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The Three Unions in Holy Communion

Tonight, we gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, which we also refer to as Holy Communion. A communion is a joining together, a common union. Tonight, we’ll look at, and rejoice in, the three communions that take place in the Lord’s Supper. Communion #1: Bread and wine with body and blood. If you’re at a dinner party and you’re wondering what you’re eating, maybe all you must do is look at and taste the food. If what you’re holding looks like an orange and tastes like an orange, you’re probably eating an orange. It’s a little different with a pie. You may be able to see and taste some things but, unless you have amazing taste buds, you may have some difficulty knowing for sure what else is in there. If you wanted to be certain, ask the one who made it. It’s easy to look at and taste the Lord’s Supper and realize that wine and bread are present. Any people who would deny this would not only deny their taste buds but would also be denying God’s Word—which refers to Jesus taking the “bread” (Lk. 22:19) and “the fruit of the vine” (Lk. 22:18). Don’t let your taste buds or your eyes fool you. There’s something else here. Something else is in a union with the bread and wine. Listen to our host as he says, “This is my body,” and, “this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26,28). Someone might ask, “Wasn’t Jesus speaking figuratively, that the red liquidity of the wine was like his blood and the bread like his flesh?” If Jesus had intended for us to understand otherwise, there was several other words and phrases he could have chosen to convey the meaning of “this looks like my body” or “this symbolizes my blood.” Jesus chose none of those words. If, on the other hand, Jesus intended for us to believe that it was his body and blood with the bread and the wine, he would have said exactly what he did: “This is my body. . .. This is my blood.” We also note that the early New Testament church clearly believed Jesus’ body and blood to be truly present. Paul wrote, “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. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Paul says that when we eat and drink, we ought to recognize the body of the Lord. You can’t recognize something that isn’t even there, so therefore the body of the Lord must truly be present in communion. Paul also says that those who receive the sacrament without faith sin against, not bread and wine, but the body and blood of the Lord in union with them. Yes, the words of Christ are clear and will stand forever. “This is my body. . .. This is my blood.” This makes union #2 special. Communion #2: Sinners and God. There are many different levels of friendship. Maybe your neighbors are quite friendly when you’re both out getting your mail. You spend a few minutes talking, and over the years you’ve gotten to know them reasonably well. Never once have they invited you inside. It’s just too intimate a thing. You both know your friendship isn’t at that level. And there are some people you would never consider inviting for dinner, because, well, you don’t like them, and they don’t deserve it. The very notion is laughable. That was basically your relationship with God. There was no way that he would invite you to join him at his table. Our relationship with God was so bad that we shouldn’t think of even setting foot on his lawn to retrieve our newspaper! Please don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that God is like a grumpy old man whose only joy in life is shouting at kids who step onto his lawn. No, God is like a neighbor who has repeatedly been forced to deal with loud, obnoxious sins. God is like a neighbor whose gentle requests to turn down the music have been met with even louder music. Considering how we have treated God during our lives, we have no real reason to expect God to invite us in. In fact, when we think about how we’ve treated the possessions he entrusted us with, how we have refused to keep his commands, how we have often given him a rude gesture when he dared to come near us, it wouldn’t be surprising if he went inside the house when he saw us outside. Perhaps he would even build a big fence between our yard and his, so that it would be impossible for us to even set foot on his property. We have destroyed neighborly relations by our many sins. Paul writes, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Col. 1:21). So when God plans a special meal, we don’t need to camp out by our mailbox waiting for an invitation. Yet he does invite us, “Take and eat. Take and drink.” Why would God give us such a gracious invitation? Why would he not only stoop to talk with us but even invite us for a meal? The answer is found in the Supper itself. For it is Christ’s body and blood—the same body and blood which are present in this meal—that bring God and us together. Paul goes on to say, “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). Through “Christ’s physical body,” you have been made “holy in his sight, without blemish.” Jesus said also said, “This is my body, given for you.... This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:28). These are special words that assure us that not only is God interested in being our neighbor, but he is also eager to have us come to his table. We don’t come alone but together. Communion #3: Believers with one another. The thing about dinner parties is that sometimes you aren’t sure who else is going to be there and wonder if you’ll really connect with them. The mere fact that my host decided to invite both me and others doesn’t necessarily make me feel a close kinship with them. The two of us may be eating at the same table, but there will be a lack of unity if we don’t have anything in common. But give me just one thing in common with a person and there will be a unity, a bond that makes our differing opinions comparatively insignificant. The disciples were individually diverse—fishermen and tax collectors, zealots and doubters, ambitious and laid-back. Yet they formed one group. How? Jesus. That’s what binds us together too. In Jesus we are united, though some are blue-collar and some are white-collar, men and women, Republicans and Democrats. Though the devil does his absolute best to make us say things like, “I’d like to find out who that is, so I could give him a piece of my mind.” When we approach the Lord’s Table, we come united in faith, united as forgiven sinners. Tonight, we may stand next to someone who votes opposite of us or disagrees with us on just about every issue within the church. That will not matter, because Jesus unites us. We will be standing next to a Christian, someone with whom we are united in faith. Paul writes, “We, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17). Tonight, as I stand with you, I will rejoice at my union with you. For as we stand next to each other, we are confessing that here we are one. We express this unity when we join in speaking the creeds. We feel this unity when we sing hymns. It is a unity that we perhaps express and see and feel most clearly when we kneel/stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder at the Lord’s Table. In a few moments as we receive Holy Communion, may we recognize the communion of bread and wine with Jesus’ body and blood, rejoice in the communion between ourselves and God, and be strengthened and encouraged by the communion we have with one another! Amen.

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