I was an active member of our church. Since I was young, I got involved in several positions in the church, namely singing, leading, and teaching. I used to think the active involvement in the work of the ministry was the barometer of my spiritual growth. The more I serve, the more I can be assured I am saved. However, what I did not realize then the opposite also holds true. When I slowly got tired and served less and less, my confidence got shaken and my “faith” got weaker and weaker. I was burned-out because I was exhausted from being involved in numerous ministries. I have to maintain these commitments in order to keep myself secure about my faith in God. I thought I was living in faith but in reality, I was relying on my works.
I did not rely on the ordinary means of grace to confirm, strengthen and assures my faith. Looking back, I think what contributed to my condition is because the gospel was not being preached. Week in, week out, I am often reminded I had to “maging masipag sa paglilingkod”. Yes, I know that good works are a result of true faith. However, in order to sustain such work, I need the cleansing power of the Word of God and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. But the way this work is conveyed to me in the church is through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. The Word publishes to us God’s promises and the Sacrament confirms it to our senses. In that way, my faith is assured, fed and nourished.
You may have the same experience. Growing up in the church, we were forced to rely upon ourselves in order to enliven our own faith in God. We sought several ways to feed ourselves so we can also feed others. We may have bought into this idea that we got in by faith but we stay in by works. We may understand the Christian life as something we maintain doing in order to persevere in the end. Well, Salvation belongs to the Lord and in every aspect of it he ordained a way to sustain in and one of this God-appointed means is the sacrament. Today, we will hear about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. It points to the broken body and the poured out the blood of Jesus Christ. Properly viewed, a believer receives Christ and all his benefits in these elements. We are nourished and refreshed by Him unto eternal life. The Lord’s Supper shows to us that we are united in Him, we received forgiveness and received eternal life because of Him. We are members of his own body.
Last week, we heard about the sacrament of Baptism and we learned about the washing of justification and regeneration. The topic of baptism covers the Lord’s Day 26 and 27. Today we will hear about the topic of the Lord’s Supper and it covers the Lord’s Day 28. We will answer these two questions: (1) What does the Lord’s Supper point to?; (2) How does this benefit us?
What does the Lord’s Supper point to?
The Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal just like baptism. If the waters of baptism point to the washing of justification and regeneration. What do the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine points to? They reveal to us the spiritual reality of Christ’s redeeming work. When we eat of the bread and drink of the wine, we receive Christ and all the benefits he provides. When are nourished by the elements, our souls are refreshed and our faith is strengthened.
Where can we find that the Lord’s Supper as the sacrament pointing to Christ’s redeeming work? Well, we need to go back again in the Old Testament. Just like how baptism replaced by circumcision, the New Testament institution of the Lord’s Supper replaced the Old Testament institution of the Passover. In Luke 22, we can read clearly the occasion when the supper happened. In verses 7-8, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” So we can understand that from here that our Lord chose to take the meaning of the Passover and make it all about him. He was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:9)” wrote John. At the same, Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35)”. The Son of God takes everything the Passover points to and declared himself to be its fulfillment. He assigned the bread and the wine as the sign of the new covenant to his people.
Now, while the meaning and significance between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper correspond this way, there were several occasion and circumstances that they differ. In the same way, the circumcision and baptism do not correspond in all circumstances, the Passover does not correspond fully to the Lord’s Supper. One example of this is the type of the bread. The use of the unleavened bread was circumstantial. The significance of having fresh bread points to God’s redemptive work of new creation. The Passover was the beginning to the new journey of Israel to the land of promise. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper was the inauguration of the new creation fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. Christ’s body was the fresh bread of new creation. He is the inauguration and the consummation, the Alpha and the Omega of creation and new creation. So in between, an ordinary bread will suffice. Another example is the occasion of the supper. Being called supper, we understand that it happened at night. Questions are raised by those “pilosopo”, why do the supper in the morning service? Well, the occasion of the supper belongs in the old institution as the Passover. However, given that Christ’s fulfillment of the Passover, all its significance points now to him. It does not anymore follow that it should be done in evening just like the Passover. Going back to Luke 22, in verse 20 it was written, “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”. So in a sense, the drinking of the wine happened after supper. Ursinus argued that the Lord’ institution of his new covenant does not necessarily have to be done every supper.
That is the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper in relation to the Passover but what is the reality that it points to now that has been instituted by Christ? The broken bread points to this broken body and the poured wine point to the blood of Christ. Christ in all intense and purposes used the bread and the wine to signify his redeeming work but at the same time, it also points to his sustaining work in the church. The Supper was given to the church for their nourishment and refreshment. According to our catechism: “as surely as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood,so surely does he himself nourish and refresh my soul to everlasting life with his crucified body and shed blood.” The Lord’s Supper, for us believers, is not only a commemoration we simply remember in retrospect but an actual reality where we receive Christ and his benefits. It seals the promise of God to us and our faith is assured and confirmed by it.
This leads us to our second point the benefit that it provides.
How does this benefit us?
The Lord’s Supper shows to us that we are united in Him, we received forgiveness and received eternal life because of Him. We are members of his own body. This is where the actual mystery comes in. But unlike the unbiblical understanding of the Rome’s church where they claimed a mysterious change in the substance of the bread and wine, the Reformers insisted the while the bread remains bread and wine is simply wine, Christ is really present in the sacraments. Christ, while his body is located in heaven, is truly united with us through the Holy Spirit. The catechism asks, “What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his shed blood?” It answers this way, “…to be united more and more to his sacred body through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us. Therefore, although Christ is in heaven and we are on earth, yet we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, and we forever live and are governed by one Spirit, as the members of our body are by one soul.” Our union and communion with Christ are the benefits that our sacrament teaches. We share Christ and all his benefits.
This is the reason why private communion does not make any sense in the Christian life. We sometimes think we can live our lives outside the communion of the saints. We simply assume faith, since it is received and applied individually, we do not need to gather together as a church. Well, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper refutes this kind of understanding. Christ has instituted that his one body will be broken in order for all his people to share. Christ has determined that the blood of his one body will be poured out and shared by all his people using the cup of his new covenant. There is no other way to live but together united in Him.
So what is then the benefit? Simply put, it is Christ. We share Christ and we all receive the benefits from him. We are saved by him and we are nourished, sustained, feed and refreshed by him. Do you eat of his flesh and drink of his blood? Holy Scriptures call us to do so. In John 6, in verses 52-59, we read, “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.” We are called to eat of his flesh. This is not a war between the literal and the metaphorical interpretation of the words. Given what we have heard so far, Christ wants us to understand this in a real and spiritual way. Christ is united to us. Let us hear his words: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing (John 15:5)”.
ZCRC(Imus), do we see in our sacraments Christ and all his benefits? Are we encouraged, assured, sustained and fed by it? Do we hear the promises of God proclaimed in the gospel and then affirmed, sealed for us in the sacraments? Are we confirmed and refreshed by the eating of the broken body of Christ and his blood poured out? Then the sacraments have done its purpose.
Looking back, I realized my burn-out was caused by my neglect in the God-appointed, ordinary means of grace. I was trying to feed myself in ways that God did not intend for me to use. The Word and the Sacraments are enough to grow my faith. Let us encourage one another to receive God’s promises as preached in the Word and sealed by the sacraments. May the Lord continue to feed his people. Amen.