It’s hard to know where to start when talking about this week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to the following Sunday, Easter, when we commemorate the resurrection of the Christ, there is something special to be celebrated about almost every day.
Right now I’m thinking specifically about the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, commonly noted as the Last Supper. This event is adequately recorded by the Gospels writers. We could begin this day from the point at which Jesus instructs some disciples to go prepare a place for the Passover meal (Matthew 26:18). We could note Jesus washing the disciples’ feet or Judas’ betrayal.
Most of our celebration on what we call Maundy Thursday centers around the actual Passover meal, the Last Supper, which has become the Christian ordinance of holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.
I, too, would like to stop there for a few minutes today, but not as most people do. I don’t want to talk about the theology of the bread and the cup. I don’t want to talk liturgy. I don’t even want to stay in the gospel accounts.
Instead, let’s go to Paul’s recounting of the centerpiece of this meal, as found in 1st Corinthians 11:23- 26:
For 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.
During one phase of my active overseas missionary service, I was administrative head of an isolated ministry centered within a large tribal group. One of my spiritual responsibilities was to lead my fellow missionaries in a monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Doing this 12 times a year for three years, I spent a lot of time studying these passages. Each time, I tried to find something new to share with my fellow workers, but after a few months, there just wasn’t that much new to talk about. Part of me was satisfied repeating the same events. Another part wanted to find something new and life-changing within Jesus’ words and actions.
As I look back several decades to that time, the one take-away I have from that study is summed up in the three tenses of English grammar: past, present, and future. Paul wrote, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
When we share in the Lord’s Supper, we are, first of all, doing it in the present tense. We are there. We are actively doing something. Following through with Paul, we are pausing to reflect on our spiritual condition at that precise moment. We are examining ourselves and our lives, measuring ourselves by how we are living up to God’s revealed standards. As part of that, if there is anything found wanting, we should be making the conscious decision to correct that situation.
Examining ourselves by God’s standards, of course, presupposes that we are already in a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, we are looking back to the death of Christ as full payment for our sins and guarantee of a position of imputed righteousness before God.
John 3:16, proclaims, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That familiar passage follows a verse which speaks of Jesus being lifted up, a preview of his death by crucifixion. Paul explains in Romans 6:6-7, “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Paul again reminds us in Romans 10:13, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So, as we share the Lord supper in the present tense, we look back 2000 years to the death of Christ which made salvation available to all people. We also look back to the time that we, as individuals, accepted God’s free offer of salvation and committed our lives to the one who gave his life for us.
Finally, Paul reminds us that while we are doing this act of the Lord’s Supper in the present tense, we are actively proclaiming the work of Christ into the future, until he comes again.
What does it mean to proclaim the Lord’s death? Most simply, it means we should be telling other people both what Christ has done, and what it means to us personally. This should be done not just as a historical or factual situation, but with the intent of bringing others into the same relationship so that they too can find salvation in Christ and so have the same personal relationship with God.
This should not be confined within the walls of a church building. Presumably, the people sharing in the Lord’s Supper on any given opportunity within a church setting already know this. No, this proclamation has to burst beyond the immediate present tense and venue. It must be seen in the in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Acts chapter 1 where he tells them “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”
Today – now -- in the present tense -- we who have come to Christ for salvation are his continuing witnesses. We are witnesses to the truth of his life, death, and resurrection as recorded in the Bible. We are witnesses to the unbroken liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, which has come down to us through 2000 years of church doctrine and history. Moreover, we are witnesses to the power of Christ within ourselves. He took us from the realm of darkness and brought us into his marvelous light.
Within this Easter week, let’s take more out of the Last Supper then just a lesson in history or prelude to the death and resurrection which follow in the pages of Scripture. Let’s see this not just as a ceremony or liturgy, but as a corporate and personal three-dimensional act of faith. Once and for all in the past Christ died for us. Today we live because of that action. As we look forward to the time when Christ himself will return to Earth, let’s fulfill this time to come by being active witnesses to what he has done for us and what he wishes to do among all peoples on this earth.