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The First Communion

Date: Oct. 23, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Matthew 26:17-30

Key Verse: Matthew 26:28

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

What do you think about when you hear the words “first communion”? If you have any Catholic background, you know that the first communion is an important part of a Catholic’s life. It happens after a person is baptized and once they have reached the age of wisdom (around the second grade). The first communion would only occur after a person has their first confession. The person participating in their first communion would wear special clothing, possibly all white. It is a big event that might even have a professional photographer chronicling the event. That’s what most people might think about when they hear “first communion”. But I won’t be talking about that. Today we will be talking about the very first communion and its significance. Here, at about the beginning of every month, we have communion in our worship service. After the message, Mike comes up here and gives brief explanation about communion and a short address. After that, M. Daniel comes up and lead communion and we have the bread and the juice. But have you ever really thought about the significance of the communion? We do it monthly, but what does it really mean? Is it just a tradition that we do or does it have a greater meaning that we don’t really think about? Again, today, we are going back to the very first communion which took place on the day that Jesus was arrested.

We’ve been slowly working our way through the Holy Week, Jesus last week before he is crucified. It was Passover time, which in many ways, is a lot like our Christmastime. It was a religious holiday that you would spend in remembrance of what God has done with close friends and family. Jews from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to take part in the Passover celebration and the Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed. Jesus had headed to the city with his disciples to participate in the Passover a week before the celebrations would begin. Today’s passage picks up right at the cusp of the Passover. “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” (17) Here, we have two concepts the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover. I’ve mentioned a few vague things about them already, but let’s get a little more background information on them. Both the Feast and the Passover have their origin in Moses’ time. If you remember the story of Moses, it goes that Moses was raised up by God to be the deliverer of his people. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, but Moses, under God’s direction, told Pharaoh to let his people go. He did this multiple times and each time Moses showed a miracle or proclaimed a plague that was supposed to convince the Pharaoh that he should free the Israelites, and each time the Pharaoh refused. The plagues became worse and worse until there was a final plague: the plague on the firstborn, in which every firstborn son in Egypt would die, from the Pharaoh’s son to the slave’s firstborn son, even to the cattle.

However, God told Moses that each family should take a year-old lamb and on the fourteenth day of the month, slaughter it, take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframe, and roast the meat over a fire. Then, they were to eat all of the lamb, leaving nothing behind. If some was leftover, it was to be burned. They were to eat it in haste because it was the Lord’s Passover. It was called the Passover because, on the night of the Passover, an angel of the Lord was going to kill the firstborn of everyone in Egypt, except for those who had the blood on their door frames. On those houses, the angel would pass over them and spare them. When the Lord would see the blood, he would pass over the house and no destructive plague would touch them. (Exodus 12:1-13) The Passover was to be celebrated annually as a reminder of God’s grace to his people as he passed over them.

Immediately after the Passover, on the fifteenth of the month, was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast was also to commemorate what the Lord had done. The plague on the firstborn was the last straw for Pharaoh and he let the Israelites go, and before the Pharaoh changed his mind the Israelites had to quickly pack up and leave. Because of this, there was no time for bread to rise so they ate bread without yeast, otherwise known as unleavened bread. The feast commemorated their exodus from Egypt. And there was a big assembly on the first day. Over time, the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread kind of mixed together and people started calling the preparation for the Passover the first day of the Feast. It’s kind of like how Black Friday is now spilling on to Thanksgiving or how you can find Christmas decorations now before Halloween. Over time, there is a cultural creep. It is the same back then as it is now.

Because it was time for the Passover, Jesus’ disciples asked about where to make preparations. They were from out of town and they needed to find a place where they could celebrate the Passover meal. A lot of work had to be done and the disciples wanted to get started. It was an interesting question. Undoubtedly, everyone who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover was looking for a place to celebrate and this wasn’t something that you could just go to a restaurant for. The Passover was an intimate meal that was to be eaten with family and very, very close friends. There wasn’t some sort of festival hall for it. It’s not like the great beer tents in Munich for Oktoberfest.

Jesus had an answer, “He replied, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, “The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” (18) Matthew only records a vague answer that Jesus gives: to find a specific man. In one of the other gospels Luke, Jesus says that they will meet a man carrying a water jar and to follow him. Now, men didn’t usually carry water jars. Getting the water was usually a woman’s job. It would have been an unusual sight that could be easily noticed. It was at that man’s house that the disciples would prepare the Passover. And the disciples did everything as Jesus directed. They found the man and prepared the Passover meal.

