First Mennonite Church
October 8, 2023
Communion: A Remembrance to Imitate
Text: Luke 22:14-23
Today, we are celebrating Communion. This Christian ritual is grounded on the meal Jesus ate with his disciples, just some hours prior to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. We do not know if Jesus had celebrated the two previous Passover meals with his disciples in the same way as the one recorded here by Luke. Luke’s recording of this account seems to highlight the specialness of its timing. Jesus expressed an eagerness for this moment to come. “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. The timing for this meal is tied to Jesus’ suffering. The expression “before I suffer” is a veiled reference to Jesus’ death, which he had announced three times before (Luke 9: 21, 44; 18:31). This last supper was going to give Jesus the opportunity to graphically tell his disciples about his death once more. It would be his last opportunity to help his disciples understand the significance of his death he had told them about three times before.
The cup with wine was a perfect representation of his blood and the breaking of the bread was a visual illustration of what was going to happen to Jesus’ body. There was also a deeper meaning beyond the simple and visual elements. They represented Jesus’ life-giving grace and power.
Jesus further explains that he was not going to participate in this solemn act again, at least not in the near future. “. . . I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” From Jesus’ perspective, that solemn moment would not be repeated, at least not until God’s kingdom is fully established. It is for that reason every time we celebrate Holy Communion, besides looking back at Jesus’ death, we also look forward to the wedding feast between the Lamb of God and the redeemed and glorified church as mentioned in the book of Revelations. There we read:
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God” (Revelations 19:7-9).
Every occasion we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we cannot avoid remembering the death of Jesus. Communion is the closest visual display of what happened on Good Friday. The blood-stained cross, the wounded side of Jesus, the crown of thorns piercing his forehead, and his bleeding hands and feet are all symbolically present in the elements of Communion. “Jesus bled and died,” says the hymn.
Every year around Easter Sunday we wonder: Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? In the pages of the Gospels, we find various reasons given that led Jesus to the cross of Golgotha. Jesus’ outright claim to being the Son of God was considered blasphemous by the religious authorities. Jesus’ assertion of superiority over the Sabbath regulations and his teaching authority brought jealousy—murderous jealousy that led religious authority to plan his death. Satan’s indwelling and control over Judas had a major role in Jesus’ death. Jesus’ widespread popularity was seen as a political threat by Pilate and Herod, which also became a contributing factor to Jesus’ crucifixion. But Jesus also told his disciples that his suffering and resurrection were things written about him in the pages of the Old Testament. Each of these reasons and possibly all of them combined finally led to Jesus’ death.
On the second announcement of his death, Jesus pleaded with his disciples to keenly pay attention to his words, but even so, they did not understand what he was telling them. They were afraid to ask him for clarifications (Luke 44-45). Again the question: Why did Jesus have to die?
When we read what Jesus did during the Last Supper, there he gave his disciples and to us the clearest reason for his death. These are the words of Luke:
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood . . .”(19-20).
Included in that plural “you” are you and me. Jesus clearly says that his death is for our benefit. Jesus died for you and me. We are direct beneficiaries of his death. He was going to die, not for those who refused to believe or those who wanted his death, although they could have also benefited from it, but Jesus said the breaking of his body is for the sake of those who sitting around the table. At that moment even Judas was included as a possible beneficiary of Jesus’ death too.
His body was broken for our benefit. And his blood was shed as the guarantee of God’s new binding relationship with us—the new blood covenant on our behalf. In the book of Hebrews, we read: In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness [of sins] (Hebrew 9:22).
Jesus invites us to take the Communion elements—the bread and wine, in order to partake of the benefit of his life-giving sacrifice. Therefore, by participating in Communion we give witness that we belong to God’s redeemed community through his Son.
But there is also a commandment Jesus gave as he served the broken loaf and the wine: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Hence, through Communion, we reenact Jesus’ self-giving love for the world. So, every time we celebrate this sacred meal, the Lord commissions us to imitate him by giving ourselves in sacrificial love and service to others.
In the Gospel According to John, there is no last supper, instead, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. However, it also included a commandment of service to others: If I the Lord and teach have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:14, 15).
When we participate in Holy Communion we commit ourselves to imitate Jesus, which he said he does after the Father.
Again, in the gospel according to John, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
The apostle Paul always called his fellow brothers and sisters to imitate Christ. The power of our message resides not in the textual proclamation of the Bible but in the reenactment of Jesus’ words and deeds. Today, we do not follow Jesus literally as his first disciples did, but we are called to imitate him in his love, service, and spirit.
My dear brothers and sisters, today the Lord invites us to his table. Communion reminds us, not only of the benefit we have in Jesus’ self-giving love but also of the call we have to imitate him in our daily lives.
Please come to the Lord’s Table; be renewed and recommitted to serve him all the days of your life. Amen!