SERMON from 4-7-13: “The Duty of Constant Communion”

Luke 22.19 (CEB)

After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

The Duty of Constant Communion

What is a sacrament?

That wasn’t a rhetorical question. Can anybody tell me what a sacrament is?

A sacrament is an action within which divine grace is strikingly present. That doesn’t mean the grace of God isn’t present in other events or times in our lives, but we note a marked presence of divine grace.

For us Protestants, we recognize two sacraments. Any one tell me what they are?

It’s important for us to know these two things, and the differences between them.

Baptism is something we do, and it’s done. In the United Methodist tradition, we “dunk ’em” early. Infant baptism, that is. That’s, of course, not a hard-and-fast rule. You don’t age-out of access to baptism. Some people choose not to, whereas others aren’t presented with the opportunity until they are older. However, once it is done, it is done. I remember asking my father-in-law about being baptized again, once I became a United Methodist. While other denominations and churches think baptism isn’t “valid” until the person can make the decision themselves, we believe that once baptism is performed – whenever it is performed – it is done.

We will do something called “baptismal remembrance,” but that is calling the subject to remember their inclusion into the family of God in that act.

How conceited is it for humanity – based upon silly tribal feelings about this doctrine or that – to feel it is necessary to redo something God has already done?

Now, that’s a rhetorical question.

We go from something that never needs redone, to something that we should be doing – according to John Wesley – constantly.

Communion is that thing which Jesus chose to do as a last communal act with his disciples. As the winds of the Holy Spirit whipped through Jerusalem at Pentecost, the disciples were remembering that sacred meal. As the early church grew and expanded – and meetings of Christians were taking place in the homes of believers – it was the grace of that last supper which they were receiving.

By now, you have probably thought to yourself – with varying degrees of skepticism or hesitance – that I’m going to take this opportunity to suggest that we begin offering this means of grace each week.

You’d be right, and I might question if you hadn’t thought that – as the title of this one is “The Duty of Constant Communion.”

Actually, I named this message after one written by Wesley – wherein he made the case for why communion was so important that we need to make it more a part of our DNA.

In this sermon, he methodically argues against the objections most often brought up by those who would…well…object to a constant observance of communion. Apparently, this issue – more appropriately, we should always consider it in terms of a sacrament – has been hotly objected to for a long time.

More importantly than answering the detractors, Wesley offers a list of reasons that this should be so ingrained into who we are as God’s people.

I tried to put it into my own words, but nothing sounded as good as his. So, here is a portion of it:

The First reason why it is the duty of every Christian so to do is, because it is a plain command of Christ. That this is his command, appears from the words of the text, “Do this in remembrance of me:” By which, as the Apostles were obliged to bless, break, and give the bread to all that joined with them in holy things; so were all Christians obliged to receive those signs of Christ’s body and blood. Here, therefore, the bread and wine are commanded to be received, in remembrance of his death, to the end of the world. Observe, too, that this command was given by our Lord when he was just laying down his life for our sakes. They are, therefore, as it were, his dying words to all his followers.

A Second reason why every Christian should do this as often as he can, is, because the benefits of doing it are so great to all that do it in obedience to him; viz., the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls. In this world we are never free from temptations. Whatever way of life we are in, whatever our condition be, whether we are sick or well, in trouble or at ease, the enemies of our souls are watching to lead us into sin. And too often they prevail over us. Now, when we are convinced of having sinned against God, what surer way have we of procuring pardon from him, than the “showing forth the Lord’s death;” and beseeching him, for the sake of his Son’s sufferings, to blot out all our sins?

The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, by enabling us to leave them. As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection. If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord’s Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us. We must neglect no occasion which the good providence of God affords us for this purpose. This is the true rule: So often are we to receive as God gives us opportunity. Whoever, therefore, does not receive, but goes from the holy table, when all things are prepared, either does not understand his duty, or does not care for the dying command of his Saviour, the forgiveness of his sins, the strengthening of his soul, and the refreshing it with the hope of glory.

