This week's sermon

Prayer for Afghanistan

`The Lord’s Supper.`

 

Date:  19th September 2021   (Communion St. Mungo`s)

Praise: CH4.125: CH4.111: CH4.668: CH4.19: CH4.167

Lessons: Jeremiah 31: 31-34,  Mark 14: 12-26

Text:  `While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, `Take it, this is my body` Mark 14: 22

 

I want us this morning – as a gathered people, to look at some insights into the Lords Supper – to consider why we are here – to try and understand why we feel it necessary to be here.

On that first Palm Sunday when Jesus made that final journey to Jerusalem, he stopped as he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives and he sent two of his disciples with the instruction to bring back to him a colt they would find there.   They found it just as he had said and brought it to him, he rode the colt into Jerusalem and the people celebrated shouting `Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord`, and they spread their cloaks on the ground and threw branches at his feet.

However, within a few days things had changed.  On Thursday evening he gathered his disciples together for that final meal in the upper room, knowing Judas would betray him – knowing the following day he would be crucified.  Shortly we will do as they did then – we will eat the bread and we will drink the wine, just as he instructed remembering all he did for us, is doing for us, and has yet to do for us.  We will gather around the Lord’s table to celebrate the Lord`s Supper.  So let us consider why we do so.

There is more than one reason for calling this meal the Lord’s Supper.

First of all, Christ himself established it.   In the last week of his earthly life, he said to his disciples; “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  For more than 3000 years now, the Jews have celebrated the Feast of the Passover, even today, they follow exactly the same ritual as they followed in the time of Christ – nothing is different.

On the Thursday evening just before his arrest, Jesus took a piece of bread, and he thanked God for it.   He then broke it, and said to his disciples – “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you.”  Then, after they had eaten, he took a cup of wine, and said to them, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you, drink it, all of you.”

He then went on to say, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Therefore – the meal is called the Lord’s Supper because it is a memorial to him.

Tell me – have you ever noticed how some people become like the memories they treasure?   What they think is often what they really are.  So – what do we think about during the Lord’s Supper?  We should think of Christ himself – and all he did for us.  If we do – we will find our faith to be strengthened – our hope awakened –and our strength renewed.

You know – I find it quite strange that our modern way of thinking almost presupposes a sense of absence – while the ancient Hebrews – their concept of memory presupposed a sense of presence.  But that sense of presence wasn’t a crude literalistic, Aristotelian concept – but a realistic spiritual presence.  The Lord’s Supper, for us, is meant or be more than a psychological stimulant – or a memory quickener.  Itwas given to us by Christ – to keep us ever mindful of his death, and to bring us into a `Holy of Holies`, where we can come into his presence.

There is a second name for this special meal – the `Eucharist` – and this is one you may not be familiar with.  In the early days of the Church – this word `Eucharist` was used for the Lord’s Supper.  When Jesus shared the meal with his friends, he gave thanks.   The Greek word is `eucharistesas`.

Jesus knew he had to face death alone.  He knew his disciples would run away and leave him when he was arrested.  He knew he would be alone when he faced the wrath of the Temple priests and Caiaphas.  Yet – `he gave thanks. `  Why did he do this?  The reason is quite simple – he could see beyond the pain of the beating and even crucifixion.   He knew, soon, he would meet his Father again, face to face.

The celebration of the Supper has always been the great act of the Church’s thanksgiving – and `Eucharist` reminds us that this meal represents a celebration – not a funeral.  Here – during this meal – we give thanks for all Christ has brought us – peace with God – forgiveness of sin – and the power to break free from our sins.

Thirdly – we know this meal as `Communion` a name we are all familiar with.  It is as Paul wrote to the people of Corinth.  “This cup of blessing which we bless – is it not the communion, (that is the sharing) of the blood of Christ?”  “The bread which we break – is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  The Greek word is `koinonia.

Now – we all express Christ’s presence in our lives in different ways.  But if you were to close your eyes for just a moment and think of him standing there, just in front of you, you would see the calm confident look on his face.   You would feel the touch of his hand on your shoulder, and you would recognise his voice when he says to you – “be still and know that I am God – come to me and I will give you rest.”

When we speak of Communion – we shouldn’t be thinking of the past, but of the present – of the now.  Not of the one whom is gone – but of the one whom is here with us now.  Not of the one we remember  – but the one who with whom we have actual fellowship at the present.  This may be difficult for us to do – but he knows how hard it is for us to understand the things we cannot see – and because of this, he uses material things to make it easier for us.  That is the way God works – through the material, the spiritual comes.  The incarnation says the same to us – `through the material the spiritual comes. `  It says to us – `through the human the divine comes. `

Before anything else this morning, we must believe in his presence with us at this table.  It is the Lord himself who presides at the communion service.  When Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples, he summarised in these gestures his own life.  He was broken on the cross, and given as bread to the world.

Being chosen, blessed, broken and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.  When we take the bread and share it with the words `This is the Body of Christ` we will do so because we want to live as chosen people, blessed and broken becoming food for the world.  When we do this – and receive that presence, we will find that he is able to do for us all that his disciples found he could do for them.  We will be able to receive him with all the benefits he offers.  When we come to him in faith – we will realise that we do not commune with a symbol – but with a person – with the Lord Jesus Christ who was prepared to die that we might live.

In faith, we believe in a real presence, because we believe in a living Christ who has risen from the dead – and who, although we cannot see him, meets with us spiritually as we participate in the means of grace that he has provided.

Finally – this feast is called a Sacrament.  Now – sacrament is not a biblical word – but it does suggest a truth that can add meaning to the custom of the Lord’s Supper  This word comes from the Latin and is a transliteration of the word `sacramentum`.  The sacramentum was a promise made by Roman soldiers to protect and be loyal to the emperor and serve his country.   I suppose it’s a little like the oath members of our armed forces make today.

When we keep this meal – this Lord’s Supper, we are pledging to be followers of Christ.  In doing this, we receive from him, the assurance that he will not only be with us, but will be part of us, so that whatever we face in this world, we will not face alone, but with him.  And let me also remind you of this, my friends – when you eat the bread and drink the wine – you are giving him your word of honour once again that you will keep your promises you have made to him and to God.

As the situation in Afghanistan escalates and people desperately seek help, Rev Dr Marjory MacLean, convener of the Committee on Chaplains to Her Majesty’s Forces, has written a prayer for Afghanistan. At this difficult time we pray for everyone involved.

 

All-loving God, Your hands have fashioned every lovely corner of this treasured planet, and the beautiful land of Afghanistan is as precious as every other place Your children call ‘home’. By its rivers and mountains, its fields and gardens, its busy towns and ancient villages, it is the heart’s desire of its people and the place where their lives and loves are nurtured.

We grieve today with those who grieve over Afghanistan, the people who call it home indeed, the people exiled or suddenly having to leave, and the men and women from other countries who have made sacrifices in recent years in the cause of that country’s future.

We remember with renewed sadness the loss of lives of military personnel during the years of this country’s involvement in Afghanistan, conscious of the questions that must today be troubling the minds of those in our community who were bereaved, those who were wounded on operations, and those who were forever changed by experiences suffered there.

We pray for peace, dignity, freedom and confidence for the men, women and children of Afghanistan; for courage, vision and generosity within the international community responding to such need; and for tranquillity of mind amongst our own Service community and its wider family.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the peace-giver, we pray, AMEN.