Some of the streets of Mexico City are named after significant events in Mexican history. There is a Fifth of September Street, a Tenth of September Street, and a Twentieth of November Street. Thus they hope to keep in Mexican memory the significant events of their past. The gospel writers do not even bother to record the date of the crucifixion. There is even some disagreement on the day of the week of the crucifixion! Why didn't the Biblical writers fix the date with accuracy?
The answer is that God did
not want an annual observance but a weekly observance. He did not
want us to come to this table once a year but once a week. Every
Lord's Day we have an appointment here. And we are to remember not
just the day but the events of that day. The events of crucifixion
Just after the crucifixion, you find the disciples meeting in secret behind closed doors--afraid. A few days later, you find them preaching openly in synagogue and marketplace-- unafraid. What made the difference? A meeting with Jesus in the locked upper room.
So we come to our "upper
room" filled with fears and anxieties. And if we meet Christ here,
we lose them all--and go out to face tomorrow unafraid. He has promised
to meet us here. Let us keep our appointment with Him--now.
"I have finished the work
which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). And then from the cross,
a shout of triumph. The mound builders left behind no unfinished
work. Raphael left an unfinished painting and Haydn an unfinished
symphony; but those ancient inhabitants of our continent, who lived before
the American Indian, left behind no unfinished work. The mounds that
dot Ohio and the Midwest are monuments to their perseverance and ambition
and energy. A greater work was Christs: but He could say on the
"It is finished!" The Lord's Supper is a monument to this completed
work of Christ.
Christ walked with two along
the Emmaus road, after the resurrection, and they did not know that itwas
He. But He accepted their invitation to come into their home and
sat down with them for the evening meal; and when prayer was offered and
the bread broken, THEN their eyes were opened and they knew who Christ
was. He was known to them in the breaking of bread. So He is
known to us here--in the breaking of bread.
"Forasmuch as ye know that
ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, . . .
but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The visitor
to old Saint Augustine in Florida is shown the citys ancient slave market.
It is disturbing to think of the thousands of men and women and children
who were auctioned there. How nice it would have been to have stood
there one hundred and fifty years ago with enough money to purchase every
one, and then to say to each, "You are free." This is what Christ
has done for us all. Down to the slave markets of sin He went and
set us free. The table and its emblems remind us of the awful price
What begins as a memorial
becomes a presence! It is as if one stood before the Washington Monument
and suddenly the father of our country is at your side. It is as
if you stood in the Lincoln Memorial and suddenly heard a deep voice intoning,
"Fourscore and seven years ago." We come here to a memorial to the
dying Christ and find ourselves suddenly confronted with the living Christ.
Let us go to meet Him, now.
Sermons are not always eloquent,
but the Supper never fails to speak peace to our souls. Prayers may
not be thoughtful, but this time of meditation brings us close to God.
The songs may be ill chosen, but the emblems praise Him still. No
person who knows the meaning of the Lord's Supper can ever go away from
the place of worship feeling that the hour has been wasted.
In World War I, in a British
section of the Western Front, just a few miles back from the front lines,
was a hut named Talbot House. It was a meeting place for men going
up to the trenches and men coming back. In the loft above they served
Communion--truly an upper room and literally a last supper for many men.
Over the door were these words: "Abandon rank all ye who enter here."
Always, those words are above the place where the table is spread.
We are all on the same level here. All of us are sinners--confessing
our sins and seeking forgiveness in the only place it can be found--at
the foot of the cross.
The fires burned brightly
at Smithfield--the fires that took the lives of Christian martyrs.
On the road from Smithfield a traveler was surprised to see a boy going
home. "Where have you been?" he asked. "To Smithfield to see
the martyrs burned." "Why on earth would you go there?" "TO
LEARN HOW TO DIE," he replied. At the cross we learn how to die--courageously,
unselfishly, with forgiveness, praying. AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, at
the cross we learn how to live! That's why this Communion Table is so important.
It brings us closer to the cross, where Christ teaches us how to die--and
how to live!
