One of the positive things to have come out of this pandemic is the ability to participate in worship with people from all around the world. On any given Sunday, at almost any time of the day, there is a live worship service streamed on the internet. If you cannot watch it live, do not worry; you can watch it recorded.
I have participated in worship in small rural churches in Scotland and large cathedrals in Washington, DC. Although the words and the style of worship might be different, there is a connectedness that one feels. These worship services are a reminder that the Church is alive and well and that Christians continue to gather in small groups and large.
Today is World Communion Sunday. This is the day we remind ourselves of this connectedness that we have with the rest of the Christian world. It is easy to think that we are the only ones doing this, but people are gathering to worship right now, people have already gathered for worship, and people will continue to gather for worship. And as I said, the words may be different, and we may believe differently, but we are connected.
World Communion Sunday always seems like a good time to remind ourselves just what we do when we gather on the Sundays when the Sacrament of Communion is served, but we have already done that in my first few weeks here. So today, I want us to shift the focus from the table to what Jesus tells us to do.
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 19—20)
These words from Luke, along with the words from Mark and 1st Corinthians, are called the “words of institution.” These are the words said during the Service of Communion and spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper.
There have been volumes written about what it all means. Is it or is it not the actual body of Christ? Do the bread and wine transform into something else? Is it transubstantiation or consubstantiation? Is it simply a reenactment of an event that took place more than 2,000 years ago, or is it something more? These are all excellent questions that deserve exploration, but not today.
Today, my focus is on the words, “do this.” Jesus takes bread and says, “do this.” Jesus takes the cup and says, “do this.” What is the do this? Is Jesus asking us to “do this” as in do what I am doing here? Yes, I believe so. But there is more that is being asked of us here with the words, “do this.”
We have spent the last few weeks talking a long, slow walk through the Letter of James. This was a troubling letter to many of reformers like Martin Luther. Remember, Luther believed that we were saved by faith alone. This belief was to counter the idea that we could earn our way into heaven by works that we performed or, even more profane, that we could buy our way in.
Luther and the others of his day wanted the Church to be reformed back to its simpler, more spiritual times, but the leadership of the Church did not see it that way. Luther, like John Wesley, had a very strong attachment and affinity for the Sacrament of Communion. Wesley taught his followers that they should partake in the Sacrament as often as it was offered, daily if possible. The belief is that this Sacrament is spiritual food to help us along the journey. And the journey is the “do this.”
The night before he is to die, Jesus has gathered his friends with him one last time. They have a meal together. They share some laughs. They probably talk about all that has gone on these last three years. Then the mood turns serious. Jesus takes some bread. He holds it in his sacred hands. He lifts it and asks God to bless it. He shows this bread to those at the table and tells them it is his body that is broken and shared for them and many. They are to do this in remembrance.
Then he takes the cup. He fills it with wine. He holds it up to heaven and asks God to bless it. He shows it to his friends and tells them that this is his blood, the blood of the new covenant, that will be shed for them and for many. They are to do this in remembrance.
In this simple offering of bread and wine, Jesus summarizes all that he has done and all that he has taught these last three years. We are if we are going to be followers of his to be a living sacrifice. We are to care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the unemployed, the underemployed, those on the margins, those in prisons, those fleeing all sorts of unimaginable horrors. We are to care for and love everyone, without exception.
This “New Covenant” he mentions takes away the need for sacrifice as an atonement for our sins and shifts the focus from us to others. We are to do this, what Jesus has done share our lives with the world to make things better for others. The focus needs to shift from the “I” to the “We” as the covenant shifts in the same direction.
Jesus tells us, in his own words, that he is the fulfillment of all of the law and the prophets. Jesus gives us a new commandment to love God and love each other, and by this, others will know we follow him. The “Do this” Jesus was talking about is the Sacrament of Communion, but that Sacrament is worthless if the “do this” does not also mean the love of all.
In a few moments, we will gather around this table. I will say these words and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon us and upon the bread and cup set before us. I will pray that they and we become sanctified and holy so that we may continue this holy work that we have been called to.
“Do this,” all of it in remembrance of what Jesus taught and what Jesus did.