The Crowning Act of Christian Worship
26 Feb 2005, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
Approximately two thousand years of history have now passed since a small band of men were to sit with Jesus around a table in the upper chamber of a small dwelling in the city of Jerusalem.
The events that were to take place in this room were to impact upon the Christian Church in a multitude of ways that would never have been recognised at that time.
This very special occasion, designed by Jesus to become the centrepiece of Christian worship and to bring unity to the Church at large, was, instead, to become one of the most divisive issues throughout its long and troubled history. What we now know as 'The Last Supper' became largely responsible for the doctrinal rift that occurred between the dominant medieval church and Protestantism and eventually caused dissention within Protestantism itself.
We need to recognise at that point in history in the upper room, Jesus was standing in the shadow of the cross. The last supper Jesus was to have with these devoted men was at the time of the Passover celebration, which effectively from this time on, was now to cease. Animal sacrifices were soon to be replaced by our Lord's own sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. Consequently, another service was now to be instituted to take its place. While the Passover pointed towards his death, this new service was to point back to this event and was to span the gulf between Calvary and His Second Coming. 1 Cor 11:26 says that '…as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come'. In other words, 'you are to recall the last days of my life till I come back'.
What did Jesus have in mind when he said in Luke 22:19 'Do this in remembrance of me' (1 Cor 11:24-25)? Do this to remember me.
Unfortunately, history has shown that most of God's people are prone to spiritual relapses and we all have very poor memories, so the Lord knew it was essential that some structure be put in place so that we do not forget the events that surrounded his life and ministry while on this earth. While the agonies of his death were very real, we are also to focus our attention on the totality of His life. This special service is a victory celebration and it provides an opportunity to express our deepest praise and appreciation for all that He has done for you and for me. It is a time for recommitment and to renew our dedication to Christ 'till He comes'.
As you are all aware, there are two parts to this special service. The first we call 'The Preparatory Service' or foot washing and the second, 'The Lord's Supper'. Jesus instituted the foot washing ordinance because he recognised our need of renewed cleansing - to be free from jealousy, pride and self-centeredness. As noted by author Ellen White '…There is in man a disposition to esteem himself more highly than his brother, to work for self, to seek the highest place; and this attitude often results in evil surmising (speculation) and bitterness of spirit (animosity)' (White,1898: 650).
Because there was strife amongst the disciples over 'who would be accounted the greatest in the kingdom' and a refusal by them not to act the part of a servant to wash the feet of the other guests, they were not ready to take part in the memorial or sacramental service Jesus was about to institute. THEY WERE NOT READY. Dear friends, Pride and jealousy were ruling the upper room.
LET ME TELL YOU VERY CLEARLY that a love for rewards, position, or distinction has no place in the Kingdom of God. Until these men were brought to the position where they could leave this all behind, they were not ready for the second service.
With the passing of time and the growth of apostasy in the early Church this preparatory service, like baptism by immersion, began to fall into disuse, yet it never completely disappeared. The Waldenses (Italy), Wycliffites (England), Hussites (Czech Republic - Prague), Anabaptists, Mennonites and Celtic Churches (British Isles) as well as the churches in Gaul (France) continued to practice foot washing which they frequently called 'the lessor baptism', a renewed cleansing of the heart. Today, it would seem that the significance of this service has been largely lost, many dismissing it as an ancient practice that has no relevance to us.
I believe those who have the opportunity and do not take part MISS OUT ON ITS DEEP SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE AND THE RICH SPIRITUAL BLESSING THAT IT PROVIDES.
The Lord's Supper, or Second Service, was designed by Jesus so that believers might receive regular spiritual renewal and while the frequency of this Service differs within Church Denominations Jesus' instructions were '…as oft as ye drink it' (whenever you do it), do it 'in remembrance of me' until I return (1 Cor 11: 26).
It is interesting to note that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who recognised that the Communion Service was to be a strength to the Church and to himself, received communion every four or five days throughout his long and fruitful ministry.
This special memorial of Christ's sacrifice at Calvary demonstrates the saving grace of Jesus and provides the assurance of our salvation through Him. This news is worth celebrating isn't it?
The Communion Service, as we now refer to it, was designed to preserve the inner unity of fellowship that was so characteristic in the early Church. It was to be the crowning act of all Christian worship. Four times every year we have the opportunity to reach this high point in our worship services.
No other service brings us into closer communion with our Lord and with each other than does the Lord's Supper.
It is both a memorial of His sacrifice and an anticipation of the Second Advent. His sacrifice is the centre of our hope and upon this we must fix our faith.
Jesus said in Math 26:29 (RSV) 'I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom'.
Dear Friends, these verses tell me that Jesus looked forward to that day when He would celebrate the Lord's Supper with His redeemed people. It could well be that Jesus is waiting to drink of the fruit of the vine at the 'marriage supper of the Lamb (Described in Rev. 19:9) when the triumph of His plan of Salvation will be celebrated.
HE WANTS US TO PLAN FOR THAT FEAST AND MAKE THOSE DECISIONS TODAY THAT WILL SEE US IN THE KINGDOM.
While we celebrate the Lord's Supper here today knowing that Christ is with us by the Holy Spirit, our sights are to be set on the future when God's people will be free from sin and all its consequences. Then we will give eternal praise to our Lord for His infinite and unconditional love.
Those who by faith receive the free gift of Christ's righteousness will be taken to the kingdom to enjoy the Lord's Supper in heaven. Christ's righteousness will dwell within believers as they allow the Holy Spirit to reign within. (John 2:29; 3:7; Gal 2:20; Col. 1:27; Rev 3:20).
It is important to note that every time we partake of the Lord's Supper we receive Jesus by faith, and He becomes our indwelling righteousness providing the qualification necessary for the heavenly kingdom.
However, it is possible for us to be partakers of the emblems of our Lord's broken body and yet receive no blessing from it. 'Remember that Judas the betrayer was present at the sacramental service. He received from Jesus the emblems of His broken body and His spilled blood.' Yet all the time he 'cherished his sullen, revengeful thoughts' (White, 1898: 653).
Let us recognise the importance of forgiveness and the opportunity to rid ourselves of pride in the preparatory service as we take part in this 'lesser baptism', the washing of the feet.
Today we have been privileged to share in this wonderful service. We serve a wonderful Saviour and it is my prayer this morning that our Church will be greatly strengthened and share a greater sense of unity because of our time spent together.
Let us remember the words recorded in the Minutes of the early Church that we read in Acts 2:42,47: 'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (God's Word) and to the fellowship (one with another), to the breaking of bread and to prayer…AND (then and only then) the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved'.
If this Church is to be a light in our community we need to be faithful in all these areas: to the teaching of God's Word, to the fellowship of one another, to the breaking of bread and to prayer, so the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, can add to our number those who will be saved.
KJV & RSV Versions of the Bible
WHITE, E. G. (1898) 'The Desire of Ages'. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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