170413 1 Corinthians 11:23-28

Last Updated on Friday, 14 April 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-28
Theme: Turn To Jesus And Receive A Special Assurance Of Your Forgiveness

How many of you grew up like me thinking that this day was called "Monday" Thursday? I remember being very confused about the name until someone explained to me that Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin, Dies Mandati, which means "the Day of the Commandment." On this night Jesus gave his disciples two very specific commands. We heard one of them at the end of tonight's gospel lesson when Jesus told his disciples: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34).

The other command can be found not once, but twice in our sermon text for this evening. After the Lord had given thanks, after he broke the bread and shared it, after he took the cup and passed it around the table, Jesus commanded his disciples to "do this" (24, 25). And two thousand years later disciples of Jesus are still doing this. This evening we have gathered as disciples of Jesus to celebrate this sacred meal.

Why? Because our Lord has commanded us? Yes. To remember what our Savior has done for us? Certainly. Those are good reasons, but they are not the only reasons. Tonight we turn our attention to the Upper Room to be reminded of the blessings God gives us in the sacrament. Tonight we turn to the one who is seated at the head of the table to receive the blessings he gives us through the sacrament. Tonight we...


The words of institution are recorded in three of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. That makes sense because each of those writers recorded the important events in Jesus' life, and nothing was more important than what transpired on this evening. As a bit of an outlier, the apostle Paul includes the words of institution a fourth time in his first letter to the Corinthians to address some abuses that had sprung up in the congregation.

What was supposed to be a holy meal had become a celebration of self-indulgence. Things had gotten so bad that, according to Paul, the Corinthians were no longer celebrating the Lord's Supper (20). So what happened? In the early church Christians would come together for an agape (Greek for love) feast, a meal that either included or was immediately followed by the Lord's Supper. Some of the Corinthians were celebrating alright, but they weren't celebrating the sacrament. They were eating and drinking to the point of getting drunk.

But public intoxication at church wasn't the only issue. Instead of treating each other with love and respect, some members were cutting in line in front of others. Instead of sharing with fellow Christians in need, some were eating so much food that there wasn't enough left for everyone else. And on top of that, the congregation had splintered into cliques and divisions that threatened to tear the church apart.

How did Pastor Paul handle this difficult situation? How did he correct the abuses that had turned a holy supper into a drunken debacle? He turned the Corinthians to Jesus. He turned them back to the Lord's clear words: "I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me'" (23-25).

By quoting the words of Jesus Paul was saying: "This meal is not about you. This isn't about your appetites or your agendas. This is not your supper. It is the Lord's Supper! This meal is God's gift to you, to be treasured, to be cherished, to be enjoyed, to be shared."

The Lord's Supper is God's gift to you. In a mysterious way, in a miraculous way, in a personal and tangible way, Jesus comes to you and says: "Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood." And when you eat the bread and drink the wine, when you receive Christ's body and blood, you also receive the personal assurance of your forgiveness. Don't try to overanalyze it. Don't over think it. Accept it for what it is, a gift from God. And appreciate the comfort God gives you every time you receive the sacrament.

We need that comfort, don't we? We need it because there are so many things in our lives that make us uncomfortable. The Corinthians weren't the only Christians to ever get drunk at a party...or treat other Christians like second class citizens...or put their own needs first and forget about everyone else. Each of us comes to the Lord's Supper tonight carrying our own heavy load of sins.

Jesus can see what we see. He sees our defiance and disobedience. He sees our guilt and shame. But instead of turning away from us in disgust, Jesus comes to us in love. He comes to you in the sacrament to give you a special assurance of your forgiveness. He wants you to know that just as surely as you stand before his altar, just as surely as you hear the words of institution, just as surely as you taste the bread and wine, you also receive his body and blood, sacrificed for you on the cross to save you from all your sins.

In the most personal, intimate way Jesus gives you the gift of himself, the gifts of forgiveness of sins and life and salvation. Because the sacrament is so special, because God's gift is so wonderful, God's people want to treat it with the utmost reverence and respect.

The Lord's Supper is an amazing blessing, but along with great blessing comes great responsibility. In fact, when people don't understand or appreciate what the sacrament is all about, they can actually do themselves spiritual harm. Paul said as much when he told the Corinthians: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (27).

Because we would never want to sin when we partake of a meal in which we receive the forgiveness of sins, we want to avoid eating and drinking in "an unworthy manner." So what does that look like? What does that mean? First, we need to be clear about what it does NOT mean. Paul did not say that whoever is unworthy will be guilty of sinning against Christ's body and blood.

I can remember having a conversation with a member in my office in Wauwatosa a few years ago. He had done something wrong, and he felt terrible about it. He felt so guilty about his sin that he had stopped coming to communion. Do you know what I told him? I told him that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper for people just like him, for people who recognized their sin and repented of their sins. And I assured him that Jesus died for the specific sin that was troubling his conscience.

In these verses Paul is not discouraging unworthy people from taking communion. If Christians need to wait until they are worthy to receive the Lord's Supper, then no one would ever receive it, and no pastor would ever be worthy enough to administer it. Instead of singling out unworthy people, Paul is warning Christians against receiving communion in an unworthy manner.

To receive the sacrament in a worthy manner, to receive the forgiveness Jesus offers in the sacrament, we need to recognize two things. We need to recognize our sin and our need for forgiveness, and we need to recognize that in the sacrament we receive Christ's true body and blood. We might not be able to understand how eating and drinking can do such great things. We might not be able to explain how Jesus' body and blood are really present with the bread and wine. We simply take God at his Word, and with humble faith we receive the gifts God gives.

To make sure that we are prepared when we come forward, to make sure that we are ready to receive the sacrament in a worthy manner, Paul gives us one final word of instruction: "A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup" (28).

If you aren't sure how to do that, if you are looking for some guidance that will help you examine yourself, there is an excellent resource in the front of the hymnal. In fact, this evening would be the perfect occasion to make use of this resource for personal preparation and self-examination. It can be found on page 156 of Christian Worship (let's read the seven questions & answers together)...

When you come forward tonight, a communion assistant will pass by and place a small wafer in your hand, and then you will place it in your mouth. For many of you, this is something you have done many times before, so many times that the process has almost become one fluid motion. Tonight I encourage you to do something a little different. I encourage you to pause for a moment and look at the wafer before you eat it.

You will notice that imprinted on each wafer is a cross, and that cross reminds us that the Supper Jesus instituted on Maundy Thursday anticipates the sacrifice Jesus made of Good Friday. On the cross Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world. On the cross Jesus sacrificed his body and shed his blood for you.

Do not doubt that the same body and blood are given to you this evening. Do not despair because you think your sins are too great to be forgiven. On this Maundy Thursday, on the Day of the Commandment, your Savior gives you one more command. Jesus says: "Turn to me!" Turn to Jesus, and in his holy supper receive a special assurance of your forgiveness. Amen.

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