In the midst of this last week -- this passion week -- one of the interesting things that Jesus did was to keep the Jewish Passover for the last time with his disciples. This Passover feast had been kept by the Jews every year for nearly fifteen hundred years. It was the most solemn religious service they had. It was first observed by them in the night on which their nation was delivered from the bondage of Egypt and began their march towards the promised land of Canaan. We read about the establishment of this solemn service in Exodus, twelfth chapter. The first Passover took place on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan. This had been the seventh month of the year with the Jews. But God directed them to take it for their first month ever afterwards. They were to begin their year with that month. Every family was to choose out a lamb for themselves, on the tenth day of the month. They were to keep it to the fourteenth day of the month. On the evening of that day, they were to kill the lamb. The blood of the lamb was to be sprinkled on the two side-posts and upper lintels of every door. They were to roast the lamb and eat it, with solemn religious services. And, while they were doing this, the angel of the Lord was to pass over all the land of Egypt, and, with his unseen sword, to smite and kill the first-born, or eldest child, in every family, from Pharaoh on his throne to the poorest beggar in the land. But the blood, sprinkled on the door-posts of the houses in which the Israelites dwelt, was to save them from the stroke of the angel of death as he passed over the land. And so it came to pass. The solemn hour of midnight arrived. The angel went on his way. He gave one stroke with his dreadful sword -- and there was a death in every Egyptian family. But in the blood-sprinkled dwellings of the Israelites, there was no one dead. What a wonderful night that was! Nothing like it was ever known in the history of our world. It is not surprising that the children of Israel, through all their generations, should have kept that Passover feast with great interest -- an interest that never died out, from age to age. Nor do we wonder that our blessed Saviour looked forward longingly to the occasion when, for the last time, he was to celebrate this Passover with his disciples. As they began the feast he said to them, "With desire I have desired" that is, I have earnestly, or heartily desired "to eat this passover with you before I suffer," St. Luke xxii: 15. It is easy to think of many reasons why Jesus should have felt this strong desire. Without attempting to tell what all those reasons were, we can readily think of some things which would lead him, very naturally, to have this feeling. It was the last time he was to eat this Passover with them on earth. This showed that his public work, for which he came into the world, was done. He had only now to suffer and die; to rise from the dead, and then go home to his Father in heaven.
This Passover had been one of the services established and kept for the purpose of pointing the attention of men to himself as the Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world. And now, the time had come when all that had thus been pointed out concerning him, for so many hundred years, was about to be fulfilled. He, the one true Lamb of God, had come. He was about to die for the sins of the world. Then the Jewish church would pass away, and the Christian church would take its place. And then the blessings of true religion, instead of being confined to one single nation, would be freely offered to all nations; and Jews and Gentiles alike, would be at liberty to come to Christ, and to receive from him pardon, and grace, and salvation, and every blessing.
There was enough in thoughts like these to make Jesus long to eat this last Passover with his disciples. In each of the four gospels we have an account of what took place when the time came for keeping this Passover. What is said concerning it we find in the following places: St. Matt xxi: 17-30, St. Mark xiv: 12-26, St. Luke xxii: 7-39. St. John begins with the thirteenth chapter, and ends his account at the close of the seventeenth chapter. He is the only one of the four evangelists who gives a full and particular account of the wonderful sayings of our Lord in connection with this last passover, and of the great prayer that he offered for all his people.
Here is a brief outline of these different accounts. When the time came to keep the Passover, Jesus sent two of his disciples from Bethany, where he was then staying, to Jerusalem. He told them, that, when they entered the city, they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water. They were to ask him to show them the guest-chamber, where he and his disciples might eat the Passover together. There were always great crowds of strangers in Jerusalem at the time of this festival; and many furnished chambers were kept ready to be hired to those who wished them, for celebrating the Passover. This man, of whom our Saviour spoke, was probably a friend of his, and according to our Lord's word, he showed the disciples such a room as they needed. Then they made the necessary preparations; and, when the evening came, Jesus and his disciples met there to keep this solemn feast.
Many of the pictures that we see of this last Supper, represent the company as seated round a table, very much in the way in which we are accustomed to sit ourselves. But this is not correct. The people in those Eastern countries were not accustomed to sit as we do. On this occasion the roasted lamb, with the bread and wine to be used at the feast, was placed on a table, and the guests reclined on couches round the table, each man leaning on his left arm, and helping himself to what he needed with his right hand.
