Do This in Remembrance of Me
Topic: Anniversary Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:17–11:34
Do This in Remembrance of Me
Pastor Allen Snapp 7/12/15
1 Cor. 11:17-34
Have you have ever written or received an email that tried to deal with an emotionally charged situation? Have you ever received an email that left you wondering if the person who sent the email was angry or offended with you? Have you ever sent an email, only to want to recall that email as soon as you hit the send button? If so, you've probably learned the hard way that email is uniquely susceptible to being misinterpreted and misunderstood. You meant this but they interpreted it to mean that. You were being lighthearted when you quickly popped out that one liner, but they read that one liner as angry and abrupt. They didn't see the twinkle in your eye as you wrote it.
So to help people avoid sending unintentionally inflammatory emails, one email client has come up with a feature called "Mood Watch". Mood Watch monitors your emails as you write them and warns you when something you write is potentially offensive or inflammatory. It sounds like a great idea. I can't wait until they come out with an app called "Stupid Watch" to warn me when I write something stupid.
The passage we read this morning is one of the most emotionally charged passages in 1 Cor. If Paul had had the Mood Watch feature as he wrote it, no doubt it would have warning him that what he wrote could be interpreted as sounding angry! That some of the words and phrases he chose could be inflammatory, such as telling a church that their meetings are doing more harm than good. That's never a good thing for a church to hear. "Hey, how was church this week?" "Not too bad, only 10 people were irreparably damaged by the service. That's down from last week." Mood Watch would be warning him about that line. Or the phrase, "do you despise the church of God?" in vs. 22. That's a strong word and a strong accusation. Or to tell a church that the reason many in the church are sick and dying is because God is judging them - Mood Watch would definitely be flagging that.
This section is strongly worded. It sounds like Paul is worked up, even angry. But Paul would have hit send without changing a word because 1) he was worked up and 2) he wanted the Corinthian church to know it. Their church services are doing real harm and damage, to the point that they are in danger of despising God's church and Paul loves them enough to be straight with them. And much of this harm and despising is happening at the very point where the opposite is supposed to take place: it's occurring during the Lord's Supper or communion.
Here's what's happening: in those days the church met in different member's homes, usually the larger homes of the more wealthy church members, and communion back then didn't look like it does now, where we eat a small wafer of bread and a small cup of juice. In that day, the Lord's Supper was incorporated into a fellowship meal (just as the first communion was a part of a meal that Jesus and his 12 disciples ate together) and everyone would bring what they could to contribute to the meal. We know from archeological research that the typical wealthy home had a dining room called a triclinium that would have room for only about a dozen guests, and so the majority of the guests would eat in the atrium (courtyard) which could seat a much larger group of people.
The problem was the wealthy members of the church weren't sharing their abundance with the poor members of the church. Perhaps the wealthy were able to meet earlier and the poor had to work longer hours because we know that by the time they got there, there was nothing left for them. The end result was that the wealthy would leave the Lord's Supper well fed and a little tipsy from all the wine they drank, and the poor would leave the Lord's Supper hungry and, what's worse, humiliated. That's the primary issue here - it's not primarily about charity or caring for the needs of the poor (other places in the Bible speak to that). This isn't about charity. It's about dignity. Or more to the point, it's about humiliation. It's about the church being fragmented along the lines of the "haves" and the "have-nots". The in-crowd and the out-crowd. The cool and the not-cool. The rich left the Lord's Supper feeling honored and treated as special because of their status, and the poor left the Lord's Supper having been shamed and dishonored because of their poverty.
This is why Paul says that their meetings are doing more harm than good. Rather than honoring God when they gathered, verse 22 says they were despising the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing.
The haves and the have-nots
Unfortunately the church today isn't immune to fragmenting into different types of "haves" and "have-nots". It might be wealthy people in the church don't want anything to do with less fortunate people. Or it might be the long time members who keep newer members at arm's length. "Us four and no more" mentality. Or it might be those who are socially hip and cool who avoid those who aren't cool enough or hip enough. It can look a hundred different ways but those who "have" what that particular church esteems can refuse to let those who don't have it come to the table.
