permanently. Here’s a clue, the second is much better! “A speculative remembrance, is only to call to mind the history of such a person, and his sufferings: that Christ was once put to death in the flesh. An affectionate remembrance, is when we so call Christ and his death to our minds, as to feel the powerful impressions thereof upon our hearts.”[3] If you want to be enriched in your view of Communion, read some of the sermons by John Calvin or the Puritans. You’ll be delighted by the depth and warmth with which they celebrated it.

Remembering today
Even in our culture we have some parallels to this active concept of remembering. Renewing marital vows is becoming increasingly popular. Basically, people renew their vows with an understanding that they are remembering what they originally vowed to one another, taking in those commitments once again, and realigning their love, commitment, and marriage based upon the vows that are in place but sometimes forgotten. The first time a couple makes those vows they actually make a covenant to one another and enter marriage. I don’t see the renewal of vows as re-establishing a covenant already in place. Instead, they are reminding themselves in a dynamic way what the covenant vows entailed and how that shapes their marriage relationship each time they remember and live in accordance with them.

One of the things that encourages me is the current resurgence in churches of understanding the ongoing application of the gospel. Christians regularly hear from the pulpit and read from the pen that the gospel is believed once for salvation but is reapplied daily as we can confess our sins and receive fresh grace in Christ. This growing awareness of what it means “to preach the gospel to ourselves daily” or to “apply the gospel” might give us some insight as to how we believe in Christ and again receive his grace as we eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord’s Supper. Every time we take Communion the gospel is proclaimed and we believe and embrace it again—in other words, we remember. It is mystical, but not entirely different from the mysticism involved in the reapplication of the gospel daily for a fresh receiving of Christ’s grace and a renewed vigor from gratitude for such grace.

That, in part, is how Communion is a gospel proclamation. It’s not just that we explain the gospel as we give communion or that the elements themselves picture the gospel, though both are true. But, even more, the gospel is proclaimed because when I partake of the bread and blood of Christ it is an act of faith where I’m again believing in Jesus, taking in him and the gospel promises I get with him, remembering the new covenant benefits that are given to me in Christ, and receiving fresh grace from him. My hope in writing this is that we come to the Lord’s table with eagerness and expectancy, believing this is not a dull religious ceremony but a dynamic and Spiritual gospel experience.

Footnotes
[1] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 799.
[2] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 421-22.
[3] John Flavel, Sermon XXI in The Fountain of Life (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1968) 1:262.