Pastor Walther / The Three communions / Aug 6, 2017 / Pentecost 9 / 1 Corinthians 10:14-17
It was Joe’s first time in a church. He had walked past the church before on his way to the bus stop, but never came in. He had been invited by a friend but never had the courage. This time he did. At one point during the service, it seemed like everyone was getting up and going to the front of the church for a snack. He made his way up, looked down at everyone else to see what they were doing. He grabbed the little white circle of what tasted like a Styrofoam cracker and washed it down with some wine and then proceeded to sit down. Following the service, the pastor approached Joe and asked Joe to come back and learn more about the “low calorie snack” that he just received. The loving pastor wanted Joe to learn about The Lord’s supper and what it truly means.
When we speak of the Lord’s supper, you may find that we have several words that describe the same thing. We have the Lord’s supper, we have the Sacrament, and we also name it Communion. In short, it’s called the Lord’s supper because the Lord Jesus instituted this meal. We call it a Sacrament because it is a sacred act that God has done for us. But our focus today will be on the third word, Communion. In fact, when you hear the word from now on, I want you to think of “THE THREE Communions.”
The word Communion simply means being united to something or someone with a very close connection. That is what our God wants with us. He wants communion. He wants unity with us. And those are terms you and I just can't keep. In and of ourselves, we cannot have fellowship with God because of our sin. We can't have that unity, that communion, because we have not been holy as the Lord our God is holy, because our lives so often show that we would rather do it our way than God's way.
But you see, that's what makes the Lord's Supper such a special gift. God knew that we have no hope of having communion with him on our own. So he went about establishing that unity for us. He establishes that unity with the life and death of his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth and took on human flesh and blood so that he could be our perfect substitute. In life, Jesus was perfectly holy, completely without sin. And in death, he offered that flesh and blood as the payment for our unholiness, our imperfection, and sinfulness. Now, because of Jesus, that fellowship with God that was destroyed by our sin has been restored! Through the atoning work of our Savior, we have peace with our God. We have been made his dearly loved children, washed clean from every imperfection. Through Christ, we now have our first of the three communions we are talking about today, communion with God.
But now that we have this communion with God, the apostle Paul has something important to tell us, he says, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” Think about the unity that a husband and wife share. This is literally one of the closest relationships that God blesses humans with. In marriage, a husband and wife become one flesh. But what happens when a spouse begins taking their interest, or their love, or their time away from the other spouse? Soon that relationship becomes fragmented, not united. If sports, or tv, or Pinterest or even another person would get in the way of a healthy relationship, those things need to be set aside. In a perfect world, would a spouse look for love outside of marriage? Of course not! You wouldn’t even want to dabble in those temptations but run away from them.
The apostle Paul was a man who had traveled all across Europe taking in the sights, the sounds, and even learning about the local traditions and religions. The ancient city of Corinth, where Paul was sending this letter to, was a very wealthy city that even today we remember the architectural style, like Corinthian columns. It was a city of impressive art and music, but it was also a city of incredible moral corruption. In fact, the pagan religions of the city would without shame use prostitution as part of the religion. Paul was a pastor to Christians who knew better than to be associated with these religions, but he was also pastor to some new Christians who came from these religions, who maybe didn’t know any better. But the imperative to stay away from idolatry hits home to every single Christian.
We don’t necessarily have heathen temples on every corner with prostitutes running around, but we sure do have a lot of different kinds of idolatry. Have you ever put your friends first, ready to follow them into doing things that are wrong, rather than standing up for what is right? Can we love other people, or things, or sports more than God? How much time, money, and effort are you willing to put into entertainment or fashion compared to supporting the spread of the Gospel? Idolatry is not dead and gone! Our God wants to be united with us, to have communion with us, not for us to run away from him.
Instead, God gives to us the Lord’s supper to bring us closer to him. He brings us closer by reminding us of his death and resurrection and the forgiveness that is now ours, personally. He does this through the “Second communion.” Paul is making the point that when we receive the bread and wine in the sacrament we are actually sharing in Christ’s body and blood. We call this second communion “The Real Presence,” where the body and blood are in, with, and under the bread and wine. Interestingly, you don't find Paul trying to explain just how it can be that Christ’s body and blood are really present along with the bread and wine. He simply takes God at his word and believes that God uses the sacrament to share with us the wonderful spiritual food of his body and blood. It is truly a miracle that is inexplicable. Instead, God simply presents these truths to us and uses the passages of Scripture to focus our attention on what they mean for us and for our salvation. Through this second communion, that is the unity between the body and blood and the bread and wine, God unites us even closer to him in that first communion.
As if God hasn’t blessed us with one communion, and then a second on top of that. God gives to us a third communion. Paul explains, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” In the Lord's Supper, God reminds you that you aren't alone. You have people here that have been convinced of same truths, who hold to the same beliefs, who share the same priorities. It is a beautiful thing to see table after table of your Christian family approaching the altar and to be reminded of these amazing truths.
We are made one by the one body of Christ. When you come to the Lord's Supper, you're making a public proclamation of your faith. You're saying, "I am united, one body, with everyone else who comes to this altar. We are one in faith; one in doctrine; one in life.” This third communion is what we confess in the creeds when we call it the “Communion of Saints.” That’s what should make it so difficult and sad when members don’t come to church to take the Lord’s supper because they are missing out on three kinds of communion. It’s like when that spouse recognizes that the other spouse is losing interest in that unity and relationship of the marriage. We want them to be connected again.
Paul is trying to come from a loving place in getting his Corinthian congregation to grow. He understands because of their context and because of their maybe lack of scriptural knowledge that he's going to need to teach and train them, which will not necessarily happen overnight. He's trying to work with both sides of the congregation: those who maybe are stronger Christians and those who are maybe newer to the faith, especially those who came from pagan worship. He wanted the congregation to grow together in that fellowship, in that communion, growing together in their faith, and growing together in their knowledge of Scripture. This would take patience and time.
In the same way we are concerned about the faith of the people around us and we are concerned about the faith of those who don't know what God's word has to say about communion, like Joe who came into church for the first time. In fact, when you look one chapter later, Paul reminds us of the sinful consequences of not receiving communion in a worthy manner. This is why before you take communion, in a very loving way we want to speak to you, where we can go together through God's word to see what God's word has to say about every doctrine and especially learn more about the Lord’s supper and these three communions. We want to be on the same page and be in unity, that third communion that we talked about. We want to grow together in God’s Word and all these important doctrines, whether we are new or long time Christians.
Or! Or, you could simply take every word that is uttered out of this beautiful mouth of mine as 100% truth. Every movie review of mine is 100% truth: “Godzilla vs, Space Godzilla” is the best movie. Or every thought of mine regarding sports is truth: watching poker on ESPN is the greatest thing. You could take every thought of mine as truth. Or! Or, like Paul said to the Corinthians: You are smart people. Judge for yourselves what I say. In other words, I want you to look at God’s word to learn more about doctrines in the Bible like the Lord’s Supper so that when I talk about these things, you can double check me just like you could double check my movie reviews, even though those are on point.
If you didn’t know, we are trying to update our Church library, which is down in the basement tucked in by the elevator. Check out some of the books about the Lord’s supper, or about 1 Corinthians. Check out the new Catechism that just came out that will hopefully be making its way onto the shelves which systematically goes through the Bible passages speaking to the Lord’s supper.
This communion that we have with each other comes about because of our communion with God, who reminds us through the communion of the Lord’s supper that we have the forgiveness of sins. That forgiveness is what gives to us THE Three communions. Amen.