This is about getting rid of divisions, not getting rid of differences. God's solution isn't to try and make everyone the same. There's no way to do that. Paul acknowledges that the rich will have more than poor - but he tells them if they're just looking to stuff their faces, do it at home! In the church, when at the Lord's table, when celebrating communion, bring everyone together and share and share alike.
Do this in remembrance of me
In verse 23 Paul reminds them of what the Lord's Supper, communion, is really about.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV)
Jesus left us the sacrament of communion as a way of tangibly remembering him. Twice Jesus tells us to do it in remembrance of him. That's key - that's what the Corinthian church is missing, what they're getting wrong. They're faithfully remembering to take communion, but they aren't doing it in remembrance of Christ. What does Jesus mean when he says "do this in remembrance of me"?
Remembering a dear friend
On Thursday I drove to Harrisburg, PA to be at a memorial service for a dear friend who passed away at the age of 57 after six years of suffering with a debillitating spinal condition. Karen really was a one of a kind person, a unique blend of tenderness and outrageous boldness . All this week I've been remembering different and special memories of Karen. Bear with me as a I share a couple memories of this special friend.
I remembered the time Karen came to me and asked me to do a favor. It was sometime around 1982 and I was leaving Long Island to move to Illinois but before I left I was scheduled to go out to dinner with a young man in her church named Phil that she had grown to really care for and she asked me if I would pump him to see if he felt the same way about her. So discreetly I tried to feel Phil out about how he felt about Karen, and using my highly developed sense of discernment, I could tell he wasn't interested in her. So, being an honest friend, I had the difficult task of letting her know that she wasn't on his radar and I recommended that she move on. Then I left for Illinois. A month later I got a letter from Karen - Phil had asked her to marry him! So much for my highly developed sense of discernment.
Phil told his side of the story at her funeral. Phil was an usher in the church, Karen was the worship leader, and during one service as God was deeply moving in hearts, Phil looked up and saw Karen worshiping the Lord, and she stood there with her face turned upwards towards heaven in reverent worship looking like an angel, and he prayed, "Lord if you give her to me, I'll never ask you for another thing the rest of my life!"
One more story: Phil and Karen were engaged to be married and for some reason had to take a trip into NYC. Phil was 19 years old, Karen was 22 years old. They were on the subway and there was a homeless man passed out on the seats, taking up three or four seats. A young guy asked if anyone wanted a seat, implying that he'd be happy to throw the homeless man off the seats. Before Phil knew what was happening, Karen was beside the homeless man, kneeling next to him and praying over him. Then she stood up and said in a loud voice to the entire subway car, "all of us, like this man, need Jesus, and my boyfriend is going to tell you how you can be saved!" Phil was shocked. He had done a little preaching, but never to a subway car in NYC. But he shared a passage from Isaiah and shared everything he knew in 5 minutes and then offered to pray for anyone who wanted prayer. A Mexican woman called out, "I know I need Jesus!" and they went and prayed with her and directed her to a church in the city that they knew.
I've been recalling many, many memories of my friend this week. But is this what Jesus means by "do this in remembrance of me"? The bittersweet reminiscences of a departed loved one? Remember that time that Jesus walked on water? Man, he really had us going with that one - Andrew thought he was a ghost! Remember when he healed the blind man and then that poor guy got into so much trouble with the Pharisees for giving Jesus credit for healing him? Talking about the Pharisees, Jesus really knew how to push their buttons - he always knew just what to say to offend them!
