Article of Faith #13 – “The Lord’s Supper”

Article of Faith #13 – The Lord’s Supper
Date: Sunday, September 5, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell

Each week as we conclude our time of prayer, we repeat the words that Jesus used to teach his disciples how to pray.  We pray the Lord’s Prayer, not so much for the sake of the words, but to remind us of the structure and manner in which we are to pray—praising God, seeking His kingdom, affirming our dependence upon Him for each day, seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, asking for guidance and deliverance, and concluding by praising Him once more.  As we affirm our dependence upon Him, we pray these words: “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

On the one hand, our prayer can simply be read as a prayer for food and sustenance.  On the other hand, it is really an affirmation of our complete and total dependence upon the Creator.  We recognize that we are asking for the bread for today, not worrying about the bread for tomorrow, for we trust that He will provide that in time for tomorrow.

The concept of “Daily Bread” really was integrated in the hearts and lives of the Israelites while they were wandering in the wilderness during the Exodus.  Food had become scarce and they had begun to complain to Moses saying that it would have been better if they had died by the plagues in Egypt instead of being led out into the wilderness to starve to death.  Hear these words from the book of Exodus, chapter 16:

4 Then the LORD said to Moses,  “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out  each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

6 So Moses and Aaron said to all  the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who  brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’ “

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ “

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the  LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded:  ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you  have in your tent.’ “

17 The Israelites did as they were  told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it  by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered  little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. 19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until  morning.”

May God  add His blessing to the reading of His word.     

If we were to continue reading the story, we would learn that some of the Israelite did not seem to trust the promise, were afraid that there wouldn’t be any more manna, and so they decided to gather more than they were told to and keep the extra in their tent.  We’re told that the extra manna became maggot infested and that Moses became angry.  Manna truly was to be the “Daily Bread” of the Israelites in the wilderness.  They were to trust each day that God would supply just enough for today, and not to worry about tomorrow, for He would supply for tomorrow as well.

All sorts of lessons and applications about dependence on God could come out of this passage in Exodus.  We could talk about trusting God day-by-day, taking only what we need, waste-not-want-not, or being obedient even when we don’t understand why.  While any one of these lessons would make for a good sermon, we’re in the middle of a sermon series on the Articles of Faith, and you may be wondering how this passage in Exodus possibly applies.

Before we answer that question, let us take a moment to read our Thirteenth Article of Faith entitled “The Lord’s Supper.”

17. We believe that the Memorial and Communion Supper instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is essentially a New Testament sacrament, declarative of  His sacrificial death, through the merits of which believers have life and  salvation and promise of all spiritual blessings in Christ.  It is distinctively for those who are prepared for reverent appreciation of its  significance, and by it they show forth the Lord’s death till He come again.  It being the Communion feast, only those who have faith in Christ and love for the saints should be called to participate therein.   

So, what does manna in the wilderness have to do with the Lord’s Table, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Last Supper, or any other words which we might ascribe to this Sacrament?  Is there any relationship at all between the daily bread eaten by the Isrealites in the wilderness and the bread that Jesus offers us at His table?

Well, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus makes reference to manna in the wilderness in a most interesting way.  I invite you to hear these words from John chapter 6, verses 28-58:

28Then they asked him, “What  must we do to do the works God requires?”

29Jesus answered, “The work  of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What  will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it  is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ “

32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who  believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives  me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall  lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

41At this the Jews began to  grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from  heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by  God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to  eat?”

53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,  you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The  Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.     

I would suggest that much of our sacramental theology about the Lord’s Table comes from this passage of scripture.  If you were here last week, you will remember that a sacrament is the ordinary means by which we meet the extra-ordinary God.  It is the ordinary means by which God’s grace is mediated to the believer.  The natural is infused by God’s presence and becomes supernatural.  Ordinary elements like bread and juice become a means for us to encounter God and experience His presence.

Jesus essentially tells his listeners that participation in the Communion Feast provides a spiritual nourishment for us, that by gathering at His table and eating these signs of the new covenant, we are eating unto eternal life.  Indeed, at this table we are reminded that Christ died for us.  It was His body that was broken and His blood that was shed.  He was broken and spilled out that we might be forgiven of our sins and be renewed to right relationship with Him.

Wesley spoke of Communion as a means of grace, but at the same time recognized that it might possibly function in different ways for different people.  For some, exercising faith to come eat at the table might be a means of justifying grace.  For some who are too young to fully understand the significance of the moment, it may function as prevenient grace (that grace which goes before everything, calling us unto repentance and right relationship with God).  For some, Holy Communion might be a means of sanctifying grace, cleansing us from sin and filling us with God’s Spirit.  Wesley admonished believers to come to the table, seeking whatever grace God determined to give them that day, whatever grace it was that they needed.

I often suggest one additional type of grace which is found here at the Table—sustaining grace.  Sustaining grace is that grace which keeps and leads us through each new day.  It is that grace which nourishes our soul and nurtures us in continued growth.  Sustaining grace is a lot like the manna in the wilderness, enough for each day…no more, no less.

This food won’t keep your body alive.  It won’t keep your stomach from growling or your throat from being thirsty.  This food isn’t designed to sustain the body, it’s designed to sustain the soul.  It’s designed to help you be in constant communion with the One who created you, and the One who redeemed you.  This food is to nourish the soul.

And so, the invitation today will be to come and receive whatever grace you might find here at this table.  Take time to examine yourself, recognizing that it only by God’s grace that you might partake of the feast.  Take time to affirm your dependency upon God for your daily bread each day.  Take time to confess your sins and seek forgiveness.  And then, come with joy to feast at the table of our Lord.  Come and receive His grace, whatever grace He has to offer you today.  Come and enter into His presence with thanksgiving in your heart.

 

Benediction:  I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and  through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming  of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and  he will do it.

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