Various incidents took place in connection with this last Supper. The disciples had a contest among themselves about which of them should be greatest. This led Jesus, in the course of the evening, to give them the lesson of humility, by washing his disciples' feet, of which we have already spoken. Then he told them how sorrowfully he was feeling. He said they would all forsake him, and one of them would betray him that very night. This made them feel very sad. Each of them suspected himself -- and asked sorrowfully -- "Lord, is it I?" They did not suspect each other; and none of them seems to have suspected Judas Iscariot at all. Then Peter whispered to John, who was leaning on the bosom of Jesus, to ask who it was that was to do this? In answer to John's question, Jesus said it was the one to whom he should give a piece of bread when he had dipped it in the dish. Then he dipped the sop and gave it to Judas.
After this, we are told that Satan entered into him, and he went out and made preparation for doing the most dreadful thing that ever was done from the beginning of the world -- and that was the betrayal of his great, and good, and holy Master, into the hands of his enemies. When Judas was gone, and before the Passover feast was finished, making use of some of the materials before him, Jesus established one of the two great sacraments to be observed in his church to the end of the world -- the sacrament of the Lord's Supper -- or the holy Communion.
This is St. Luke's account of the way in which it was done, chapter xxii: 19, 20 -- "And he took the bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you." St. Matthew adds, and -- "for many."
Such is the account we have of the first establishment of the Lord's Supper. It was to take the place of the Jewish Passover, and to be observed by the followers of Christ all over the earth, until the time when he shall come again into our world.
And this solemn sacrament -- this holy communion -- this Supper of our Lord, ought to be observed, or kept, by all who love him, for three reasons: these are its connection with the word of his command -- the memory of his sufferings -- and the hope of his glory.
Jesus connected this sacrament with the word of his command when he said -- "This do in remembrance of me." St. Luke xxii: 19. This is the command of Christ. It is a plain, positive command. Jesus did not give this command to the apostles only, or to his ministers, or to any particular class of his followers, but to all of them. It was given first to his apostles, but it was not intended to be confined to them. Jesus does not say -- "This do," ye who are my apostles; or, ye who are my ministers. He does not say -- "This do," ye old men, or ye rich men, or ye great men; but simply, "This do." And the meaning of what he here says, is -- "This do," all ye who profess to be my followers, all over the world, and through all ages. And the words that he spake on another occasion come in very well here: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." And this is one of the commandments that he expects all his people to keep. He points to his holy sacrament, which he has ordained in his church, and then to each one of his people he says -- "This do." No matter whether we wish to do it or not; here are our master's words -- "This do." No matter whether we see the use of it, or not; Jesus says -- "This do." It is enough for each follower of Jesus to say, "here is my Lord's command; I must obey it."
In an army, if the general issues an order, it is expected that every soldier will obey it. And no matter how important, or useful, in itself considered, any work may be, that is done by one of those soldiers, yet, if it be done while he is neglecting the general's order, instead of gaining for that soldier the praise of the general, or of securing a reward from him, it will only excite his displeasure: -- he will order that soldier to be punished.
But the church of Christ is compared in the Bible to an army. He is the Captain or Leader of this army. And one of the most important orders he has issued for his soldiers is -- "This do in remembrance of me." If we profess to be the soldiers of Christ, and are enlisted in his army, and yet are neglecting this order, he never can be pleased with anything we may do while this order is neglected. We seem to see him pointing to this neglected order, and saying to each of us, as he said to Saul, the first king of Israel, by the prophet Samuel: -- "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice: and to hearken, than the fat of rams." I. Sam. xv: 22.
No age is fixed in the New Testament at which young people may be allowed to come to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But, as soon as they have learned to know and love Christ and are really trying to serve him, they ought to be allowed to come. And yet ministers and parents sometimes keep them back, and tell them they must wait, and be tried a little longer, before they receive the help and comfort of this ordinance of Christ, even when their conduct shows they are sincerely trying to love and serve the blessed Saviour.
