“Purity of Sacrament”

 

Feast of Corpus Christi

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Exodus 25: 21-30/Psalm 111/1 Corinthians 11: 23-30/ John 6: 54-63

 

 

Fr. Gary W. Thurman

 

 

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi.  But there are many people, good people, Born again believers who love the Lord, who won’t celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. They believe the Bible; they believe that the Old Testament unlocks the New.  But they don’t believe that it unlocks where Jesus says “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in yourselves.”  I believe we will all see each other and celebrate eternity together in heaven. But why is there this difference in what we believe?  Why is it that back a few decades ago our Church began to investigate this issue of the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist?  Why, in February 1994, did our Church take a step and from then on, there were no more Sunday Services without the Eucharist?  Why do we still follow this step today? 

 

Is it all just a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation, reading something in there that is not there; is it something that we don’t understand very well?  Actually, Jesus took great pains to make us understand that what He said was literally true, not symbolically true.  Jesus gave this statement, “I am the living bread that came out from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  The people responded and began to argue, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” If this was a misunderstanding, right there Jesus could have said, “Wait a minute!  You thought that I meant that you were going to eat My body and drink My blood?  You have taken Me out of context! Let Me explain to you what I really mean.”

 

Instead, Jesus’ response was, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”  It wasn’t a misunderstanding.  He said it again several more times to make sure that the people got what He meant.  He wasn’t talking in symbolic terms, euphemistically or metaphorically.   He was saying, “Here is what it is.”  So, is this really a principle, not just in John chapter 6, but throughout the Scriptures, old and new? 

 

All our readings today are well chosen to illuminate the whole principle of the Body and Blood of Christ, to help us understand what Jesus was saying and what it really meant. Let’s start with in Psalm 111.

 

In Psalm 111:4, it says, “He has made His wonders to be remembered.”  Right away, we see how this ties up with the Eucharist because in the Upper Room, as recorded in the three synoptic gospels and also in 1 Corinthians 11, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  Remembering is a big part of sharing in Christ’s body and blood.  Verse 5 says, “He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever.”  This is part of what we do in the Eucharist.  We take the spiritual food, His body and His blood.   Psalm 111 talks about how God feeds us in His table.  God says that He will remember His covenant forever.  This is what we do in this Table – we remember the New Covenant, sealed in the Blood of Christ. In verse 9, it says, “He has sent redemption to His people.”  We remember God sent redemption to His people and He has ordained His covenant forever – His Covenant of redemption.  This is part of what we remember at the Eucharist when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  We remember that Jesus redeemed us from the works of the flesh, from our sins, and from Adam’s curse.  We remember this every time we come to the Altar of the Lord. 

 

Then Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.”  Jesus was referring to this when He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  The Eucharist is something that we do – sharing in the Body and the Blood of Christ.  When we do this, we will have a good understanding.  In Luke 24, when Simon and Cleopas were on their way to the village of Emmaus, they were joined by Jesus, and as they were talking about all the things that had happened, Jesus said, “Do you understand what these things mean?  Do you have an understanding of the crucifixion that just happened, and how some of the women claim that He is not in the tomb any more, that He is alive and has risen?  Do you understand these things?”   The two men didn’t understand at all. “Ewan ko.” But what happened when they stopped and had dinner?  As Jesus broke the bread, suddenly, they understood that He was Jesus! “Good understanding have all those who do His commandments.”  When they did Christ’s commandments, partook of the bread, and remembered the things that just happened, their understanding was opened in the breaking of the bread. 

 

Psalm 106:7 says, “Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses.”  This generation did not make it to the Promised Land because they did not understand or remember.  When Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” it is a vital part of what we do when we share the Body and Blood. 

 

Remembrance; remember; the Greek word that Jesus used was anamnesis.  Anamnesis is not just about recalling or remembering an event. Jesus wasn’t just talking about the physiological action of the nerve cells in your brain that do the remembering.  The word anamnesis goes further than this; it just doesn’t mean to remember an event but to re-enact the event.  It is to actually participate in the event to a form of re-enactment. Not only is it a re-enactment, but there is also an involvement.  When we come to the Eucharist, we re-enact the words that Jesus said and in the anamnesis, we don’t only re-enact, but it is being a participant in the action itself.   This is what it means to be sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ.

 

What are the things Scriptures want us to remember?  In Deuteronomy 5:15 it says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of the Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm.”  We come to celebrate, to ‘anamnesis,’ because we remember that the Lord brought us out of slavery to Egypt.   We were in bondage to sin, and we remember that the Lord brought us out by an outstretched hand.  Verse 15 continues, “Therefore the Lord commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”   We remember that we were brought forth by observing the Sabbath day.  So part of the Ten Commandments is that we remember.

 

How did they observe the Sabbath day at that time?  There was no church building then, nor a tabernacle.  What they did was: they did not work.  They rested. This was re-enacting God’s seventh day.  They were remembering when God rested, so they rested too.  This was their way of remembering that God, after working for six days during creation, rested on the seventh day. Let us remember by also resting on the Sabbath day.   The earliest celebration of the Sabbath was an anamnesis – a remembering; a reliving; a recreating; a participating in, God’s rest. 

