1 Corinthians 11:26 “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus says. There are many things to remember about his thirty three years of life. It takes four books of the Bible to tell the story. But Paul makes clear the thing to remember here: “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
On the west side of Goodhue County Road 6, in the cemetery of St. John’s Lutheran Church, there is a tombstone with the name “Vieths” on it. My grandparents are buried there. My grandfather delayed buying his lot in that cemetery until that one became available, because it was on top of the hill. Down the hill it is somewhat swampy, and he didn’t think he wanted to lay in that swamp until Jesus returns. I had a hand in laying both of these dear people to rest. The funeral services were comforting. But the stone that marks their resting place proclaims just one thing. “Marvin and Mildred Vieths are dead. This is the year they were born. This is the year they died.”
Jesus’ Supper is a memorial that proclaims so much more. It proclaims his death, yes, but not the sad departure of someone we have lost, someone whose body will decay until the end of time. His was not the death of another mortal whose death is all the evidence we need that he was a sinner, because the wages of sin is death.
His was the body given “for you,” – in your place and in mine. He died for sins, it is true, but the sins were ours. Peter says in his first letter, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” The death this supper proclaims is the death that satisfies God’s justice for all sins for all time. It’s the death that righteous Jesus died in the place of unrighteous humanity. Because Jesus’ death fully and finally deals with all the penalty for sin, it brings us to God. There is nothing standing between us anymore. All past issues, even all future issues, have been settled. This supper helps us remember, and promises it is true.
Isn’t this message also preached by the real presence, instead of the real absence, of Jesus’ body and blood with this bread and wine? Why is sin such a big problem? It is because it separates. It turns person against person, and God against people, and people against God. Why do marriages come apart, and friendships collapse, and families blow up? The specific causes form a list that would take me all night to recite. But they all have this in common–by their behavior, someone is sinning against someone else. So it goes with God. Through the prophet Isaiah he warned, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
What if there were a way to remove those sins and repair the relationship? There is, by the Lord’s death remembered in this Supper. And what better way for Jesus to express that the separation is over, and every offense has been removed, and the relationship has been completely restored, than by taking a few moments to come to us really, personally, with the body and blood that fixed it all? For these few moments at his altar, in a taste and a sip, he is here assuring us that no matter what we have done, he isn’t holding it against us. It doesn’t come between us, because he himself is actually here to love us. That is the message if we will taste the gifts, and see the miracle, and listen with hearts of faith.
“If you ever need to get away for a few days, you can always stay at our place on the lake,” some friends offered us many years ago. A couple years later I called them and asked them if the offer were still good. “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?” Well, some time had passed, and I didn’t know if things had changed. I hadn’t forgotten the offer. I just hadn’t heard it for a while.
Some time has passed since Jesus died for our sins and rose to life. Some time has passed since he gave us this supper. Free forgiveness for our sins–is the offer still good? Of course, why wouldn’t it be? Take and eat, take and drink, and refresh your memory.