Is this what Jesus meant when he said do this in remembrance of me? Don't forget me, think of me, recall a sweet memory from my life when you do this? No, it means something very different than that. As Jesus ate that last Passover meal with his disciples they came to the point in the meal when every year the Jews would take the bread and say, This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. The Jews weren't remembering the affliction of their fathers in order to dwell on the affliction, but rather to remember how with a mighty hand God delivered them from that affliction! They were remembering God's saving power on their behalf andso at that point when Jesus took the bread and said, this is my body which is broken for you that's what Jesus means: remember how God wrought a mighty deliverance for you through the afflictions that I suffered for you. Then Jesus took the third of four cups of wine that Jews drank at the Passover feast - the third cup representing God's redemption of His people, and Jesus said, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me means to remember how Jesus, on the cross, as his body was pierced by nails and his blood flowed over the wood and to the ground, delivered us from the bondage of our sins. How Jesus, with a mighty hand, redeemed us back to God! How Jesus saved us by dying for us. And that word us is vital. He did this to save us and redeem us and to form us into a people - God's people!
Communion reminds us of God's work for us as a people, not just me as a person. Communion is a congregational thing, an us thing. The first communion was with the 12 apostles, one of whom betrayed Jesus and left before the final moments of communion. But it was a sacred moment between Jesus and his chosen twelve, his people. In this passage five times Paul says the phrase, when you come together…this is about their sharing the Lord's Supper together when they gather as a church.
Do this in remembrance of me reminds us not only of our relationship with Jesus, but of our relationship with each other. Communion reminds us that the ground is level at the cross. We all come on equal footing. We all come to Christ as "have-nots" or we don't come to Christ at all. We have not the ability to save ourselves. We have not the righteousness to earn heaven. We have not the power to deliver ourselves from sin and Satan. We all come to Jesus blind and naked and poor because spiritually we have not sight or clothing or wealth.
And then, at communion we are reminded that we are all "haves" in God's sight: through Christ's atoning death on the cross, we have the complete forgiveness of God. We have the righteousness of Christ. We have peace with God. We have the Holy Spirit given to us as a seal that we belong to God. We have received the power to become children of God. We have the hope of eternal life!! At Karen's memorial service, we didn't just remember her life, we celebrated the strong hope that when the Lord Jesus descends from heaven, with the sound of the trumpet and the call of the archangel, that the dead in Christ shall rise to be with him, and Karen will be in that number! We have that hope!
Communion is not communion, Paul says, if you don't see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, equal and the same in Christ, and extend love and acceptance and a sharing, inclusive welcome to all, regardless of their economic or social status. May we rather suffer shame ourselves than allow a brother or sister to be deliberately shamed by their worship time with us. Break your bread with the needy. Share your wine with the poor. Love and include them, or you're not remembering Christ.
To allow the poor or outcast or different among us to leave feeling ashamed and humiliated is to eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner and Paul says God is judging the Corinthian church because of their guilt in this. Not eternal judgment, but physical, temporal judgment that is leaving some weak and ill, and some have even died.
Verse 33 says, "so then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another ." One more thing about the word "remembrance" in the Bible. Rarely does it carry the English meaning of something we do mentally. Rather in the Bible "memory" and activity go hand in hand. When God "remembers" His people, it is always accompanied by action - forgiveness, delivering them, visiting them.
To do this in remembrance of Christ means we take action - action that looks a lot like Jesus. We love and accept and embrace one another regardless of differences. We don't just eat and drink communion and then live in a way that contradicts everything that we declare in communion. We remember that Jesus loved his people enough to die for them (us) and that leads to our taking action to love each other in that same way. That's truly doing communion in remembrance of Jesus.
As we close, we're going to share in communion together.
Word to non-believers.
Maybe there's a few here who have never believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. You might have heard about him all your life, gone to Sunday School, maybe go to church. But you don't have a living relationship with Jesus. Jesus isn't a dead teacher whom we memorialize every Sunday. He is a living Savior who died to save us from our sins, and rose again on the third day never to die again. And Jesus offers forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who will come to him and believe in him.
Open our hearts to one another. Love one another, regardless of differences or preferences. If there is someone that you are holding something against, confess that to the Lord and ask him for grace to do whatever He is asking you to do. Might be to forgive. Or to ask their forgiveness. Might be simply to love them and not avoid them. Might be to share something with them. The Lord will lead you if you ask Him to.