Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel Sunday morning, 16th August, 1953
"And as they were eatingJesus took bread and blessed it, and brake it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body." Matthew 26:26
Our Lord places Himself in a unique
category and declares a transcendent relationship when, with the bread in His
Hands, He exclaims: " This is my body." The response He invoked
of His disciples constituted an introduction to one of the most profound mysteries
of spiritual experience.
We must remember that everything in our Lord's attitude, action and speech is consistent with eternal universal truth and reality. He does not speak as we do either in terms of honest conviction or ultimate discovery, but always truth as it essentially is in the Being of God. His miracles are not sleight of hand of a magician but the energy of a transcendent mind drawing upon the resources of a universe. He is ahead of every generation of thinkers, enlightened by none, leaving to the world's greatest minds the inexplicable, provoked by His matchless wisdom. All this must be in our minds as we see Him with the bread in His hand.
The occasion was the Passover feast, and as pious Jews they were gathered for its observance. John's gospel makes it clear that before this Passover feast, and we may conclude during it and at its close, our Lord was communicating His mind to His disciples, linking the feast with Himself as He spoke of the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. When He took the bread He did so as the climax to all that He had spoken to them and thus by this significant act He bridged the centuries and fulfilled in Himself the deep underlying truth of the feast for which they had gathered.
So in the bread and the wine as He offered it to them, when supper was ended, the disciples found themselves partakers in a new revelation and a profound spiritual experience. The Supper was instituted within an exposition and the ordinances are always to be expounded strictly within the Word of revelation. In matters of architecture it may be convenient to place the altar in the central position and the pulpit to the side. However in the matter of proportion and perspective, the pulpit as expounding the truth is central, and ordinances have their value and vitality within that revelation and not apart from it. Therefore as our Lord offered the bread and the wine, it was in the declaration of His approaching death, that that death was in the fulfilment of the perfect will of God and as such should bear its fruit in the purpose of God. As they should eat of the bread and drink of the cup, they would in faith be participating in the benefits of His body and blood.
EATING HIS FLESH
John 6:53, records words of our Lord that are not easily understood. He speaks there of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They are prerequisites to the experience of His life. Literalism is manifestly impossible. He made it clear that life in and through Him proceeded out of faith in Him and that to the initial act of faith in Him, must be added the perpetuated faith that lived upon Him so that to believe was indeed to come, to take and to eat. At that time, so far as we know the ordinance of the Bread and the Wine had not been made known, so that all that heard His words were constrained to understand them in a faith that appropriated the grace He had for them.
It would seem to be a legitimate interpretation of His words that the life of God is for those who live by faith in Him. There was to be a continual feeding of faith and so a continual communion of life in Him. These words spoken some time before the Supper have a bearing on our understanding of His action when He took the bread. The act of faith which was alone possible in answer to His revelation that He was the Bread from heaven surely indicates that as He spoke to the disciples in offering them the bread, He was again asking for a faith that entirely depended on Him in His death and resurrection.
THE GODWARD ACT
We may conclude, therefore, that our Lord's action in blessing the Bread was an indication that it was an act Godwards.
First He presented Himself to God as One in Whom was no root of sin, a Lamb without blemish.
Secondly, in His body of flesh He rendered to the Father an absolute obedience unchecked by fear of death, but carrying that obedience through to its consummation in the Cross. He was well pleasing to the Father. Here was the Man who counted death in the will of God a greater prize than life outside the will of God. Thus He vindicated the righteousness of God in the doing of His will. Therefore God accepted that perfect obedience in death as the mediation for us sinners. Adam in his ignorance pulled the whole race down in his sin and disobedience. Our Blessed Lord in the knowledge of the Father redeemed us to God by His obedience unto death and so lifted us into a new communion of life in fellowship with the Father. Not only so, but our Lord offered to the Father the instrument perfected in suffering through which as Head of the Body of the Church He might fulfil the eternal purpose of God through the ages.
THE RITUALIST INTERPRETATION
Of course His action in our text is susceptible of many interpretations, and we must therefore keep as closely as we can to the original occasion. The ritualist insists that the person who conducts the Communion service must be able to trace his ordination to the apostles. Whether any person can do so we will leave, but we find no indication of such a requirement in the Scriptures. The ritualist maintains that only such a person has power to alter the substance of the bread whereby is given to the communicant the body of our Lord and that objectively we have a substance that can be reserved and contains spiritual qualities of eternal value.
