Dining With God
James C. Denison
Alan Greenspan has called the current economic situation “the type of wrenching financial crisis that come along only once in a century.” The National Debt Clock in New York City, created in 1989 to call attention to what was then a $1.2 trillion debt, now marks the current debt of $10.2 trillion. It was announced this week that retirement accounts in America have lost $2 trillion in the last year.
Meanwhile, the Russian presence in South Ossetia continues; the former Soviet Union has more oil supplies than any other nation on earth, 16,000 nuclear warheads, and a million-man army. Indonesia has recently announced that it expects 2,000 of its islands to be submerged by the year 2030 as global warming causes polar ice caps to melt and seas to rise. This week we learned of a National Intelligence Estimate report which states that the war in Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” due to corruption in the government and a rise in militant violence.
What about the world has you most afraid this morning? Is it the economy and your retirement? The wars or the election? Your job, or health, or family? Are you worried and angry? It’s easy to feel powerless these days. This morning I want to show you that it’s not so, that the most powerful Being in all the universe is on your side, holding you in his hand, walking with you wherever you go. He is for you, no matter what you fear this day. I can prove it today.
Believe it or not, the simple ceremony we will observe today is the answer to our fears and worries this morning. Here’s the setting in our text:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). “Breaking of bread” in this context means more than eating together—it refers to what we call the “Lord’s Supper.” They did this in public and in private: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (v. 47).
Why? Why was this simple act so important for them? Why did it produce “glad and sincere heart” in the midst of their fears and problems? How can it do the same for us today?
What we remember
Paul gives us the earliest record of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, a record he “received from the Lord” and documented even before the Gospels told the story: “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.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The bread represents Jesus’ broken, torn body. Jesus’ loaf was hard-baked—you would have to break it, tear it into pieces, and then crush it in your teeth. So with his body, for us.
Our Lord was beaten with a whip of leather thongs imbedded with pieces of bone and metal; this scourging often killed the victim. Huge, crude spikes nailed his wrists to the cross-beam, then his feet to the upright. There Jesus was left to die.
In 1968, archaeologists discovered the remains of a Jewish man named Yonanen; he had been crucified in AD 70 as part of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. They found the spikes still stuck in his ankle bones. I’ve seen pictures; even they are gruesome, without imagining the flesh which they once bore.
Victims of crucifixion were helpless against the blistering sun and the insects crawling on their bodies and wounds. The strain on their arms often pulled them from their sockets and stretched the chest muscles to the point of suffocation. Crucifixion was so horrible that the Emperor Constantine finally outlawed it after he became a Christian.
Jesus did this for us. He was sinless and perfect; we were sinful and perishing. We deserved to die; Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul that sins, it shall die.” But he took our place on the cross, his flesh for ours.
As we have torn the bread into pieces, as we crush it in our teeth, we remember the flesh of Jesus Christ, literally torn and crushed on the cross for us.
The wine represents his spilled, shed blood. “The new covenant in my blood” can be literally translated from the Greek, “the new covenant which cost me my blood.”
In the Old Testament, sin always required a sacrifice. An innocent animal such as a sheep or bull would take the place of his sinful owner; the animal’s blood would pay the penalty for its owner’s sin.
So it was with the cross. Jesus’ blood was spilled by the whips which tore open his back, the thorns which lacerated his scalp and face, the nails which pierced the arteries of his body, and the spear which gashed to his heart.
This he did for us as well. We deserved to die in sacrifice for our own sins. He is the innocent lamb who spilled his blood in our place. He died in our electric chair, on our gallows, in our gas chamber. He did this for us.
Now the cup represents his blood to us. Wine is made by crushing grapes. The red juice—its “blood”—flows out, and we drink it. As we take it, we remember the blood of Jesus Christ, literally spilled on the cross.
Of course, other traditions see the Supper in different ways.
The Catholic tradition has long believed that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ when they are elevated by the priest during Mass, and that they convey the grace of God to those who receive them. Thus “Communion” is part of worship each week.