If a farmer should send his servant out into the field, when winter was approaching, telling him to put the sheep into the fold, that they might be protected from the wolves, and from the cold, it would be thought a strange thing if he should allow him to bring the sheep into the shelter of the fold, and leave the little lambs outside. This is a good illustration to show the importance of taking care of the lambs. But it fails at one point. The shelter of the fold is absolutely necessary for the protection of the farmer's lambs. They could not live without it. If left outside of the fold they would certainly perish. But there is not the same necessity for admitting young people to the Lord's Supper. They are not left out in the cold, like the lambs in the field, even when not admitted to this holy ordinance. They are already under the care and protection of the good Shepherd. He can guard them, and keep them, and cause them to grow in grace, even though, for awhile, they do not have the help and comfort of this sacrament. And, if they are kept back through the fault or mistake of others, he will do so. This sacrament, like that of baptism, is, as the catechism says, "generally necessary to salvation." This means that it is important "where it may be had." But, if circumstances beyond our control should prevent us from partaking of it, we may be saved without it. Still, I think that young people who give satisfactory evidence that they know and love the Saviour, and are trying to serve him, ought to be allowed to come forward to this holy sacrament.
Some people when urged to come to the Lord's Supper excuse themselves, by saying that -- "they are not prepared to come."
But this will not release any one from the command of Christ -- "This do."
What the preparation is that we need in order that we may come, in a proper way, to this holy sacrament, is clearly pointed out in the exhortation that occurs in the communion service of our church. Here the minister says -- "Ye who do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort." And there is no excuse for persons not being in the state these words describe: for this is just what God's word, and our own duty and interest require of us. If we have not yet done what these words require, we ought to do it at once; and then there will be nothing in the way of our obeying the command of Christ, when he says -- "This do, in remembrance of me," By all the authority which belongs to him our Saviour commands us to keep this holy feast. And the first reason why we ought to "do this," is because of its connection with the word of his command.
The second reason why we ought to "do this" -- is because of its connection with the memory of his sufferings.
We are taught this by the word remembrance, which our Saviour here uses. He says, "This do in remembrance of me." This means in remembrance of my sufferings for you. And this is the most important word used by him when he established this sacrament. It is the governing word in the whole service. It is the word by which we must be guided in trying to understand what our Lord meant to teach us by all he did and said on this occasion.
You know how it is when we are trying to understand the music to which a particular tune has been set. There is always one special note in a tune, which is called the key-note. The leader of a choir, when they are going to sing, will strike one of the keys of the organ, or the melodeon they are using, so as to give to each member of the choir the proper key-note of the piece of music they are to sing. It is very important for them to have this key-note, because they cannot have a proper understanding of what they are to do without it. This holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper is like a solemn song. And the key-note of the music to which the song is set is this word -- remembrance. It teaches us that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a memorial service. And, in going through the music to which the song of this service has been set, every note that we use must be a memorial note. And the language used by our blessed Lord when he established this Supper, or sacrament, must be explained in this way. When he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying -- "This is my body, which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me," he meant that we should understand him as saying -- "This is the memorial of my body." And when he gave them the cup, and said -- "This is my blood of the New Testament," he meant that we should understand him as saying -- "This is the memorial of my blood." And we are sure that this was the meaning, for two reasons.
One reason for believing this is that this was the way in which similar words had been used in the Jewish Passover, which Jesus and his disciples were then keeping.
In the Passover service, when the head of the family distributed the bread, he always said -- "This is the bread of affliction." When he distributed the flesh of the lamb, roasted for the occasion, he used to say -- "This is the body of the Passover."
But every one knows, and every one admits, that the Jewish Passover was a memorial service. It was kept in memory of the wonderful deliverance of their forefathers from the bitter bondage of Egypt. And the words used at that service were memorial words. And so, when Jesus, a little while before, had given to his disciples the Passover bread, saying -- "This is the bread of affliction:" he did not mean to say that that was the very same bread which their forefathers had eaten, in the time of their affliction in Egypt. What he meant to say was -- this is the bread which you are to eat in memory of your forefathers' trial and deliverance. And when he gave to each of them a piece of the sacrificial lamb, saying, "This is the body of the Passover;" he did not mean that in any mysterious, or supernatural sense, that was the very lamb of which their forefathers had eaten on the solemn night of the Passover; he only meant that it was the body of which they were to eat in memory of the Passover. The Passover was a memorial service; and the words used at the Passover were memorial words.