If this can be believed, then we can see how, by changing of robes, genuflections and tinkling of a bell, a profound emotional impression can be made upon worshippers. Such processes enhance the position of the priest and make the worshipper to understand that excommunication whereby one cannot have the benefits of the sacrament will mean his eternal undoing. It is exceedingly difficult to find all this in the simple service instituted by our Lord. Bishop Barnes rightly argues that physical changes must be perceptible to those who make them, and in like manner spiritual changes must be recognisable by those who profess to make them. Is there any priest who, having by a word-achieved transubstantiation, can unerringly discern whether the spiritual change in one wafer has taken place or not? It is useless to declare changes, which are not susceptible on the appropriate plane of action. There is no limit to the arrogance of superstition once no proof is required. Spiritual things are to be spiritually discerned, and the priest who himself is incapable of perceiving the change he professes to have achieved has consigned himself and his superstitious act to the realm where enlightened reason can have no interest.
Those of us who fear the evils that arise out of the ritualistic superstition are inclined to go to the opposite extreme. In evangelical circles we seem to be content to assert that the bread is only a symbol. That may be the safer truth of the two extremes. Yet one may reverently say of our Lord Who never made a mistake in any word that He uttered, that it would have been better in such a case if He had clearly said so: " This is the symbol of My body." We explicitly deny that Scripture gives any power to the priest, and we are sure Scripture denies any change in the substance, but we do believe there is a real change in the one who participates. In this Communion of His Body and Blood we are energised afresh in the grace of Calvary. We are also enabled to look forward to His coming again. But we must not overlook the fact that His body and Blood have a present ministry for us.
THE HIDDEN DEPTHS
None knows the depths of Deity save the Spirit of God, and only, therefore, as men have the Spirit can they have the privilege of God and can they have fellowship with God. None knows the depths of man save the spirit of man, which is in him. Until a man, therefore, has been born again and his spirit quickened he cannot truly know himself. In the unbeliever the human depth is probably determined by sex, and where a person lives in that realm unduly, it works its own devastation.
In this ordinance, however, the Spirit of God unveils the depths
of God in His love, mercy and forgiveness, culminating in this uttermost sacrifice.
His death is not a price paid to the devil to ransom us, it is not a way out
to save something of the human wreckage. It is not, as the hymn says, an act
to bear the punishment instead, but it is the whole Being of God Whose redemptive
purpose in the blood of His Son was before the world was and all that meant
is set forth in His Body and Blood.
Now deep calls to deep. As therefore, we receive the Bread and the Wine we as believers know in some measure the significance of the revelation. This is the depth of the heart and being of God truly revealed. Such a revelation ministers to us in our own innermost depths. By this Bread we apprehend God the Father, and as we thus eat in faith and thanksgiving, God by the Spirit energises us in depths otherwise inaccessible. The Bread is not Deity, it is not Deity located, imprisoned and confined to be an object of worship, but God in the supreme disclosure of His relationship to the believer mediating His own eternal grace to such as reverently apprehend the revelation.
A COLLECTIVE ACT
Collective acts such as this have wonderful possibilities. For the individual concerned it is indeed a feeding on Jesus by faith, but it also indicates that not merely at the service itself but daily in the normal experience faith should be feeding on Him. Except in the case of rare souls, the blessing will he determined by the spiritual state of those present, for few Christians live above the spiritual life of their own fellowship. On the other hand, it is a collective act in which any one individual may miss the blessing. A deaf man may attend the Albert Hall, purchase a programme, gaze upon the organ, the orchestra, the choir, and watch the conductor, yet leave at the end untouched by the main consideration which is the oratorio itself. So we too may come to this Communion of the Bread and Wine. We may sit down with others, we may reverently kneel, but with eyes only for the visible, and exercising no faith, we leave as we came. We have sensed nothing of the deeps of God, and our own depths have been untouched. What a tragedy to be mesmerised by a ceremony which grips our superstitious tendencies but never calls forth our faith !
"Take, eat, this is My Body " is a transcendent word and action that can be answered not by any physical process, but only as in simple and yet profound faith we appropriate for the purpose of life eternal the Christ Whose death and resurrection have made us new creatures in Him. It enables us to see that as by His death we are eternally saved, even so by our death with Him on the cross we shall know that we live unto Him and in that life He is not only our Saviour and Lord, but Bread. The Holy Spirit unveils its significance and graciously grants us appropriating faith. In the depths of our being it is eternal nourishment. This is God reaching out to us from the depths of His infinite Being in the Body and blood of Christ.
So we believe and so we receive and so we live.
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