(…continued) With all that in mind, there is one more important part of this story. At that same meal, Jesus took bread and took wine, and said “This is my body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Think about that in the context of what has just been described. In the next twelve hours, every prediction of Jesus would come true. Jesus would be betrayed by one of these men, denied by another, and deserted by them all. Jesus knew it was coming, and yet he offered his forgiveness to each one. The Sacrament of Holy Communion, instituted at that meal, was first given to a table full of betrayers, deniers, and deserters.
There are at least two lessons to learn from this. First, I have known people who have stayed away from the Lord’s Supper for years because they felt they were not good enough. This first Lord’s Supper ought to tell them something. It ought to tell them that the purpose of communion is to offer forgiveness precisely to those who are not good enough; and that means all of us, just like all who were at that first table of the Lord.
The second lesson is this. There are churches that forbid communion with people who believe differently from them on a variety of doctrinal issues. I do admire the way these groups strive to be serious about true doctrine, but I don’t agree with them on this point. At the very first Lord’s Supper, the problem was not theological disagreement about the finer points of theology. Rather, the problem was the denial, betrayal, and desertion of our Lord Himself, the very center of our faith. And yet, the forgiveness of sins was freely offered to all there. There are places in the church’s life together that lines must be drawn and stands must be taken, but not at the Lord’s Table. Jesus himself has shown us the way on this one.
We should all ask ourselves that question the disciples asked Jesus on that ‘night in which he was betrayed:’ “Is it I, Lord; have I also betrayed, denied, deserted, and disobeyed you?”
“Yes,” Jesus says, “It is you. So repent of your sins, go and sin no more, and turn to me.” And then Jesus says to you, “Here is my body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”
I Corinthians 11:23-26 — 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.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
A PRAYER BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION (By Martin Luther):
Lord Jesus, I have fallen, but I would rather be strong. For this purpose you have instituted this sacrament, that with it you may rekindle and strengthen my faith, and thus I may be helped. Therefore, I am here to receive it. My sins and faults are all known to you. But you have said in your Word: “Come unto me all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest.” I now come to be helped. Amen.
Rembrandt’s Raising of the Cross (1633)
Rembrandt painted himself in the center of the painting (with beret) illustrating that he, like all sinners, was responsible for Christ’s suffering and death.