Jesus’ Transcript

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I used to attend a church where whenever the pastor announced, “report card time!” we knew that it was the day that we were going to take communion. (We never knew when that would be.) For years, I thought that communion was an arbitrarily practiced, self-examination. A spiritual pop-quiz, only given when the pastor felt it was necessary to wake up the congregation, because we were not keeping our discipline. When I think back, I get chills. The following scripture was always cited:

1 Corinthians 11:26-28
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

We were told to evaluate where we are with God on a scale of 1 to 10. One being the least and ten being the greatest. Then we would eat the bread, and drink the grape juice.

Honestly, it scared the day lights out of me. I would always think at that moment: “What can I possibly fix? I know that I’m a sinner. That’s why Christ lived and died for me. I can’t do it! I thought communion was about remembering You, Lord, and that You took care of it all for me. It’s not about focusing on me. It’s about focusing on You. You teach to remember You with this practice, not focusing on myself, so that’s what I’ll do. I’ll focus on you. Thank you, Jesus, for living and dying for me. I cannot fix my crime against You, I am a sinner, I trust in You, Jesus, for your mercy and grace. Without such, I am lost, forever. You are my God and Saviour. Amen.”

There are two points that I would like to stress regarding communion:

1) Communion is not about us.

2) Communion should be a regular practice.

Now, I am not going to get into whether Communion is an ordinance or a sacrament. Either way, it is not about us, and it should be done regularly. I think that it is pretty safe to say that the church universal would agree with these two points.

I want to take a closer look at both individually:

1) Communion is not about us.

Luke 22:19-20
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

“Do this in remembrance” of who?

Communion is about remembering what Jesus did for us (Christians). Jesus, who is God, took on flesh, and then gave His life in that flesh for His elect. The bread reminds us that God took on flesh and that He lived the perfect life that we could not live, on our behalf. The wine reminds us that God died for us by the shedding of His blood, taking on His own wrath in our place. His body was broken and crushed for us (check out Isaiah 53:13-53:12), and He shed His blood for our sins. Wheat is also broken and crushed in order to make bread, and grapes are also broken and crushed in order to make wine. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about what God has done for us, in the person of Jesus Christ. God gave us this practice of communion to help us remember what He did for us. It engages all of our senses. It engages all of our being: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Nothing engages all of our being more so than the practice of communion. It is a vital aspect of our sanctification. And we are not supposed to practice it alone, but corporately with the brethren. For anyone to turn it into an exercise of personal self-evaluation, misses the blessing and purpose of Communion. It’s a corporate remembrance of Him and what He did, 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

2) Communion should be a regular practice.

Now, whether or not having communion only when the pastor arbitrarily deems it necessary is common or not in some churches, I suspect it’s not, it’s not what scripture describes. Communion is on par with all corporate church practices:

Acts 2:42
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles ‘ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

“Breaking of bread” is listed amongst the other basic and common, corporate practices in the church. Nothing in scripture indicates that the breaking of bread was less practiced than the other 3, nor does scripture indicate that it is to be practiced when a pastor just arbitrarily feels the need to burden the congregation with a surprise evaluation of their walk.

Now, is self-examination an edifying necessity? Of course.

Please do not get the impression that I am attempting to disregard self-examination. It’s the essence of repentance. Paul encourages self-evaluation, in his second letter to the Corinthians, in order to remind the brethren that we (Christians) are in Christ. And if one is not, then repent and trust.

2 Corinthians 13:5
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

However, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians regarding communion, it seems that the examination described is not geared towards a personal evaluation, but towards a corporate evaluation.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”

When the references to examination in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is read with the surround verses, and not separated from them, it reads corporately, not individually. Paul leads into the communion instructions by first emphasizing the “divisions among you.” He then points out that when they have been coming to eat this supper as a church, it’s not the Lord’s Supper they eat. There’s nothing corporate regarding the mood of their meals. They are disjointed and splintered. There’s nothing communion about them. Paul then reiterates the Lord’s Supper and quotes Christ’s words which He spoke to the disciples the night of His betrayal, encouraging them to “do this in remembrance of Me.” This is the point where Paul then addresses examination:

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

But, what does Paul mean by an unworthy manner?

It seems that, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself,” points to a corporate discernment of the church body’s practice and not the individual’s body. The reason I say this is because this entire section of scripture points to their eating of the Lord’s Supper in a corporately divisive spirit, and to read this portion of the passage in isolation, turning it into a personal, spiritual inventory evaluation, as some churches do nowadays, just doesn’t seem to fit. As I said earlier, it is vital that we (Christians) continually take a personal inventory of our walk. The Christian life is a life of repentance. But to use this portion of scripture as a litmus for such, just does not seem to be in proper context. It seems more likely that the personal examination Paul is referring to, is to evaluate whether each individual has a corporate spirit or not regarding the Lord’s Supper. In other words, Paul is correcting their temptation to dishonor the remembrance of The Lord by treating the Lord’s Supper as a mere individual meal:

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”

Paul is not addressing one’s private sin life. He is addressing improper, corporate, communion practice. He then goes on to explain why, as a church, they are not well. And then Paul finishes by reminding them to judge themselves “truly” in this, as to avoid the condemnation of God. He then closes by summarizing the importance of eating at home, prior, and then being satisfied, as to not make the error of treating this practice of communion, which is really a corporate practice of remembering Christ, as some ordinary individual chow time.

“That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”

Communion is not about us. It is about Christ, remembering Him, and remembering what He did for us (Christians). It is not some cavalier evaluation practice to be randomly done when a pastor feels the need to discipline his congregation, nor is it a mere meal or a disjointed snack time.

The Lord’s Supper is not a time to review our report card, though self-examination which leads to repentance should never cease, this side of glorification. It is a time to remember our Lord in a serious corporate reflection. Besides, the only transcript that actually matters is Jesus’ transcript. May we (Christians) never forget whose report card we each really have.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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