When evening came, it was time to eat. Since the Jewish day began at sundown, the Passover officially began at sunset, in the evening. So Jesus and the Twelve were reclining at table eating. Now this meal wasn’t like it was depicted in the paining, the Last Supper. There was no long table with chairs and people sitting around it. Most likely, there was a series of cushions on the floor in a U shape and in the middle of the U, the food was placed. The people would lie down around the U with the head toward the center propped up by one arm with their feet away from the food and their free arm would be what they would eat with. That is why the passage says they were reclining at the table.

While they were eating, Jesus said something interesting. He said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (21) Now the Passover was a time to commemorate what God has done. It was a time of joy and a lot like Christmas in many ways. It was time to spend with family and share a meal. It was something you did with those closest to you, but Jesus said that one of them there would betray him. For one thing, that is a big killjoy. All the laughing and smiling stopped and everyone became sad. Was Jesus being paranoid? He was with his closest disciples, surely none of them would be capable of such a thing. What Jesus just said almost seems absurd. He just blew up the entire meal with talk of betrayal, and if someone was going to betray Jesus and he knew it, why would Jesus let him get so close as to be a part of the Passover meal? Just imagine that you are at the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with your family and close friends. You are having a great time, along with everyone else. You are conversing and telling jokes, and then, someone in the group drops a bomb, like they only have weeks to live. It would crush the mood and change the perspective of everything.

For Jesus, that bomb was betrayal and it too just crushed the mood. “They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?’” (22) The disciples were shocked at what Jesus said and they became sad. They were so shocked at the accusation that they began to ask Jesus, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” Now, this wasn’t some sort admission that they would never betray Jesus, but it was a question along the lines of, “You don’t mean me, right, Jesus?” The disciples were uncertain of their own ability. They sought to have Jesus reaffirm their own loyalty to him. It is interesting that they didn’t point fingers at each other. They didn’t whisper and suggest others, they sought their own assurance of their loyalty. Now, none of them knew that Judas had already begun to make plans to hand Jesus over to the religious leaders. They may have thought the betrayal would not have been premeditated and, in a way, they all did betray him. In a couple of passages, we will see that all the disciples abandon Jesus when he is arrested, and abandoning in a time of need is a type of betrayal. However, in this case, Jesus is referring to a very specific, premeditated betrayal that Judas was going to do.

Jesus, then reiterates, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” (23) Jesus reaffirms that one of the people closest to him will betray him. To dip you hand in the bowl with someone means that you have access to the same sauce as the other. It’s like a common bowl of guacamole or salsa. Again, it means that the person who is going to betray Jesus is someone who is very close to him, close enough to share food. My wife is a food sharer. She likes to have a taste of what I am eating. I am not a food sharer, but I let Viola do it because of how close she is to me, and someone as close as that was going to betray Jesus.

It is right around this point that Judas speaks up like the other eleven. He said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” (25) He says nearly the same thing as the other eleven, “You don’t mean me, right?” There is one difference, though. The other eleven call Jesus “Lord”, but Judas calls him “Rabbi”.  Here you see a disconnect in how Judas views Jesus compared to the other disciples. The eleven called him “Lord” which showed their view of Jesus as master over them, but Judas merely calls him “Rabbi”. It is a term of great respect, but not as much as being called “Lord”. It shows that Judas’ relationship with Jesus is beginning to crumble because of his planned betrayal. Jesus responds to Judas, “You have said so.” (25) Jesus indicts Judas based on his own words, but it is ambiguous enough that the other disciples don’t quite catch that he is pointing out that Judas is the one who will betray him. It is around this point that Judas leaves the meal. It doesn’t say so in this passage, but when Jesus is arrested, the Bible says that Judas is leading a large crowd, which means he left the meal at some point. John’s gospel says that Judas left after being called out by Jesus and before the rest of the disciples and Jesus go out to the Mount of Olives. That would put Judas’ leaving to right at this point.