Let every one, therefore, who has either any desire to please God, or any love of his own soul, obey God, and consult the good of his own soul, by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s day service. And for several centuries they received it almost every day: Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside. Accordingly, those that joined in the prayers of the faithful never failed to partake of the blessed sacrament. What opinion they had of any who turned his back upon it, we may learn from that ancient canon: “If any believer join in the prayers of the faithful, and go away without receiving the Lord’s Supper, let him be excommunicated, as bringing confusion into the church of God.”

In order to understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it would be useful carefully to read over those passages in the Gospel, and in the first Epistle to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 11], which speak of the institution of it. Hence we learn that the design of this sacrament is, the continual remembrance of the death of Christ, by eating bread and drinking wine, which are the outward signs of the inward grace, the body and blood of Christ.

It is highly expedient for those who purpose to receive this, whenever their time will permit, to prepare themselves for this solemn ordinance by self-examination and prayer. But this is not absolutely necessary. And when we have not time for it, we should see that we have the habitual preparation which is absolutely necessary, and can never be dispensed with on any account or any occasion whatever. This is, First, a full purpose of heart to keep all the commandments of God; and, Secondly, a sincere desire to receive all his promises.

And scene.

Thank you.

Christ commands it. There’s great spiritual benefit in doing it. It aids in confirming God’s mercy in your life, including the forgivness of sins and the presence of God’s grace. And, while self-examination is suggested whilst preparing to receive the sacrament, it is not needed.

Why is that, do you think?

That one is – again, rhetorical – because God’s grace is present in the act, therefore humanity needs not do anything in order to receive it.

Along with giving reasons why we should constantly “communicate” with God – interesting way to look at that, huh? – Wesley smacks down the common objections of his time. Those objections haven’t changed much from then to now, so let me give you the synopsis.

Wesley notes that many would say that there is no scriptural edict stating that we should do this “as often as we can.” Essentially, the answer to that is something like, “When we have a chance to obey a command of God (which communion clearly is), why would we not take that opportunity to obey?” That’s probably my favorite.

Along the same lines as obeying, Wesley notes communion is a grace – and therefore a mercy – of God. Why, also, would we not receive the mercy of God as often as we can?

Probably the one most closely related to something we would experience today is the objection that, “If we do it ‘constantly,’ won’t it become an empty ritual?” That is, it will become routine – and therefore – meaningless. You know how prayer can get tiresome when done each time we meet, right? And singing? Why do we sing every week, if we desire these songs to remain meaningful to us?

Of course, this is an absurd line of reasoning for prayer and singing. So it is that Wesley – and myself, for that matter – believe this argument is bupkis.

Do basketball players tire of practice? I mean, besides players at Rutgers? No they don’t tire of practice. Not if they want to get better at what they do.

Well, they might be hesitant to jump as high and as hard as they can to attempt to block a three-pointer for a while, but they will never tire of practicing.

In the same way – Wesley and myself believe – this is one of those practices (disciplines, if you will) that Christians should undertake in order to maintain spiritual fitness and discipline.

And finally, Wesley makes it clear that an objection in his day – as I’m sure it exists today – is that “I shouldn’t partake because I am unworthy.”

You might never have thought that was a concern when it came to communion. You might have felt this very same way.

Which is when we need to return to what communion is. It is a means of grace. It is a sign of God’s mercy. By the very act of partaking in the Lord’s Supper, we are partaking in the Lord’s forgiveness. Just as baptism is a grace of God that cannot be redone by the arrogant theology of humans, the grace of communion cannot be undone by the sin of humans.

Communion – as well as a means of grace – is a remembrance of the life and death of Jesus. All it meant. All it did. All it meant from then on.

So, let us partake of the elements of this Holy Meal – as often as we do it – in remembrance of all that it meant and all that it means.

And thanks be to God for the opportunity.

AMEN.

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