The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 11/3/96
Text: I Cor. 11:23-26
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

This was a special night. Eleven of the twelve there with Jesus knew it was special because this was the Seder meal, the preparation for the celebration of the Passover, a highlight of the religious year. Jesus and Judas knew it would be special for another reason - this would be the night of betrayal. Nothing would be the same for that close-knit group ever again.

Prior to the meal, Jesus must have been thinking about what he would say so his disciples would remember all that they had said and done together in the preceding three years. So Jesus took this simple meal placed before them, and made it so each time they gathered and retold the story they would never forget.

Now, some two thousand years have passed. WHY we gather at the table has lost much of its understanding, and often we end up in discussions of HOW or WHAT or HOW OFTEN. Even as often as we do this, it's meaning and purpose are sometimes not as clear as we would hope them to be.

Leslie Weatherhead, that wonderful English Methodist, once told of talking with a member of his church about the meaning of communion. The man replied to his distinguished pastor, "Oh, I cannot follow all that goes on. I just sit and think quietly about Jesus. I think of that last week with his friends, and the Last Supper, and how he knelt in agony in Gethsemane, how they arrested him and all night tortured him, and how he died. I get very near to Jesus then, Sir, and when I go home, he comes with me."(1)

Not long ago I heard of a pastor who was preparing to lead a new confirmation class through the rigorous process of church history, biblical analysis, theological debate, denominational and local church history, and the workings of the church, better known as church polity.(2) The pastor had worked diligently to gather all of the needed biblical and theological materials, had reviewed the procedures with the church's officers, and had discussed the process with the group of unsuspecting and trusting confirmands and parents. The pastor's own daughter was in this particular group and so he was especially excited about what lay ahead.

One evening as the pastor sat on the front porch reading the evening paper his daughter came up and sat down beside him. "Can we talk about this church deal?" the thirteen-year-old girl asked. Thrilled by the prospect of a great theological discussion with his daughter, the pastor turned and said, "Fire away!"

"I just don't get it!" the girl said.

"Get what?" asked dad, waiting for an inquiry about the nature of the Trinity or a question about some cloudy detail of the Reformation.

"I just don't get what the big deal is about this communion thing. Why is it so important? What exactly is it that we are supposed to remember? What difference does it make?"

"Oh," came the disappointed reply, who was hoping for a question with a little more meat to it. "Well, let me tell you a story! When I was in seminary," he said, "we had a course on worship. One day the old professor who taught the class came in carrying a brown paper bag, and declared that today we were going to learn the significance of the Lord's Supper. As he began to talk he reached into the bag an pulled out a hand full of Buckeyes, and began throwing them, one by one, to each member of the class. (If you are not familiar with the Buckeye, it is the large, shiny brown seed of the horse chestnut tree; it is especially abundant in Ohio which is the reason Ohio is known as the Buckeye State.) The professor then reached into his own pocket and removed a small, brown, shriveled up something. Holding it between his two fingers for all to see he said to the class, 'See this? This is a Buckeye like you have. I have been carrying it around in my pocket since 1942. I had a son who went off to the war that year. When he left he gave me this Buckeye, and told me to put it in my pocket and keep it there until he came home. That way each time I reached in my pocket I would always remember him. Well I have been carrying that Buckeye in my pocket since 1942. And I have been waiting. Waiting for my son to come back, and each time I reach in my pocket I remember my son.'

"`You see, class,' said the old professor, `putting aside all the theological stuff. Putting aside all the mystery. Putting aside all the questions of how, when and how often. Communion is simply about waiting and remembering. Each time, we, as a community of faith, gather around the table to take the bread and the cup we are remembering, and we are proclaiming that we are waiting for our Lord to return.'"

The girl was quiet for a while. "That's it, huh? It's just a simple matter of waiting and remembering."

"That's it," said her dad.

That IS it. You see, Communion, the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, or by what ever name one may call it, is that simple. We can have great theological debate over HOW to do it, or WHEN to have it, or HOW it works, but the reality is that this is a simple meal which remembers and proclaims to all believers the promises of a crucified and risen Lord. "For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."


1. The Clergy Journal, May/June, '92, p. 29

2. Jerry Fritz, Machias, Maine, Tue, Aug 8, 1995 via PresbyNet

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