 

Immediately after God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, He gave him a few more commands and then in Exodus 20:24, it says, “You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, and your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.”  This says that as we are worshipping Him by remembering His name, He will come to us and bless us.  In our remembrance, we are blessed.  Offer the sacrifices, offer the burnt offerings, offer the peace offerings (for all of these things are just types of what Christ did).  As we celebrate these things and remember these things, as His name is remembered, He will come to us and bless us.  This is really a good reason to come to the Eucharist to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.   He promised to bless us!

 

After several chapters of giving commandments and regulations at the bottom of the mountain, Moses asked the people, “Do you receive these?”  The people responded, “Yes, we receive them.  God has offered us a Covenant, and we receive it.”  God told Moses, “Okay, that is great.  Since I offered you a covenant, and the people have received the covenant, now, let us ratify the covenant with a sacrifice.”  They then sacrificed sheep and cattle, after which Moses took some of the blood from these animals as written in Exodus 24:5-8, “He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offering and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient. So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”     This was what Jesus was remembering when He said, “This cup is My blood.”   What Paul recorded in Corinthians, what Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded in their gospels, was Jesus was remembering what Moses did at Mt. Horeb with the consecrated blood.  At its root, worship is remembering God’s Covenant. 

 

Exodus 5:9 continues, “Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and the seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet, there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.  Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.”  This completed the Covenant, because the Covenant was offered by God, accepted by the people, and ratified with blood.  Then, God sealed it with a party – with eating and drinking.  He took the elders of the people, brought them up to the mountain, and they ate and drank with Him. “Lift up your hearts! Come up here!”  We walk up to the mountain, into the kingdom of God, in the spirit, and we eat and drink.  

 

Everything we do there is an anamnesis, a remembering of what Moses did and the people did.  This was a remembering of the old covenant, and far as they knew it, it was complete.  There was a little celebration when they were physically redeemed from Egypt, after they crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptians were drowned; Exodus chapter fifteen shows us a mini celebration for their physical redemption.  But now, they have been spiritually redeemed, as well.  God has given them the covenant of sacrifice so that they could be redeemed not just from the Egyptians, but redeemed in their souls from their sins.

 

As written in Exodus 24:10, under God’s feet there appeared to be pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.  Every time they saw the God of Israel on His throne, they saw this.  Ezekiel saw it; John saw it.  And they saw God in heaven, so they ate and drank.  Now, their redemption  complete, as far as they knew.  They did not know that this was just the type and the shadow of the full redemption that was to come in Christ.

 

Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” Paul says what to do – when we eat His flesh, and drink His blood, we proclaim His death.  All of this that happened on Horeb was a foreshadowing – an anamnesis in advance, if you will – of what Jesus did. Without the shedding of blood, as it says in Hebrews, there is no remission of sins. The Eucharist is a proclaiming of His death, often visually depicted by a crucifix.  We need to remember that there was a body on the cross of Calvary.  It is good that Jesus rose again to give us resurrection power, but we can’t rise from the dead until we die.   If we forget that Jesus died on the cross, the resurrection doesn’t mean so much.  It is the death on the cross that redeemed us. The Resurrection brought us many other great benefits, but it is the death on the cross that redeemed us from our sins.   We shouldn’t be intimidated with a cross that has a crucifix – because part of what we remember is His death.  That’s one third of the mystery of faith.

 

What we partake of in the Eucharist is both the crucified Christ and the resurrected Christ.  The body we partake of is not the same body that Jesus walked on the earth, but His glorified body which He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection.  This body was different; it is the glorified body, the resurrected body, the body that we partake of.

 

Right after the awesome event when the redemption of man is celebrated, right after they came down from the mountain, God started speaking to Moses again, giving him more regulations.  This is where the showbread comes in – the bread of presence.  The bread reminds them of the time they ate and drank with God.  God told them how to put the table right in the Tabernacle, the Holy Place; in the next room, separated by a veil, was the ark of the Covenant. The priest would go in to the Holy Place once a week and change the bread.  The Bread of Presence was always there to remind them of the great celebration that they had in the presence of God – where they ate and drank. And it was on the Sabbath, on the day that they should remember, they went and brought in the new bread.

 

But the people couldn’t go inside the Holy Place, could they?  No, but the people would gather outside the Tabernacle and watch as the priest brought in the new bread and brought out the old. They would watch it as their way of remembering the time when Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders ate and drank in the presence of God.  They did this every Sabbath as their way of continuing their remembrance.  They rested, they did not work, and they watched the changing of the Bread of Presence. It was another way of participating on the action of long ago on Mt. Horeb.

 

Remembering is not just stirring up a memory of what Jesus did, but we can participate and be blessed as we remember.  We can be a vital part and we can receive the benefits of the Resurrection as we partake of His body and blood.  Remembering is the essence of our worship.  This is done whenever we come to the Altar of the Lord; we partake of the Eucharist and we make anamnesis.   We are present; we participate in the sacrificial work of Christ.  He is in our lives, we are offered with Him on the Altar as the bread and wine come from the congregation.  As the celebrant takes them, it is saying that Christ takes them, combines our offering with His, and gives it to the Father.  As we make this offering, we receive the same life that Christ gave, and He takes our offering to be presented as heavenly offering so that we will receive new life. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “When you partake, eat My flesh, drink My blood, perform anamnesis, you have eternal life.”

 

We are here today to remember: with all the songs that we sing as a form of remembrance, in the offerings that we give, and as we share in His body and blood. We share; we are part of the ongoing work of Christ.  Let us celebrate today in our remembrance in the body and blood of the Lord.  

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