And so, when Jesus went on, from the last Passover of the Jewish church, to the first sacramental feast of the Christian church, and began by saying, "This do in remembrance of me," what else could the apostles possibly have thought, but that he intended this new service of the Christian church to be a memorial service, just as the old festival of the Jewish church had been? When he gave them the broken bread, and said, "This is my body;" they could only have understood him as meaning this is the memorial of my body. And when he gave them the cup into which he had just poured the wine, and said: "This is my blood;" they could only understand him as meaning this is the memorial of my blood. And so, the sense in which he had just before used the words employed in the Jewish festival must have led the disciples to understand them in the same way when he used similar words in the Christian sacrament. This is a good, strong reason for thinking of this sacramental feast as a memorial service.
There is indeed, one point of difference between the Jewish Passover and the Christian sacrament, when we think of them as memorial services. The Jews kept their solemn festival in memory of a dead lamb -- the Passover lamb that was put to death for them, but never came to life again. We keep our Christian sacrament in memory of the Lamb of God, who died for us indeed, but who rose from the dead, and is alive forevermore. As we keep this solemn festival, we may lift up our adoring hearts to him and say for ourselves personally,
"O, the Lamb! the loving Lamb!
And though they are both memorial services, yet this one thought makes a world-wide difference between them. The bread and meat which the pious Jew ate, when he kept the Passover, and the wine which he drank on that occasion, would strengthen his body, but there was nothing connected with those material substances that would do any special good to his soul. It is different, however, with our Christian festival of the Lord's Supper. And this difference is clearly brought out in what we find in the catechism of our church on this subject. In speaking of this holy sacrament, the question is asked -- "What are the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby?" And the answer to this question is -- "The strengthening and refreshing of our souls, by the body and blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine."
Here we see that while the Lord's Supper is a memorial service indeed, it is at the same time something more than that.
And then, the actual bodily presence of Christ with them must have compelled the apostles to understand the words he used on that occasion, in this memorial sense.
They could not possibly have considered him as meaning that the bread and wine which he gave them at that solemn service did, in any mysterious and supernatural way, become his actual flesh and blood; because, these were already before them in the form of his own body. And they could not be in his body and in the bread and wine, at the same time. The sense in which Jesus first used these words -- "my body" and "my blood," was clearly the memorial sense. He meant his disciples to understand him as saying "Take this bread in remembrance of my body, which is to be crucified for you;" and "Take this wine in remembrance of my blood which is to be shed for you."
This was what he taught the apostles when he first used these words among them; and this was all he taught them; and we have no right to use these words in any other sense till our blessed Lord himself shall give us authority to do so.
Let us never forget the word -- remembrance, as used by our Saviour here. It is the root out of which the whole tree of this solemn service grows. Let us hold on to this root word, and it will save us from the errors into which many have fallen in reference to this subject.
And, surely, there is nothing so precious for us to store away in our memories as the thought of Christ in the amazing sufferings he once bore for us, in the great work he is now doing for us, and in the saving truth he embodies in his own glorious character. The story is told of Alexander the Great, that when he conquered King Darius he found among his treasures a very valuable box or cabinet. It was made of gold and silver, and inlaid with precious jewels. After thinking for awhile what to do with it, he finally concluded to use it as his choicest treasury, or cabinet, in which to keep the books of the poet Homer, which he was very fond of reading. Now, if we use our memory aright, it will be to us a treasury far more valuable than that jeweled box of the great conqueror. And the thought of Christ, not in his sufferings only, but in his work, and in his character, is the most precious thing to lay up in our memory. And if we keep this remembrance continually before us it will be the greatest help we can have in trying to love and serve him better.
Here is an illustration of what I mean, in a touching story. We may call it:
"Love Stronger than Death." Some years ago there was a great fire in one of our Western cities that stood in the midst of a prairie. A mother escaped from her burning dwelling. Her husband was away from home. She took her infant in her arms, and wrapped a heavy shawl round herself and the baby. Her little girl clung to the dress of her mother, and they went out into the prairie, to get away from the flames of the burning buildings. It was a wild and stormy winter's night and intensely cold. She tried to run; but burdened as she was that was impossible. Presently she found that the tall dry grass of the prairie had caught fire. It was spreading on every side. A great circle of flame was gathering round her.
A little way off she saw a clump of trees on a piece of rising ground. Towards that spot she directed her steps, and strained every nerve to reach it. At last she succeeded in doing so.
