Ephesians 1:15-231; Corinthians 11:17-26
As the hospital’s chaplain intern, Pat Novak visited a patient admitted with an undiagnosed ailment. The patient’s name was John. His medical tests showed nothing -- psychological tests were inconclusive. Yet, John wasted away; he had not even been able to swallow for two weeks. Pat walked into the room, and saw John sitting limply in his bed, strung with IV tubes. He was a tall, grandfatherly man, balding a little, and his ashen skin hung on his body where the weight dropped from his frame. His hollow eyes stared at the wall. John seemed to brighten a bit as soon as he saw Pat’s chaplain badge. As they talked, Pat sensed that God was urging him to do something specific: He knew he needed to ask John if he wanted to take Communion. Chaplain interns were not encouraged to ask this type of thing in this public hospital, but Pat did.
John broke down. “I can’t!” he cried. “I’ve sinned and can’t be forgiven.” When Pat heard that, he knew he was about to break policy again. He asked John if he wanted to confess his sin. John nodded gratefully. To this day, Pat can’t remember the sin John confessed, but he recalls that it wasn’t terribly wicked. Still, it drained life from this man. John wept as he confessed. Pat hugged him, and told John his sins were forgiven. Then Pat got a second nudge from the Holy Spirit: Ask him if he wants to take Communion. He did. Pat gave John a Bible and told him he would be back later. John already sat straighter, with a flicker of light in his eyes.
Pat went to the cafeteria and wrapped a piece of bread in a napkin. Then he ran out to a shop a few blocks away and bought some grape juice. He returned to John’s room with the elements and celebrated Communion with him, proclaiming Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 11. John took the bread and chewed it slowly. It was the first time in weeks he was able to eat solid food. He took the cup and swallowed. John was set free, and his first meal was the Lord’s Supper. Within three days, John walked out of that hospital. The nurses were so amazed they called the newspaper, which later featured the story of John and Pat in its “LIFE” section (Charles W. Colson, The Body,1992, Word Publishing, pp. 139-140).
This morning we continue our reflection on the meaning of communion in our own lives and in our church. Last week we talked about manners at the Lord’s Table. Today we are going to consider three related words: communication, communion, and community. All three of these words are related by the same Latin root: communion. It means “sharing, mutual participation.”
First, let’s talk about Communication. Some of you may remember these chilling words from Washington Irving:
On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow traveler in
relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was
horror-struck, on perceiving that (the rider) was headless!--but his horror was
still more increased, on observing that the head, which should have rested on
(the rider’s) shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of the saddle.
As children, we were terrified by the specter of the headless horseman riding through the night. But years of experience diminish our fear. For most of us, the nightmare is just a quaint fairy tale. Perhaps one of the reasons we no longer dread the ghost of Sleepy Hollow is that the very idea of a headless horseman is a paradox-why should we fear anything with no head? Because the head contains the brain--the center for all the senses, thought, and coordinated action--a headless horseman could not function and would pose no threat.
What happens if the head is separated from the body? It’s dead and useless. So, it’s significant that Jesus is called the Head of the Church. The Church needs a head to function, and Jesus is the Head. In the Bible, head has two meanings. The first is head as in chief ruler or head honcho. The head leader brings unity and represents all of the people. But, when Paul talks about Jesus as the head, he also means the body part. The head has the power to coordinate all that goes on in the body. Jesus, the Head of the Church, is the greatest power, the source, the beginning. Without the head the church is just another group of people. The Head gives us identity, purpose, direction and hope. Christ promised that nobody can cut us off from Him against our will (Romans 8:35-39). He gives us his body and he gives us a choice of whether to remain in Him or not. In other words, nobody and nothing can sever the body of Christ from the head except the body itself, by its own choosing.
If I could sum up the main function of the head, I would use the word communication. The head does all it can to maintain fellowship with the body. It is the nerve center. It keeps everything running. It speaks through words and through nerve impulses to other body parts. Let me just ask you: Are you connected to the head today? Are you growing in a life-giving connection with Christ. Can you hear his voice and react to his commands. Is your faith strong enough to become a sharing partner with Christ, or do you feel more like a chicken with it’s head cut off–you think you are getting somewhere on your own, but without the true head as your source, you know you will fall over sooner or later. Jesus has something he wants to tell you today. And everything you need to be reconnected to the head is represented at the Lord’s Table.
The second word for today is Communion. Communion is a sacramental way for God to speak to us just as the Word of God is a verbal way of speaking. And in the case of the Communion, it is a way for us to speak to God in response. God uses communion as a way to communication with us.
The act of giving something to eat is a sign of acceptance going all the way back to ancient times. In Biblical times -- and even in many places in the world today -- to refuse to eat with a person was like a slap in the face. Eating together sealed a bond of. At Communion, the God of your salvation serves you food and invites you to eat. God offers you food as a sign of love. And it’s not just any food. The bread and the wine come with a message.
When Christ died, he did two things for every person who would ever trust him as their Savior. Christ carried our sin and he offered up his perfection in our behalf. When God looks at a believer, God sees that the individual’s sins are taken away from the individual’s account charged to Christ. At the same time, Christ’s perfection is charged to the individuals account. In God’s eyes, a believer is just as perfect and worthy as Jesus Christ is perfect and worthy.
Some Christians take Communion in a casual way, as if it were no more important than having a morning snack. But there is more going on here. This meal is our memory of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is our way of celebrating the gift of grace–while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It is our reminder that Christ wants connect you to the Body of Christ. The bread is the flesh of Christ, given for you. The cup is Christ’s blood, poured out for you. Jesus did it for you. And he promises to be present with us as we eat the meal he offers us.
Let’s talk about one more word: community. Sometimes an individual Christian, for one reason or another, will grow negative toward the church. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t need the church, it’s just a bunch of hypocrites,” or, “Church isn’t that important. I just need my faith.” The truth is we need each other more than we like to admit.
A man from the big city was enjoying a relaxing drive in the country when a dog ran in front of his car. He swerved to miss it but lost control of his car and ended up in a ditch. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get his car out, the man sat on his bumper and waited for help to arrive. He didn’t have to wait long. A farmer who lived just down the road came to his aid with a big, powerful-looking horse. The man watched as the farmer hitched the horse to the car’s bumper. When the rope was secure, the farmer yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” But the horse didn’t move. Then the farmer yelled, “Pull, Buster, pull!” But the horse didn’t move. Next the farmer yelled, “Pull, Coco, pull!” But the horse still didn’t move. Finally, the farmer said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse dragged the car from the ditch with very little effort. The motorist was appreciative— and a little curious. “Why did you call out four names when your horse only responded to one?” he asked. The farmer smiled. “Oh, Buddy is blind,” he explained, “and if he thought he was the only one pulling he wouldn’t even try!”
Just like Buddy, we need other people to bring out the best in us. That’s why God created us to be part of a community -- part of a family -- part of the church. It’s very difficult to live the Christian life alone. I think living out the faith is easier when we can draw strength and encouragement from their prayers and support of a church family. Sharing communion together is our way of saying that we are partners with Christ and partners with one another. Receiving Holy Communion implies living in community. The Lord’s Supper is not an empty ritual, but a reminder of the life we share. Christ offers his Body and Blood to us so that we might become his living Body in the world.
We will celebrate the sacrament of Communion again in two weeks. In the meantime, I have some questions for you. Are you ready to acknowledge your connection to Christ, the head? Are you ready to confess your need and interdependence on the one another? Are you, as a community, ready to hear God’s communication and be God’s communication as we share in communion? If so, then you are getting ready to receive the body and blood of Christ in sacrament of communion.