21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. 24 Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshipped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. 15 And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
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.
A little boy opened the fridge and took out a small box of fruit juice. As he pushed the straw into the little hole on the top, he noticed that it was red grape juice. So he passed it to his sister and said, “Here, taste this, and tell me if it tastes like Church.”
Not a bad connection to make, and quite profound if you think about it.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion. Whenever we do this, in a very real sense we make a connection with what happened at Calvary nearly two thousand years ago. We also connect spiritually with the Church, the Body of Christ in a way that kind of transcends the restrictions of time and space. Some Christian congregations are observing Holy Communion today on the other side of the world. Others did so a few hundred years ago, and there are Christians who are not even born yet, who will be celebrating Communion in the future, yet in a way that we certainly don’t fully understand, we have a connection with these fellow believers – a connection which breaks through time and space. We are connected with the Body of Christ throughout all times. It is one way we get a real taste of Church.
As the Reformed Church, we believe that the bread and wine remain simply bread and wine, but as we come to the Table to share in Communion, our prayer is that God, through His Spirit would take these common elements, and set them apart to use them for His purposes.
And His purposes might be very different for each one of us. Some of us today might be burdened by the guilt of our sin, and need to be reminded that Jesus died for our sins. Others of us may be drifting along with no real spiritual direction in our hearts, and need to be challenged this morning. There may be some here today for whom life is really hard and your faith might be a bit wobbly right now. Life does that to us, and if that’s where you are now, our prayer is that God will use this Sacrament of Holy Communion to remind you of His promises of eternal glory. Whatever purpose He has for you today, we pray that He will reveal that to you as you come to the Table this morning.
So what is it about Holy Communion that is so special? Or maybe we need to ask another question: Is it special at all? Are we doing this simply because it’s the first Sunday of the month, or is there a deeper, more meaningful purpose behind the Sacrament of Communion?
In order to try and answer these questions, we need to go back to the Upper Room when Jesus first gave us this memorial meal. The Passover meal was not new – it had been celebrated every year by the Jewish people since the Exodus from Egypt, but on this particular night, the night before Jesus was executed, He took the tradition of the Passover meal and gave it a whole new meaning.
If we go back to Luke 22 and read from verse 7, we find Jesus’ disciples making the usual arrangements for the Passover. This meal had not changed for thousands of years, as it reminded the Jews of God’s miraculous rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt. God used Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. After many plagues sent by God, Pharaoh remained hard-headed and refused God’s command. The final plague was the death of the firstborn son of every human and animal in Egypt. The angel of death went through the land and killed all of the firstborn unless blood was put on the tops and sides of the doorframe. This was an early reference to the blood of Jesus on the cross. For years after the dramatic rescue from Egypt, the Jews remembered it every year, and in Luke 22, for the disciples at least, this meal was to be exactly the same as it had been for as long as they could remember. During the celebration of the Passover, four cups of wine would be poured and drank, roasted lamb and various other foods would be eaten, and the story of the Passover in Egypt would be retold.
But then suddenly, in the middle of this most traditional of Jewish traditions, Jesus broke the mould.
He began something new.
Luke 22:19 – “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
It’s hard to make changes in the Church. “But we’ve never done it this way before” is a statement you often hear in Christian Churches, but this is nothing compared to what Jesus did that night in the Upper Room. The Passover meal was sacred. Every Passover meal in every Jewish home for thousands of years was identical. Every word, every prayer, every action. It never changed.
But now suddenly Jesus changed it. He broke the bread to symbolise how He would be broken for us. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record how the curtain in the Temple that symbolised the separation between God and man was broken - torn in two at the moment that Jesus died.
Hebrews 10:19-20 says, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body.”
What happened to the bread and to the curtain is what happened to the body of Jesus. It is like what happened when God made His covenant with Abram in Genesis 15. God promised Abram land and a son, so Abram asked the Lord how this was going to happen. God didn’t answer his question directly, but this is what we read in Genesis 15:
“The Lord said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.’ Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other.”
