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Communion Meditations (2015)

Altar

Originally scheduled for November 22

Two of the most dull and boring books of the Bible are Ezra and Nehemiah. There is a great deal of accounting and a goodly amount of genealogy; this is coupled with the with the record of correspondence between the monarch and the people of Jerusalem. It’s not something most Christians are familiar with; much less do they connect it with Communion. But there is an important connection.

Let’s look at the situation. This is the first batch of Jews who have been permitted to return to the city of Jerusalem by King Cyrus. He has specifically commanded them to rebuild the Temple and there to offer sacrifices for the King — Cyrus is a man who takes no chances with any God. When they arrived they find very quickly that they are surrounded by hostile populations who are completely opposed to any rebuilding. This is tightly coupled with the fact that the city has no walls. In those days, city walls for your primary method of defense. A city without walls was simply a collection of victims and slaves waiting to be picked up. So you might think that the first order of business would be to rebuild the walls.

It wasn’t. The walls were not rebuilt for quite some time. Their first step was to build an altar in accordance with the Law of Moses and offer sacrifices on it, as prescribed in the Law. This might seem to you to be the actions of a bunch of religious nut cases, but they saw it differently. One overwhelming fact was clear to them: their ancestors had sinned against the Lord God and he had punished them with exile. That exile was beginning to end, but they still had the same sense of sin. That sense of sin was both personal (that is, each of them individually was a sinner) and national (that is, that the nation of Judah as a whole had sinned against God.) Their first need was to get right with the Almighty. They were confident God’s power and ultimate triumph — they just wanted to be part of it. And to do that they knew that they had to present atonement for the sins of the nation and for their own sins. This is important to us in for no other reason than to understand that this is the civilization into which Jesus came. More important, it tells us the necessity of dealing with our sins before the Almighty.

There is a great parallel in this to Communion. Our atonement, of course, was made for us at the Cross by Jesus, the Christ. We should not adopt the attitude that Christ has made atonement, everything’s going to be all right for us. We are sinners; we live in a nation of sinners. If we ignore these facts we have much of history to look at to see just what will happen to us — and it is not very pleasant. It is vitally important, therefore, for us as a church as well as individuals to connect with our atonement.

We do this in the Lord’s Supper. In the cup we see his blood, shed for us. In the bread, we see his body broken for us. It is not something we can do as an afterthought; it is something essential to our right relationship with the Lord God Almighty. Like the Jews of Ezra’s time, we must look at it as being first things first. For the children of God, the first thing is our relationship with him. For the Christian, that first thing means the atonement made by Christ on the Cross and our connection to it. Therefore, consider well what you do when you take Communion this morning. Do it in a worthy manner, repenting of your sins and asking our Lord to send revival on our land so that we as a nation may repent as well.

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