There is with some Christians the idea that the sacraments are not important. Some parents would withhold the sacrament of baptism from their children for reasons pure human and not in accordance with the Word of God. Communion Sundays come and go and some church members would not regard the sacrament important to set aside this special day apart and to not accept any other appointment on this day.
The question is, “Is it important to observe the sacraments?” Or, “Is there a need for Holy Communion?” Can’t we go without it?
To this I would put the counter argument, “There is the absolute need for Communion.” Why? Because we are commanded by the Lord, “Do this in my remembrance!”
We are not sacramentalists!
Let we first just say this: The Roman church believes of the sacraments that they are a necessity because through the sacraments, which would act as a funnel of God’s grace, we would receive God’s grace. Without the sacraments we would not be able to receive this grace.
Reformed theology does not subscribe to this understanding of the sacraments. In other words, the administration of the sacraments will never save anyone! The murderer on the cross next to Jesus never ever received any sacrament and yet he was promised to be in paradise with Jesus.
The Roman Church believes that a baby must be baptised as soon as possible after its birth in case it dies without being baptised. A person needs to receive the last rites before his death in order to enter eternity blessed by the priest with a sacrament as a means of receiving God’s grace. The number of sacraments in the Roman Church is also extended to seven, compared to the two we in the Reformed churches believe the Lord commanded his church to observe.
We are not sacramentalists! Sacraments are signs of God’s grace, and are not to be confused with the grace it represents.
Sacraments and its use
Looking at the Westminster Confession of Faith, our sub-ordinate standard of doctrine in the Presbyterian Church, we find the following in Chapter 27:
Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace personally instituted by God to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our benefit in Him. It also makes a visible difference between the people that belong to the Church and the rest of the world. We observe them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.
A difference between the two sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion lies in its frequency of use. We are baptised only once to be engrafted in the covenant of grace. We are not baptised over and over again as if the water used, and the amount of water used, would bring us closer to God, or would reaffirm our relationship with God. People who would have them baptised more than once would do so not in accordance with the Word of God.
As baptism is the successor to circumcision, which was only performed once and to which there was no command to repeat it at any time after the initial ritual, so it is with baptism.
The only reference to people baptised a second time is in Acts 19. Here the apostle Paul baptised people a second time because when they were first baptised, they were not baptised in the Triune Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At that point in time they had not heard of the Holy Spirit. Their baptism at that point in time was the baptism of John the Baptist, not the baptism commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:2–5, NIV)
Holy Communion replaced Passover
It is different with Holy Communion. Holy Communion is the New Testament sign of the Old Testament sacrament of the Passover. Here we hear the expressed command:
Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony. (Exodus 12:24-25)
And when the Lord instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion He also said, “Do this in remembrance of Me”. Further the apostle Paul records the words of our Saviour saying:
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.” (1 Corinthians 11:25)
The earlier translations of the Scriptures translate the “whenever” with “as often as you drink it”.
We conclude from this that we need to on a regular basis, periodically, celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Why? Let’s go back to the Old Testament. In Exodus 12:26-27 we find the reason:
And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:26-27)
Jesus Christ is our New Testament Passover Lamb. The difference between Passover and the Lord’s Supper is that we do not sacrifice Jesus over over again, because He gave Himself as an sacrifice to redeem us from our sins. This was a once for all event. The water Hebrews sites:
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:12–14, NIV)
With this in mind then, we remember what Christ has done in our stead. We remember that He saved us. His blood is the reason why God passed us over to take us out of slavery and make us free. So, when I come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper,
- I once again am reminded that God provided redemption. Very visibly I see the signs of wine and bread. I handle them, smell them, and taste them.
- More than that: It calls me to holiness. I cannot eat and drink of the wine and bread and go away untouched.
- At the table am I faced with the horror of sin and its consequences.
- At the table I am called to once again see myself as God sees me. I am called to once again take stock of my life and confess my sins. If it is my intention to eat and drink of the elements and go away untouched, I eat and drink condemnation upon myself.
- Here I face God, his love, his holiness, his judgement and his mercy.
- Here I cringe and fall prostrate.
- Here I repent. I cannot take the cup and drink without repentance.
- In short, I need Communion, not because the wine and bread would save me, but because it would point me to the Cross where the ultimate sacrifice was made.
- Further, I cannot sit at this table and commune with God without looking at those sitting with me to enjoy. I have to make restitution; I have to make right. I have to live with the others in forgiveness and reconciliation.
Without all these elements Holy Communion means nothing.
Communion is a command. Because it is a command I am called to the Table, I am called into the presence of God. Here I accept the grace given to me. Here I repent. Here I recommit myself in ongoing repentance of sanctification. Here I commit to my brother and my sister in the Lord and accept him or her as another member in the family of God. Listen to the Word:
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Communion unites me with God through Jesus Christ. And communion unites me with the rest of God’s family.
Communion is a command; it is not an optional. If I take it to be an optional, I might still try to get away with some unresolved sins in my life. And if I sit at this table with those unresolved sin, the Bible says, I eat and drink condemnation upon myself.
Here I stand before God. And the words of Hebrews 10:28-31 are loud and clear, as a wall to which I come:
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:28-31)
And I fall down begging for grace. On my face before God, begging for grace, I here his forgiving word: “This cup is the New Testament in my blood.” “This cup it the cup of salvation.”
Here the wrath of God and the grace of our Lord meet; here our rebellion and the love of God meet; here the holy God meets with the unworthy sinner. Here God renews his covenant of grace with us, and here I recommit myself to his love and declare Him to be my one and only Saviour. Here I receive grace.
Come to the Lord. With Him is grace. AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 5 June 2016