Remembering Along the Lines of God's Reminding
This sermon is at the table; preaching is part of the Lord's Supper. With that in mind let's do two things. 1) Let's clarify and adjust our focus on what we are doing. And 2) let's practice the art of remembering.
1A. So, first, what is the focus of communion?
The focus of the Lord's Table is obviously the Lord Jesus. As He said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11:24).
1) By command, He is to be remembered. Isn't it striking that we are commanded to remember? We tend to forget, to lose focus, and to have blurred vision. We need to be brought back on track often.
2) He is remembered by means of the preached word. I understand communion to be a preaching rite. To use the words of Calvin, because the signs give us the gospel then the minister should point to where the signs point. The minister should preach the gospel in the context of specific reflection on the signs.
3) Remembering is a distinct act. The gospel is preached every Sunday (but we do not have communion every Sunday). What communion does is it keeps us on track. It keeps bringing things back into proper focus by shining a light on Christ in a way that is distinct from the weekly preaching of Christ. An illustration may help. Week by week we consider the gospel building from different angles (front view, side view, cross section, etc.) in relation to the foundation stone, which is Christ. In communion, we consider the foundation in relation to the building. It is a matter of emphasis. Communion involves special remembering and concentration per the sign and on the Savior.
4) So, where do we go to remember in this way? We go to the gospel recorded in the Gospels in the light of all of Scripture. Rather than trying stirring up motions and letting our imaginations run wild we are to remember along the lines of God's reminding. We are not to excogitate remembrances; instead, we are to listen to the voice of God in the sign and go where the sign points us -- to Jesus Christ in His whole work of humiliation and exaltation.
5) How do we remember? We must do some forgetting. We must work at some forgetting; that is, forgetting ourselves. If you concentrate on yourself, even your sinful self, there is still a concentration on self and not on the Savior.
Communion is for sinners. To be sure, we are sinners. But communion is for sinners like the gospel is for sinners. It is not so much that we must deal with our sinfulness to ready ourselves for communion. Rather, we need communion to help us deal with our sins in the strength, comfort and encouragement of the gospel good news! We must forget ourselves and concentrate reflectively on Him. Where mental effort is absent, He is not remembered. And our mental effort should not be divided for then remembering is fragmented.
Communion is for sinners who acknowledge their need of the body and blood of Christ. You are invited to the table with us only if you are a believer, only if you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your prophet, priest and king. Faith is manifested in obedience. So, the invitation to the table is to those who have received baptism because baptism is an elementary or first act of obedience. As baptism is a command so is communion. It is a privilege that is required of us. Both baptism and communion are acts of obedience, the one initiates what the other continues.
So what is the nature of remembering in summary? It means to reflect, to think, to concentrate, and to orient your thoughts to the life and death of Christ as presented to us in the Gospels. That is, we are to reflect on how it is that Jesus, in his humiliation and exaltation, is our very life.
2A. The Art of Remembering
We cannot just talk about remembering as we sit here at His table. So let's go spend some time with our Savior. Let me use the idea of a welcome home as a focal point for our remembering as the four Gospels guide us.
Do you remember his kindness? Consider the incident when the disciples of John followed after Jesus wondering who this man might be. Jesus turned and watched them approach and said, "What do you seek?" (Jn. 1:38). They were stymied and did not know what to say. So they fumbled out the words, "Where do you live?" What was his answer to these timid strangers? "Come and see." Come, there is a welcome sign on his door, the word of welcome is on his lips. He welcomes us at his home! He wants us to feel at home with him. When we think of how often we fumble, He puts us at ease, "you are welcome in my presence, in my family, as family and as my family." He is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters even though there are many things we do that could rightly make Him ashamed of us (Heb. 2:11). As a matter of fact, He so fully identifies Himself with us that "he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest" (Heb. 2:17). Thus, He served God, satisfied God's wrath against us, and He suffered when He was tempted to help us in our trials and temptations (Heb. 2:18).
Do you remember that Jesus was baptized? John balks at baptizing Him (Matt. 3:14). Why? It is because John's baptism is repentance-baptism (Matt. 3:11a, "I baptize with water for baptism," but another, someone greater, is coming (Matt. 311b). Thus, he says, "you should baptize me." But Jesus must be baptized by which he says remarkably, "I must repent of my sins." How can the sinless lamb do something about His sins? It is not that he ever sinned. Rather, he owns the sins of his people and he commits himself early on to a baptism of repentance and a baptism of fire in which he will bear the sins of his people as his very own! To what end? The end is a welcome. It is to welcome us (you and me) in the Father's kingdom.
He thus began His public ministry of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed (by preaching, teaching, and healing), by parable and miracle. What teaching stands out to you most? (Sermon on Mount; Olivet Discourse, etc.). Which parable comes first to your mind? (Good Samaritan; sower; kingdom parables). What miracle opens your eyes to the gospel in a special way?
The Sermon on the Mount contains the beatitudes, the Lord's prayer, woes to the Pharisees, the "but I says" that contrast with the Rabbinic tradition. And it ends with the wise builder verses the foolish builder. You are wise if you build your life on the rock: hear and keep my words. The crowds noted the authority of His teaching. Even the winds and raging seas bow down at His feet when they hear His voice.