When God made His covenant with Abram, He passed between the halves of the animals. In those days, when people made a covenant with each other, they would do exactly the same. They would walk down into the blood, between the broken bodies of the animals and make their covenant promises to each other. It was an extremely powerful image. The men making the covenant were saying in effect that breaking the covenant meant that the other could do to him what was done to the animals. It was that serious.
Our God is a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God. And in all His interactions with us throughout history, He has kept His covenants, while at the same time there is an expectation from Him that we will uphold our promises to Him too. Of course, this presents us with a huge problem.
We are sinners, and we cannot be trusted to keep our part of the deal, and this is why God gave us the sacrificial system we find in the Old Testament. Under the terms of the Old Testament or Old Covenant, when an Israelite sinned against God, instead of that person receiving the penalty due to him, an animal sacrifice was made and the penalty was paid. It was an act of God’s grace. But this sacrifice had to be made over and over. It was a temporary solution to a greater problem. Hebrews 10:3-4 says “those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
So the Old Covenant sacrifices did two things: they provided temporary respite from God’s punishment, while at the same time they pointed out that there was something still missing. A permanent, once-and-for-all sacrifice was needed in order to do away with the need for constant animal sacrifices.
And that is precisely what Jesus was talking about in the Upper Room when He told His disciples that this bread is His body, broken for us.
When Jesus died, when His body was broken, the New Covenant was instituted.
God’s role in the New Covenant is His offer of a permanent, eternal and sufficient sacrifice to pay the price of our sin. Our part in that covenant is accepting Jesus as our Saviour. When you accept Jesus as your Saviour, you are saying to God, “Lord, I confess that I am a sinner, and that I am unable to pay the price of my sin. I accept and believe that Jesus has paid the price on my behalf.”
When you do that, in a very real way you meet God in between the pieces of the sacrificed animal, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose body was broken for you. You become covered in the purifying blood of Christ. From now on, when God sees you, He doesn’t see your sin. He sees the blood of His Son. He sees you through blood-tainted spectacles.
Everything changed at Calvary, as this perfect sacrifice was the final one. There is no more need for sacrifices, and no more Most Holy Place where we are not welcomed. There is no more need for a temple, because God now lives in the hearts of His people.
Luke 22:20 says, “In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Here Jesus makes a symbolic connection between His blood and the wine. When covenants were made, wine always played a special role. In Leviticus the Jews were taught that life itself is in the blood, which is why blood was always significant when covenants were made.
In fact, when a Jewish man proposed marriage to his prospective bride, he would say something very similar to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:20. He would offer her a cup of wine, in effect saying, “I am prepared to give my whole life to you, to be united with you forever.” If she took the cup and drank from it, she accepted his proposal of marriage and promised him the same.
Today in modern wedding receptions we still see remnants of ancient covenant ceremonies. The tradition of the newlyweds cutting the cake together has its roots in the animals being cut in half. The bride and groom will often pop a piece of the wedding cake into each other’s mouths. This is more than a cute photo opportunity. Ancient covenants were marked and celebrated with a meal, and the participants would feed each other. Newlyweds will also interlink their arms and drink champagne together. This is another tradition we’ve inherited from ancient times. Participants in a marriage covenant would feed bread and wine to each other. The understanding was that the bread represented their bodies and the wine symbolised their blood, and although this might sound a bit strange, effectively they were saying to each other, “I am eating and drinking you and you are eating and drinking me. I am giving you all of my life and you are giving me all of yours.” So we can see that marriage is more than signing a piece of paper and having a party until the wee small hours of the morning.
This also puts Jesus’ words to His disciples in the Upper Room in a whole new light. Today, two thousand years later, it’s harder to make sense of what He meant by talking about bread as His body and wine as His blood, but to the twelve men in the room with Him that night the significance of what He said was crystal clear. Marriage covenants and celebrations were social events, and they would have witnessed the rituals of newlyweds feeding each other bread and wine many times.