After Judas leaves, the atmosphere is still solemn and awkward. They try to continue on in their Passover meal, but the thoughts of betrayal are not resolved in the disciples’ minds. They probably were munching away solemnly trying to engage in some small talk. While this awkward Passover meal was going on, Jesus, again, did something unexpected. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’” (26) During the meal, Jesus grabbed some bread and it says that he gave thanks. I think that this is very significant and unexpected. Jesus had been talking about betrayal and his death, but now he was giving thanks. That’s amazing! What is Jesus thankful for? The passage doesn’t really say, but it is simply amazing that despite the thoughts about betrayal and death, Jesus is still thankful. For us, our level of thankfulness is, many times, dependent on our mood and situation. When things are going well, we can be pretty thankful, but when things are going so well, it can be very hard to be positive at all, let alone thankful. Yet, Jesus is thankful as one of his darkest times approaches. How is that even possible? We could chalk it up to the fact that Jesus is God, but as we will see next week, Jesus still struggled. Jesus didn’t let his situation dictate how thankful he was. He had a peace in his heart that transcended understanding that allowed him to be thankful in all circumstances.

After giving thanks, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the disciples and used it to teach by saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” This is the beginning of what we now call communion. The bread that Jesus broke was the unleavened bread from the Passover and he now gave the bread new meaning. It foreshadows his body figuratively being broken and literally killed upon his upcoming death. Jesus hung on the cross and that was after being flogged and beaten numerous times. His bones were never broken, but his body was still ripped apart. Next Jesus took the cup and gave thanks again and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (27-29) Jesus now uses the wine as symbolism for his blood that would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Again, this is a foreshadowing of how much blood flowed from Jesus during his flogging and crucifixion and Jesus told his disciples to drink from it.

This communion was something new but it was rooted in something much older. It is not a coincidence that the Lord’s Supper happened during a Passover meal. The Passover represented God’s deliverance from slavery and salvation from God’s wrath. A one-year old lamb was broken and eaten, and its blood was poured out and painted on the doorframes so that God’s wrath would pass over that house. The Passover was merely a shadow of Jesus and his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. When it came time for Jesus to carry out his mission, it had to happen on the Passover so that what Jesus did replaced the shadow with the real deal. Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. The Passover was a one-time deal that was commemorated for over 1400 years, but at this point in time, the deliverance and salvation through Jesus are once and for all. It is so powerful that it stretches forward and backward in time, reaching to even now and into the future, until this world ends.

On the Passover, painting the doorframe with the blood of the lamb saw a sign of God’s mercy and eating the lamb meant that you were identifying with the sacrifice becoming one with it. Now, through Jesus, we are painted in his blood and we identify with the sacrifice he made and become one with him. We are all sinners in need of a way out. We have dug ourselves into a pit with no ladder to get out. Jesus’ blood being poured out was for the very forgiveness of sins that we need and the communion identifies us with Jesus for our forgiveness.

Communion simply means the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts or feelings. The communion is an intimate thing where we share in Jesus’ body and blood and especially, we share in the thankfulness that Jesus had during that first communion. When we participate in the communion, we show that we accept that Jesus’ body was broken for us and his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. It is not something that is merely a tradition that we do but it is acknowledgement for what God has done. If you acknowledge the Jesus’ sacrifice, then you should participate. If you do not, then it is better if you do not participate. Nobody will think less of you. We are all at different levels of faith and if your level is simply curiosity or you are unsure about Jesus, then don’t feel obligated to take part. The communion is a visual confirmation of our faith in Jesus. It is something we do as a way to remember what God has done, just like the Passover. It requires us to call Jesus the Lord of our lives, as the disciples did. If you cannot call him “Lord”, then your participating is just a lie and not worth it to you. But if you are able to call Jesus the Lord of your life, then please participate.

When we commemorate what Jesus has done through communion, it is important to recognize and repent for our sins. If we didn’t have any sins, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. However, we are sinful and those very sins caused Jesus’ body to be broken and his blood poured out. Because that is true, we should repent of those sins by asking for forgiveness. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to get out of the solemnness that repentance can bring, but the communion is also a time of thanksgiving. We should be thankful for what Jesus has done, and that thankfulness should turn into joy, because without Jesus’ death, we would be stuck in our sins and there would be no salvation from God’s wrath. His blood washes over us and cleanses us and we should be joyful and thankful for that.

Before we finish this passage today, we are going to have a communion. We normally do it monthly and we did do it a few weeks ago, but it feels like the perfect time to do it. Let’s take a moment to reflect and repent of our sins. We should repent of any sins we know about and pray to be made known those we do not, but we should also be thankful for what Jesus has done. Now, we will read verses 26-28 from this passage, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Now, we will take the bread and the juice, according to our faith in remembrance of Jesus.

When Jesus and the disciples finished their meal, they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. Likewise, we will close in prayer and a hymn.

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