Remember the parables he gave. The Good Samaritan is Jesus! The Sower is Jesus; He the Fisherman casting His net into the sea of nations!
Remember His reply to John (Matt. 11 with John wondering in prison). He gives us enacted parables of restoration to show us that His gospel involves the saving of the whole person, body and soul, both now and forever! Thus for emphasis we have to say that Jesus did not come to save souls!
Recall the tenderness with Mary and Martha. Lord, if you had been here, they sigh. But He says where is the tomb? Mary do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Yes, Lord I believe. So, remove the stone. Then like a champion approaching His foe, Jesus was filled with inner rage at the effects of sin and the sorrows of death. Then the sound of His voice shook the hills when he shouted His command, Lazarus come forth! Likewise He comes to us in our death in trespasses and sins and calls us to life by His quickening word. He diffused a quickening ray into that dark tomb and Lazarus awoke and followed. So it is with us: Long my imprisoned spirit lay…. But the kingdom manifested itself with power!
Remember him at prayer. 1) In the shadow of the cross He exclaimed, "now is my soul exceedingly troubled and what shall I say"? With every ounce of self-preservation in my being, I must say, "Father, save me from this hour! But with determined resolve and unshakable love for my sheep, I must say, Father thy will be done! Glorify Thy name." 2) In the high priestly prayer (Jn. 17:1-3, 24), we are allowed to eavesdrop. We think we should not be listening to this private conversation. But he welcomes us through John's record of his high priestly prayer. And note how he intercedes. Father, I desire, I delight in the fact all that you owned as your very own and have given to me will be with me in glory. He is interceding by sacrifice. He is petitioning the application of the sacrifice. He is going to take our sins with him to the cross - owned as his very own - in order to see us through to glory. He goes to the cross to secure our entrance into the Fathers house, to the final welcome home!
Recall his passion. Remember the donkey of humiliation, what a king! He is gentle and humble, even to the scorn and shame of the cross. In the upper room He washed the disciples' feet, instituted the Lord's Supper, and watched Judas depart into the night. In the garden, no one takes Him; He makes himself an offering for sin. The soldiers fall down at his question, whom do you seek?
Remember Pilate's ironic words. He is innocent therefore crucify him. And they crucified him. But there is no weakness. No weakness is here, not even in the "I thirst." It's not a weak whisper asking for relief to avoid the suffering. He thirsts for the Father! Thus he knew all had been accomplished and said, "I thirst" and then exclaimed once and for all, "It is Finished!"
Hark, do you hear it? Do you hear the voice of love and mercy that sounds aloud from Calvary. See, it rends the rocks asunder, shakes the earth and veils the sky: it is finished, it is finished, it is finished! Hear the dying Savior cry.
He settled our salvation once for all there on the cross. He bore our sins in his own body. It is because of our sins that the Father put him to grief (Isa. 53). He laid down His life for His sheep and thus secured our salvation there on the tree for each of us by name (John 10:3).
Recall the empty tomb and the grave clothes which give silent testimony to the fact that he is risen. Remember Mary's proclamation, I have seen the Lord, he is risen, and he is ascending to the Father--to our Father for he has confirmed his ownership of us as his brothers and sisters to welcome us into the household of God. Now in heaven He intercedes for us. He is our nourishment, our life in His humiliation and exaltation. Behold I show you a mystery - 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Romans 8:28-31
3A. The Fruit of Remembering
Now we come back from our journey from our remembering and we are affected. We have been with him and we are still with him because the risen Savior is still with us; determined to see us through to glory. As we take these elements, we hear his voice and we respond. We are saying some things in this very action. A few key things are:
1B. I need Him
I need the Lord Jesus, I need him as bread for life! I take the back seat feeling so unworthy in his presence but I do take a seat; though it may be outside the door, just leave the door open. And he comes back there and says come up here at my side. Come brother and sister, there is welcome here because this is a feast of joy and rejoicing in the acceptance of sinners. O Lord Jesus I need you!
2B. I own Him
We take the bread and wine to our lips. We receive him as our very own. He is not only the great sacrifice of sacrifices, he is my sacrifice, he is my lord and king; he took my sins with him to the cross and settled the account forever with God for me. He is mine, loving me, seeking me, finding me, keeping me he is mine! O Lord Jesus I cling to you as my great high priest!
3B. I own His people as my family
You see there is only one loaf. And he is distributed to us all. We are one in him. So, when we take of these elements we are saying, Lord Jesus, I own your people as my family. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us! God is reminding us of the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord. And we are saying something in return as we consider these elements in remembrance of him; we express our need, our faith, and our fellowship with the Lord Jesus and with one another.
What we say when we partake in symbol ought to be the thought and intent of our hearts. God has given us this sign and seal of bread and wine. God is reminding us through these elements. These elements are gospel signs. They point and confirm. They visualize the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The gospel that centers in Him is being re- iterated.
With Him in focus, let us then take and eat of this nourishment that signifies the accomplished work of our Great High Priest.