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Why the Repetition?

Matthew 26: 26-30

Some years ago there was a basketball game with the University of North Carolina playing the University of Virginia
for the ACC championship.
In the second half of the game with the University of North Carolina having a small lead, they went
into their famous, four corners offense.
This offense consisted of the players just passing it around the outside of the court.
They were attempting to kill time.

The Virginia fans yelled, "Boring, boring."

For almost 15 minutes, North Carolina held the ball without any attempt to score.
TV stations would break away for a commercial while the play was still going on, and when they came back,
nothing had happened.
It was boring.

The very next season, new rules inserted a forty-five-second clock to prevent that from ever happening again.
We get bored with too much repetition.

Yet, today, we will observe the Lord's Supper, which we, as Christians, have been doing the same way for 2000 years.
Most of us know the words by heart -- "this is my body, this is my blood" -- we all know the procedure.
Why do we do the same thing over and over?

Let us look back to the very first time this supper ever happened for an answer to this question.

On the very night when Judas turned Jesus over to the temple authorities, and on the night before He was crucified,
Jesus gathered His disciples together for a meal.

All over the world that night, Jews were gathering in their home to eat the same foods.
That meal consisted of a roasted lamb, bitter herbs, flat unleavened bread, and wine.
In every Jewish home, the host would take a piece of the flat bread and say, "This is the bread of haste,
which our ancestors ate in Egypt
," and then he would pass it around.

Jesus did something new.
He said, "This is my body," and then passed the bread around.
Then He said, "This is my blood of the covenant which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Then He commanded everyone to drink from the cup.

What did He mean?

The Passover meal celebrated the Jews' coming out of Egypt.
They were slaves in Egypt, but God rescued them.
God told them, "I will be your God; now you must follow my laws."

Jesus' meal was also a covenant meal.
Jesus was saying, "I will be your Lord; now you must follow my laws."
Then Jesus became the sacrifice that sealed the covenant.

Every time we partake of this supper, we must remember that His death brought us forgiveness of sins.
Jesus died so that we could be His people.

There is an old Lucille Ball sketch where Lucy had a job at a cake-decorating factory.
Her job was to squirt icing out of a tube onto the top of the cake, put a cherry on the top, and put it in a box.

The cakes were on a moving conveyor belt.
The belt began to bring the cakes faster and faster.
Lucy couldn't keep up, and as she ended, she was trying to balance about seven cakes in her hands
while she tried to squirt icing, put a cherry on the top of the cakes, and put the cakes in their boxes.
She could never catch up.

That's the story of our lives.
We broke God's laws, and there is no way we could ever make up.
We needed Someone to keep us from falling over and over again.

Jesus did that!

A new covenant based on His sacrifice, that made it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to have a new life in Christ.
So when we partake of this supper, we are celebrating the newness of Christianity.
Jesus gave us a new covenant, and in Christ we can experience a new life.
This Lord's Supper takes us back to our very beginnings, every time we observe it.

When Jesus initiated the supper in that upper room, He was doing something new.

After 2000 years, many of us could take this service too casually.
Jesus told us to do it this way.
Jesus knew He was starting something that would be repeated as long as there were Christians left on earth to celebrate it.

Why keep doing the same things over and over?
What is the value of so much repetition?

Jesus taught His followers to practice the supper.
They went out and started churches and taught it to them.

In the centuries that followed, while Christianity was illegal, they continued to meet in homes at their own peril
to celebrate with the bread and the wine.

The church spread from Greece to Italy and from Italy to France and Spain and to North Africa.
"This is my body" and "This is my blood" was spoken in Greek and Latin
and Coptic and Syriac and Ethiopic and Slavonic.

After the church became officially illegal, the Christian faith was carried all over the world, as missionaries went to England
and to China and to India and to Japan.
Down through the Middle Ages, priests spoke the words, sometimes not even knowing what they meant,
but they still spoke them.

Down to the time of the Reformation, when Luther and Calvin and the rest reinterpreted the supper.
Then down to our Baptist ancestors in England, who celebrated communion secretly in the woods
because it was illegal to do it except in the Anglican churches.

Then down to our own great-grandparents and grandparents and parents, and now down to you and me.
Do you see?

That's the value of repetition. Just as we depended on them, future generations depend on us to be faithful.
And through all the changes and through all the mistakes the church has made and will make, Jesus has been our Lord,
and we have followed His command to partake of this supper.

Repetition helps us to remember the past, and that is important.
We need to remember who we were before Christ came into our lives, and who we are now in Christ.

Jesus also said that it was a promised meal.
When we partake of this meal, we are not only to remember the past, but we are to think about the future.
In verse 29, Jesus said, "I tell you, I will not drink from now on from the fruit of the vine until that day
when I drink it new, with you all, in my Father's kingdom

Think about that promise.

When Jesus said it, there were difficult times ahead.
Judas would betray Him.
Peter and the rest would deny Him and leave Him to die all alone.

Most of all, there was the cross, the cup of death that Jesus wished with all His heart to be spared.
But Jesus was full of hope.

For the disciples sharing the meal, there were hard times ahead.
All of them would be persecuted and die for their faith in Christ.
But they could be full of hope.

For all of us, life is not a bed of roses.
We face struggles with sin.
We get beaten down by sickness; we have to constantly fight temptation; we are mistreated others;
we are often misunderstood; and we fail many times.

There are days when our life looks like the story of Sisyphus.
He was the man condemned to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down every time, for eternity.

This is not so with us.
Every time we celebrate this supper, we are reminded that we are heading toward our home with God eternal in the heavens. This supper is something that Christians have been repeating for 2000 years.

If we do it mindlessly or casually, it is simply on old habit, and the outside world would be justified to shout
"Boring, boring" at us.

But if we think about what we are doing as we do it, then this supper becomes a most sacred experience for us.
It is like a time machine. Let us enter into this moment with reverence and thanksgiving.

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
Email Dr. White at