The words, "Do this in remembrance of me," are well known to everyone. The words are carved into the front of Communion tables across the face of this planet. The words are quoted and sung. They're mentioned twice in this passage of Scripture, where Paul rehearses to the Corinthians the practice of the Lord's Table, a practice established by Jesus on the night before he was crucified. The practice of the Lord's Table, or the Lord's Supper, or Communion, is referred to in Catholic tradition as the Mass, or as the Eucharist in other traditions.
It amazes me that religion, when given enough time, is able to squeeze the life out of reality. God reveals his grace and power. Human institution and tradition can cage it, box it up, or drive it back into the recesses of ritual, where the raw power and the precious sweetness of what the Lord intended are submerged in the incrustations of human ideas and traditionalized practices.
We face an important question in asking ourselves what Jesus wanted us to remember. He said, "This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood that is shed for you." He wants us to remember his body and his blood. What else should we remember? There are two avenues we can pursue. We can discuss, on the one hand, whether Jesus wanted us to remember the process of his dying, or, on the other hand, the purpose of his dying.
Remember the process
Much of the church is preoccupied with the process of his death. That is important, for it was his dying that released the fulfilling possibilities in his purpose for dying. Human traditions can become incredibly death dealing, and given enough time they become a legalistic whip used to control people.
Some parts of the church won't allow people to partake of the Lord's Table unless they have gone through the full membership course, however long that takes. There are churches that would ask those who are not members of their congregation not to partake. A mood existed in much of my childhood and teenage years that, when we came to the Lord's Table, we'd better be very careful. If sin hadn't been confessed carefully enough, a person could be judged guilty of violating the memory of Jesus Christ's death, bringing punishment from God. There are churches today where sincere people come to the Lord's Table in a somber, heavy atmosphere, with chest beating and agony over Jesus' death for us.
We do need to examine ourselves, but for what? In our passage of Scripture, there are two tracks to follow. One will lead to a fearsome, rather morbid approach to what Jesus meant for us to remember when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me." The other track takes us along the path Jesus meant for us to remember.
Let me give a bit of background on this for a moment. Earlier in this same chapter, the apostle Paul confronts the Corinthians. He commends them in the opening verses of chapter one. He even talks to them positively about the fact that they were so free to move in the gifts of the Spirit, even though they needed correction and instruction. His strongest words are spoken in 11:1719, when he directly says he won't praise them for what they've done with the Lord's Table, although it is apparent their celebration was practiced as a result of Paul's teaching.
Paul had founded the Corinthian church and pastored it for eighteen months. He wrote this letter after he'd been gone about five and a half years, and his purpose in writing to them was to deal with problems. In this particular case, they were having a fiasco of a feast when it came to the Lord's Table. Everybody was bringing picnic lunches. If you didn't bring one, you didn't get anything. They were not sharing with one another. People brought wine for partaking at the Lord's Table and were getting drunk. Their celebration reflected separatism, smallness, and a lack of perception and discernment. Paul didn't praise them for this. He told them to set things in order.
If the apostle Paul had established the Lord's Table as anything less than a joyous celebration, it seems unlikely to me it would have become a bawdy feast. Evidently, Paul had not established the Lord's Table as a morbid moment, with times of deep self-scrutiny, where people were virtually clawing at their hearts in self-examination. I believe Paul had instructed them that this was a table of triumph, and they'd learned to come rejoicing. With the passing of time and the absence of his careful teaching, the rejoicing had become ridiculous. Paul writes them to set some things in order.
A question of examination
There are two or three keys words in all of this. The key phrase is, "This do in remembrance of me." But we're going to deal with that last. Take first the word, worthily. When Jesus spoke of partaking in a worthy manner, what was he talking about? One interpretation is that the way to partake in a worthy manner is to check your worthiness: I need to be worthy of coming to the Lord's Table. This is a total misinterpretation, but it exists in much of the church. Why? Because it says, "Let a man examine himself."
The word "examine" really is the same word used for passing a test. What's the Lord testing us on? Is it how perfect we are? On whether or not we deserve his grace? Or is he testing us on our understanding of why he did what he did for us? We're going to find out that you must remember what was accomplished at the cross if you want to participate in it freshly here and now. That's the test.
The test isn't whether we deserve to participate. I was raised on that notion. I don't remember anybody saying it in as many words. It was just a general mood. It prevails in much of the church and becomes administrated that way. I know a place in Latin America where a person who has been divorced can never partake in Communion. People who feel their own weakness can't partake of the Lord's Table.
Coming to the Lord's Table isn't an observance of ritual. It's to receive something the Holy Spirit will flow into our lives. It seems to me the most ludicrous proposition we lead people to believe is that, if they have been weak, they can't come to the table that's intended to provide strength. It's the same thing as saying to a person who's dying of malnutrition, "After you get over that, we'll let you have some food."