"But we see Jesus . . ." begins a text in Hebrews. There are so many places we see Jesus. We see Him in the sunset and we see Him in the shower.
"In the morning I see His face,
In the evening His form I trace,
In the darkness His voice I know:
I see Jesus everywhere I go."
But nowhere do we see Him so clearly as here. The loaf and cup
recall His body and His blood. The cross testifies to His love.
In the light of that cross we see our sins and seek His forgiveness.
Yes, here, above all the other places, "we see Jesus."
The Egyptian cross differs
from the familiar one. At the top of the cross is a loop like a handle.
Thus, the cross is shaped like the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for "life."
To the early Christians in Egypt it was an appropriate symbol, for the
cross of Christ is, indeed, the Tree of Life.
The Communion begins as a
memorial, but it becomes a presence. We are to think of it not so
much in terms of marble and stone, not so much in terms of spires and statutes,
as in terms of reunion, of fellowship, of family, of rendezvous.
Here we honor the dying Christ. Here we meet the living Christ.
The warden of Sing-Sing prison
once said that, on the average, an inmate was forgotten by the outside
in five years. Friends first ceased to write, then brother and sister,
then sweethearts, and mother last of all. But we are never forgotten
by God. Of this the Supper reminds us, reassuring us that even when
we forget Him, He does not forget us. Though we fail Him, He will
not fail us. Even if we forsake Him, He will not forsake us.
The limitless, persevering, determined love of God is written here.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."
The Parthenon, that most
famous Greek temple, had no secret place, no inner holy room--but was open
to all. The Lords Table is like that. It is a Holy Place, but
it is no secret place. All may come here; none are barred save those
who come irreverently. Christ invites all Christians, saying, "Whosoever
will let him come." We will bar none whom Christ has invited.
Let us accept His invitation now.
It took thirteen years to
build the famed Brooklyn Bridge that spans the East River. That wider
gulf between man and God, Christ bridged in six hours. Three hours
under the burning sun and three hours in the eerie darkness, in the midnight
at noonday. Six hours of agony--and Christ bridged the gap sin had
cut between man and his Maker. Surely, we can take six minutes NOW
to meditate upon His sacrificial death.
Soldiers broke down the door
of a home where persecuted Christians met in secret; and as they arrested
them, they counted the number. "Eleven," said the officer.
"Twelve," said the host. The officer counted again. "There
are only eleven," he said. "Where is the twelfth?" "Christ,"
said the Christian. "Christ is here, also." He promised to
be here, with us, whenever and wherever this Table is spread. We
do not just come here to meet one another. We come to meet Him.
In commenting on the story of the rich man and Lazarus, someone remarked that there is always a great gulf between the cloth and the crumbs. If God had given us only the crumbs from this table of memory, it would have been more than we deserve; but He invites us to sit about it as His guests. In view of such love, we can no longer offer Him the unwanted remnants of our lives, those left over bits of time and treasure that we do not wish to keep. We must, instead, echo the theme of an old hymn:
for Jesus, all for Jesus,
All my beings ransomed powers.
All my thoughts and words and doings,
All my days and all my hours.
The Colossus of Rhodes was perhaps the largest monument that ever existed. It towered so high that ships passing into or out of the harbor passed between the gigantic legs of the statue. Indeed, the ancients have described it as so huge a monument that some doubt that it ever existed at all.
But none can doubt that in
an upper room long ago Jesus created His own memorial and raised His own
monument. We can add no lustre to the fact that this monument is
the Lord's Supper. But we can come about it to pay our homage, to
see our sins and sorrow for them, and to find forgiveness in His blood.
These we do about this table.
The Trojan War was over and Ulyssses was on his way home, about to leave the enchanted island where Calypso lived. She came down to the beach where the ships were putting out to sea and said, "Say good-bye to me but not to the thought of me."
At the cross, men said good-bye to Christ--but not to the thought of Him. And on the very first occasion that they met in memory about this table, CHRIST APPEARED IN THE MIDST. Though our eyes cannot see Him, He is with us now.