They knew the deep significance of these occasions, so it was easy for them to understand just what Jesus was telling them that night. They would’ve made the connection easily.
And it’s a beautiful a picture. When we become Christians, we receive all of Christ’s life. The Church is His bride, and He gave His life for His Church – for you and I. And one of the things we’re reminded to do at the Communion Table is that we are to give all of our lives to Him too. As we know, one of the keys to a successful and fulfilling marriage is total commitment from both parties.
In exactly the same way, one of the most important keys to a successful and fulfilling marriage relationship between Jesus and His bride is total commitment from both parties. Jesus has already done His part, and it is now up to us to respond faithfully and completely to Him. Until such time as we commit ourselves fully to Him, there will always be something missing in our lives as followers of Jesus.
So Holy Communion is first and foremost a reminder of Jesus’ complete surrender to God’s will for us. He died a cruel death that was ours, not His. The bread and wine are reminders of His broken body and spilt blood. When we eat and drink them, they become part of us, reminding us of how close Jesus is to us. He is not just a force or a being out there somewhere - He is in us, and we are in Him.
He is the one who invites us to come and share in this Sacrament. Holy Communion was given to us by Jesus Himself, not by the Church, and quite frankly the sooner we abolish man-made rules and restrictions as to who may or may not share in and serve Holy Communion, the better.
Jesus didn’t ask His disciples if they were baptised or confirmed, or whether they were Protestant or Catholic. He simply gave bread and wine to them and said, “This is my body and blood given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.” (John 3:16-18)
Weddings in ancient times were open to everybody. Interestingly enough, South African law states that marriage ceremonies are still public events. You cannot refuse entry to anyone (including ex-boyfriends and girlfriends!) The reception is a different matter though, and invited guests are the only ones allowed in, but in Jesus’ time all were invited to a wedding feast.
And all are still invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb that we read about in Revelation 19.
Holy Communion gives us a glimpse of this promise to come, and this is why the invitation to come to the table is an open invitation. The bread and the wine are available to you.
In John 6 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. Here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:35, 50-51)
Holy Communion is about life – life in all its fullness.
But it is also about death.
When the animals were cut and laid out, walking into the middle to meet your covenant partner meant death to your own interests. The world teaches us to say, “What about me? Look after number 1.” Those are the kinds of things which, with the help of God, we now die to.
The bread and wine that reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice for us also serves to remind us that because He is now our covenant partner, our life is to now revolve around Him, and not ourselves.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We choose now to die to self and to be alive to Him and His purposes.
Finally, Holy Communion is a public declaration as we associate ourselves with Jesus. He was despised by the religious authorities because He ate with sinners and tax collectors. Eating with someone means that you associate yourself with them, whether it’s a family meal, a business lunch with a client, or a candle-lit dinner for two. And what annoyed the Pharisees so much about Jesus was that He not only talked to sinners and tax collectors, but He ate with them too. It was a public declaration of a more intimate relationship with sinners than He had with them.
When we come to Holy Communion, we publicly declare our association with Jesus Christ, that we have a more intimate relationship with Him than the world. We declare our allegiance to Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Do you love Jesus? Then this is for you. Come today and be reminded of His measureless love for you…
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 22:14-20
Here Jesus takes the Passover Meal, a tradition which had not changed for thousands of years, and suddenly changes it by giving it a whole new meaning. There is a strong link between the original Passover Meal in Genesis 15 and Holy Communion.
What are some of the similarities?
What differences are there?
As we heard on Sunday, there are also some remarkable similarities between Holy Communion and ancient marriage ceremonies. In which ways do you understand the link between the New Covenant and the covenant of Christian marriage?
The Sacrament of Holy Communion can mean many different things to different people, as God meets us at our point of need.
There are three main ‘points of focus’ though:
1. A look back at what Jesus has done for us.
2. A look inwards at what He is doing right now.
3. A look ahead to the promises of eternity.
Discuss each of these in your group.
Do you feel it is important to celebrate Holy Communion?
Why, or why not?