The purpose of the table is to make us strong. The purpose of the table is to bring a sense of forgiveness for our sins. Examining ourselves does necessitate coming to terms with where we've been sloppy or shoddy or neglectful. After all, I can't very well come with any degree of understanding and pass the test of who Jesus is and what he wants me to understand unless I confess my sin and my need to be strengthened. That's partaking in recognition that I am not going through this exercise to try and increase my worthiness.
Let's settle the question once and for all: Who is worthy to come to the table? Nobody. Jesus died to shower the grace of God upon us that we might all come through him who is worthy. Worthy is the Lamb! I come by putting my trust and faith in the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, including the sin of Jack Hayford. I come and partake of the strength nourished by the life of Jesus.
Remember the purpose
In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus talks about the practice of the Lord's Table. He says that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, we have no part in him. The disciples were bewildered. It sounded like a weird form of cannibalism, but Jesus corrected them. He said, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." He spoke of spiritual truth. He was forecasting that the day would come when we could partake in his body and blood, and when the Holy Spirit would act upon believers who partake with understanding.
Partaking in a worthy manner is to ascribe full worth to what Christ has done to welcome us into the presence of the Father. He has made us worthy through his blood and his cross. We come remembering the worth of his works, not to earn worthiness. What about the part where it says if you partake recklessly you may get sick, or even die? Why? Because God visits judgment on people who are despising and reckless about Christ's life. He's saying you're not discerning when you come. You're just going through the motions. Other people can go through with reverent and sincere motions and still not draw on what is available to us here.
Why were people sick, and why had some experienced a premature death? Because they were not coming to terms with the fact that, as they partook, it was an occasion when they we're to receive what Jesus' broken body was all about. Isaiah 53:5, forecasting the suffering Messiah, says, "By his wounds we are healed." In 1 Peter 2:24, it says, "By his wounds you have been healed." What he did on the cross was to provide healing. When you come and partake with discernment, you're saying, "Jesus, I come to receive strength for living for you and healing for the affliction in my body." You're discerning the Lord's body.
Paul said some aren't coming in that way, they are simply living on the limited resources of the flesh. It isn't that God says, "I saw you partake unworthily. I'll smash an ice pick through your head." It's a matter of not partaking of what's available to you. There is a theology that exists in parts of the church that says sacraments are, in and of themselves, beneficial. You partake, and there is a power inherent in this. No matter what your condition or your understanding, it automatically takes care of it. The notion is that if someone is anointed with oil and some kind of unction, or if someone is baptized, it's taken care of before God. There are some sitting here who think that, because they've been baptized, that has an automatic power that gets them right with God.
The Bible doesn't say there is any sacrament, including this one of the Lord's Supper, which in and of itself conveys an automatic power. Faith is what appropriates the power. Trust in the Lord and not in the symbolsbaptism in water, anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, partaking of the Lord's Table. The power is in the Holy Spirit ministering to those who come ascribing full weight and worth to what it's about.
Jesus said to come and partake. When we come to partake of his table, what is it he wants us to remember? Let me suggest two possibilities. Do you think that when Jesus instituted the tablesaying he wanted us to come together regularly to break bread and drink of the cupdo you think he wanted us to remember how much it hurt him? Did he say, "The nails went in my hands, and the spear went in my side, and the thorns went on my head. Remember how much it hurt me. Never forget that it was your fault"? Obviously, that intent would imply an ongoing sense of guilt is required for discipleship.
Or did he mean this: "I want you to remember, every time you take the bread and the cup, that when my blood was shed for you, it was shed once and for all to cover all your sin so that you never need live under condemnation. Never forget that when you partake of this bread, like Israel getting miracle manna in the wilderness, there is nourishment in my life. I have forgiven you, and I will enable you with strength for every day. Don't forget when you're sick and afflicted, you needn't go on with interminable suffering. I am your healer. If you feel plagued by Satan, remember that through my cross I abolished the power of all principalities and powers and made an open spectacle of them."
What do you think Jesus meant for us to remember? Is Jesus Christ a neurotic who dominates his church by imposing guilt on a weekly or a monthly basis to those who come to remember his death? Or is he a mighty Savior who wants us to remember that he has washed us from our sins and will be our strength every day? He has broken the power of sin and temptation and satanic bondage. In no way can they dominate your life. What do you think he wants you to remember?
The one who died has said that everybody can come to him. It doesn't require an earned acceptance to come to the table. He says, "Come and dine," and opens it to all of us. Any system or institution that restricts access to the Lord's Table is not protecting that Table or preserving its purity. They are limiting its pure power to change human nature, limiting people's ability to come and glorify Jesus when they partake. And so, as we come to the table this morning, I want us to come with rejoicing and praise. This is a table of triumph. This is a table of triumph. While we partake together today, let us rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jack Hayford is chancellor of The King's College and Seminary, Van Nuys, California, founding pastor of The Church on the Way, and former president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. He is author of Rebuilding the Real You (Charisma House).