I had the privilege of teaching last night at worship and communion, and thought I'd share my thoughts with you as well. :)
On the table next to my bed is a collection of things that are very special to me. I half-jokingly refer to it as an altar, because most of the objects on this table are actually icons - objects that, at least for me, point past themselves to God.
There are a lot of things on this little altar, but here are just a few:
There's a birthday card from a friend and mentor. On the inside, he wrote, "God does have a plan for your life, Happy, and it is greater than your dreams." This card came at a time when I really needed to hear that, and he had no idea how timely his words were. And now, every time I see it, I am reminded that it's true - that God's dreams for me are greater than my own, and that His plan is perfect and can be trusted. The card is an icon that leads me into His presence and inspires me to worship Him for who He is: Jehovah Jireh, my Provider.
Another icon that reminds me of God's provision is a car key. My senior year in college, I took a job - the only job I could find - but it was across town, and I had no way to get there. I was telling a friend about my dilemma, and right then and there, he just gave me his car, for the whole year. His generosity reminds me to be that ridiculously generous, and this key reminds me that even when I can't see a way, God always has a plan and will provide exactly what I need.
There's also a nickel - which reminds me of something a man named John Wimber said once. He said, "I am just a nickel in God's pocket, and He can spend me any way He wants to." That quote really hit me the first time I read it - and comes to mind often (usually when I don't want to be spent the way I'm pretty sure God wants to spend me...) The quote reminds me that I belong to Jesus, not to myself, and that acknowledging His sovereignty - His Lordship over my life - is always the best way to live, and that surrendering my life is actually an act of worship. Again, it's an icon, connected to a story that points me to Jesus.
There are a lot of icons that the church has turned to over the years as well: things like the cross, stained glass images of Bible stories, sometimes even actual church buildings... We have to be careful with icons - it can be easy to turn an icon into an idol if we're not careful. How can you tell if you're doing this? The minute an icon becomes more important to us than the One to whom it is supposed to point us, we're in trouble - but icons can actually be very helpful in assisting us, as His word tells us in Psalm 77, to remember the deeds of the Lord.
It occurred to me as I was thinking about communion this weekend that Jesus gave us an incredible gift in this sacrament that we celebrate. This loaf of bread and this cup are icons that point past themselves to Jesus, and remind us of what He's done. We come to the Table, we see these two things, and we instantly remember that we are saved solely by grace through faith in Christ, and not by anything we've ever done.
This is the story: God's word tells us in Matthew 26 that "while they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
We know from Scripture, especially passages like 1 Corinthians 11, in which Paul gives instructions to the church as to how to celebrate it rightly, that the church very early on began to celebrate what God had done for them in Christ by eating bread and drinking the cup together. Communion is a centuries-old feast of remembrance, and in coming to this Table tonight, we do, as Paul says, "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." We remember the amazing grace that was given to us as Jesus went to the cross for OUR sins, and we give thanks. And we come together, as Christians have always done, because this gift was for ALL of us.
So tonight, as you come to the Table, I simply want to encourage you to stop for a moment and remember. This is a serious moment. We come to this Table with great joy and gratitude, but Paul also warns us to come with a proper mindset. He says, "...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." (1 Cor. 11:27-29)
So let's take a few minutes to pause and reflect. What is it that Lord has done for us? What has He saved us from? Is there any sin in our hearts that we haven't confessed to Him yet? Let's clear that up now, confess what we need to, and receive His forgiveness where we need it. And then come joyfully, together, each of us as we're ready, to celebrate and remember the mercy and the grace that was given to us through His broken body and shed blood, represented by this loaf of bread and this cup - icons that remind us of a very simple, but very profound truth: God loves us.
In the Reformed church, where I spent a lot of time in college, at this point in the service, they say, "come, for all things are now ready." I love that - because the truth is, Jesus HAS prepared this table for you, in the presence of your enemies, and because of His death and resurrection - surely goodness and mercy WILL follow you, all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So come, for all things are now ready.