660) Just a Ritual? (part three of three)

     

     (…continued)  The Sacrament of Holy Communion is a ritual, one of the central rituals of the Christian faith.  It was started by Jesus Himself to pass on the truth of who he was and what he was about to do.  Jesus began this ritual the night before he was to die.  He was having one last meal with his disciples.  It was, in fact, the traditional Passover meal.  That very evening he would be arrested.  That very next day he would die a horrible death on the cross.  And the following Sunday he would be alive again, risen and victorious over death and the grave.  That weekend, beginning with this meal, was to be the most important in all history.  The sins of all the people who ever lived would be taken to the cross in just a few hours.  The salvation of every human being who ever lived would be at stake.  In the resurrection, death itself would be defeated, opening the way to eternal life for all who would believe in Jesus.

     Jesus had to make sure that his followers would remember what he was about to do, and remember what it all would mean.  He had to find some way to pass on these great truths, and use them to build faith, stability, loyalty, and identity into His family for all time.  So what did he do?  He started a ritual.  He took the great truth and meaning of what he was about to do, and wrapped it up in a ritual for his followers to do over and over and over again– in order to remember him and to remember what he was about to do.  “THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME,” he said.  Then he took bread and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you;” and then he took the cup and said, “Take and drink, this is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Everything you need to know for salvation is all there in the few words of that simple ritual.  Jesus bled and died for you; for the forgiveness of your sins and for your salvation.  Believe that; remember that; and you shall be saved.  All you need to know and believe is right there, wrapped up in the words of that simple, but powerful ritual.

      In our sinful blindness, even such a great and wonderful gift as this can become an empty ritual.  We should not just be going through the motions.  If there is no meaning and no spirit in what you are doing, then the ritual is not what it was meant to be.  But what should we do then?   One thing we must not do is we must not disobey the words of Jesus and abandon or disregard this ritual that he so clearly commanded us to continue.  

     Rather, when we receive Holy Communion, we should listen closer to the words and think more carefully about what they mean–  ‘The body of Christ, given for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you.’  When others are communing, you have time to think about Christ’s suffering and death because of you and for you.  Use that time well.  Think of how Christ’s disciples betrayed, denied, and disappointed him– and then think about how you have disappointed Jesus.  Even so, he died for you, and continues to offer you his love.  Watch as the others go forward, and keep in mind the most important thing about each of them– and that is that they need too Jesus, and that Jesus died for them also.  You may not know them, or you may know them all too well, and perhaps are not even on very good terms with some of them.  But see them now as one for whom Christ also died, and one whom Christ has forgiven, and one whom Christ has commanded you to forgive.  There might be those in the congregation you are tempted to look down on for some reason or another.  But Jesus does not look down on them.  He died for them, too.  Who are you to think you are better?  That would be a good time to ask for God’s forgiveness for that, too.  These are just examples of the kinds of thoughts that can make communion more than an empty ritual, and keep it meaningful for you each time.  Jesus died to forgive you, and there is much in us all that needs forgiving.

     And then remember, as important as ritual is, it is not the main thing.  God’s love and forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus are the main things.  But the ritual of the Lord’s Supper is one of the primary ways that God has chosen to communicate that love to you.

     The world is changing fast– too fast.  But a ritual is a place where things stay the same, and there’s a comfort in that.  The promise of God’s love and forgiveness is always the same for you, and offered again and again to you in that same old ritual of the Lord’s Supper. 

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I Corinthians 11:23-25  —  For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:  The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,  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.”  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.”

Hebrews 13:8  —  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul will be healed. 

–Prayer based on the centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:8; used in the Roman Catholic communion liturgy