A Maundy Thursday Communion Meditation (2014)

cup

                      “Do This in Remembrance of Me”                         
   I Corinthians 11:23-26     
__________________________________________________________________

I will often end a worship service by asking you to join me in “looking to the cross.”  This was the tradition of one of my predecessors in ministry at the First Christian Church of Amarillo, Dr. Newt Robinson.  I learned about it while doing some research for a Doctoral project on the patterns of worship among congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  By looking at old worship bulletins and talking to some longtime members of that church, I learned that Dr. Robinson routinely invited people at the end of worship to look to the cross before heading back into the world to witness and serve.   He understood that the cross was Christianity’s most identifiable symbol and so he pointed to it at the end of worship so that people would carry its meaning with them back into the world.  The Swiss theologian Emil Brunner explained, “He who understands the cross aright… understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ.”  So, when you look to the cross, what do you see?  What does it mean?

The Roman authorities who watched Jesus Christ die on the cross on Good Friday afternoon saw a threat to the social order being eliminated.  They thought that it was all about preserving their power.  When the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem watched Jesus die on the cross they saw a blasphemer, someone who had called Himself the Son of God, getting his just due.  They thought that it was all about protecting their traditions.  And Jesus’ closest friends, those who had left everything three years earlier to follow him, saw the death of their highest hopes and deepest dreams in His death on the cross.   They thought that it was all about their personal prospects.  They all saw the same thing, and they each understood it in a different way, and that’s because events need explanation, and acts require interpretation.

Alan Kreider has a friend who spent some time serving at one of Mother Teresa’s hospices in Calcutta.  As he reflected later on his experience there, he noted, “It struck me that without a knowledge of Bengali (the language of the people with whom he worked), my actions were either incomprehensible to the people that I went to serve, or could only point to myself in a self-glorifying sort of way.” They didn’t know his motivations and he couldn’t explain his intentions.  He couldn’t tell them that he was there as part of his devotion to Jesus Christ, and that’s when he realized that an unexplained action allows people to draw all kinds of explanations.  Impressed by and grateful for his unexplained action, Alan’s friend said that the people he served in India would up thinking that he was such a great and generous human being, and that wasn’t the point at all. He was there because of Jesus Christ.  He was there for Jesus Christ.

Events need explanation; acts require interpretation, and the Lord’s Supper is where the meaning of the cross gets provided for us.  It was in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday that Jesus Christ gave us His interpretation of the events that would unfold on Good Friday, which is why every time we come to this Table we repeat them.

 23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-27)

John Stott said that these words and the symbolic actions that go with them of breaking a loaf of bread and pouring a cup of wine “throw floods of light on Jesus’ own view of his death” (68).  He said that at the Last Supper Jesus Christ was “visibly dramatizing his death before it took place,” and was “giving his own authoritative explanation of its meaning and purpose.”   So, what does Jesus Christ want us to see and think about when we look at a cross?  Well, the Words of Institution that come to us from Jesus Christ in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday tell us at least three things (Stott 68-71).

  • First, they tell us that His death was central. In the Upper Room, in His closing hours, when it was time for Jesus to tell His disciples how He wanted them to remember Him, He took a piece of bread and broke it and talked about how His body was going to be given for them, and then he poured a cup of wine and talked about how his blood was going to be shed for them. Jesus didn’t ask them to remember His birth or His life, His miracles or His teachings. It all came down to His death. That’s what He wanted them to remember.
  • Second, the Words of Institution that come to us from the Upper Room tell us that the purpose of His death was to establish a New Covenant with us that is based on forgiveness.  It was during a Passover meal that Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper.  His sacrificial death in the context of one of the great sacrifices required by the Old Testament forever establishes its meaning for us: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29; 36).
  • And third, the Words of Institution that Jesus Christ gave us on Maundy Thursday emphasize the necessity for each one of us to receive the benefits procured for us on the cross personally by faith. Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the spiritual tradition to which this church belongs, said that at the heart of the communion service is the experience when we take the bread of the Lord saying to us individually, “For you my body was wounded,” and when we take the cup, the Lord saying to us, “For you my life was taken” (273). You see, the Gospel is not just the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins in general. It is the message that Jesus Christ died for my sins in particular. And it is at the Lord’s Table where I eat the bread and drink the cup of remembrance that the meaning of what Christ did on the cross is brought home powerfully and personally to me.

Before the Passion began, Jesus shared Passover with His disciples, and it was in the course of that ritual meal with its unleavened bread and its cup of blessing that Jesus explained to His disciples what His death on the cross the next day was going to mean.   Maundy Thursday interprets Good Friday for us, and that’s why we’re here tonight.  DBS+

Sources

Campbell, Alexander. The Christian System. Gospel Advocate. 1970.
Kreider, Alan. “Tongue Screws and Testimony.”  Mission Dei. 16. 2008.
McGrath, Alister. What Was God Doing on the Cross? Zondervan. 1992.
Stott, John R.W.  The Cross of Christ. IVP. 1986.

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