For a moment the poor mother and her child were comparatively safe. But, on looking around, she saw that the flames were approaching her from opposite directions. Escape was impossible. Death -- a terrible death by fire, seemed to be the only thing before her. She might wrap herself in that great shawl, and perhaps live through it. But, there were the children. Of course a mother could not hesitate a moment what to do under such circumstances. Wrapping the baby round and round in the folds of the shawl, she laid it carefully down, at the foot of one of the trees. Then, taking off her outer clothing, she covered the other child with it. She laid her down beside the baby, and then stretched herself across them. In a few moments the helpless little ones were sound asleep. The long hours of the night passed. The raging flames licked up the withered foliage about that clump of trees, and then left their blackened trunks to the keenness of the wind and frost.
The next day the heart-broken husband and father returned to find his home burnt, and his family gone -- he knew not whither. He set out to search for his lost treasures. He found them by that clump of trees. There lay his wife -- her hair and eyebrows, her face and neck scorched and blackened by the fire -- but her body frozen stiff. Whether she perished by the flames or the frost no one ever knew. But, on lifting her burnt form they found, warm and cozy beneath, her two sleeping children. The elder child as they roused her, opened her eyes exclaiming, "Mamma, is it morning?" Yes: it was morning with that faithful mother, in the bright world to which she had gone!
Now, suppose that those children, as they grew up, should have had preserved among their treasures a piece of the burnt dress, or a lock of the scorched hair, of their devoted mother. As they looked at it, every day, it would be in remembrance of her. How touchingly it would tell of her great love for them, in being willing to lay down her life to save theirs! And how that thought would thrill their hearts and make them anxious to do all they could to show their respect and love for such a mother!
And so the broken bread and the poured out wine of this solemn sacrament should melt our hearts in the remembrance of the wonderful love of Christ to us, and should lead us to show our love to him by keeping his commandments.
And as we keep this solemn memorial service, how well we may say, in the words of the hymn:
"According to thy gracious word,
"Can we Gethsemane forget?
But Jesus has connected this blessed sacrament with the hope of his glory -- as well as with the word of his command and the memory of his sufferings.
He made this connection very clear when he said at the institution of this solemn service -- "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." St. Matt, xxvi: 29. And the apostle Paul pointed out the same connection when he said, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death, till he come." I. Cor. xi: 26. This sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the point of meeting between the sufferings of Christ and the glory that is to follow -- between his cross, with all its shame and anguish, and his kingdom, with all its honor and blessedness.
We have sometimes heard or read of magicians who have pretended to have wonderful mirrors into which persons might look and see all that was before them in this life. If there were such a mirror, it would be a strange thing indeed to look into it and find out what was going to happen to-morrow, or next month, or next year, or twenty years hence. But, there never was any such mirror. As the apostle says, "We know not what shall be on the morrow." No mortal man can tell what will happen to him as he takes the very next step in life.
Yet, this solemn sacrament is like such a magical mirror. We can look into it and see, clearly represented there, what will happen to us in the future, not of this life indeed, but of the life to come. It leads our minds on to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And a voice from heaven declares -- "Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb." Rev. xix: 9. That marriage supper represents the highest joys of heaven. It gathers into itself all the glory and happiness that await us in the heavenly kingdom. And this sacramental service is the type or shadow of all the bliss connected with that great event in the future. If we are true and faithful partakers of this solemn sacrament -- this memorial feast, we shall certainly be among the number of those whose unspeakable privilege it will be to sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb, in heaven. There we shall be in the personal presence of Jesus, our glorified Lord. Our eyes "shall see the King in his beauty." And we shall see all his people too in the perfection of glory that will mark them there. And in happy intercourse with that blessed company we shall find all "the exceeding great and precious promises" of God's word fulfilled in our own personal experience.
And then there is nothing that can sustain and comfort us under the many trials of this mortal life like the hope of sharing this joy with our blessed Lord, when he shall come in the glory of his heavenly kingdom.
"The Hope of Glory." A Christian gentleman was in the habit of visiting, from time to time, a poor afflicted widow woman who lived in his neighborhood. She had once been very well off, and was the wife of a well-known and apparently successful merchant. But finally he failed in business and died soon after, leaving her alone in the world, and without anything to live on but what she could earn by her own labor.
After awhile her health failed, and then she was entirely dependent for her support on the kindness of her Christian friends. But she was always cheerful and happy. "On going in to see her one day," says this gentleman, "I found, on talking with her, that she was feeling very comfortable in her mind.
"'Tell me, my friend,' I asked, 'have you always felt as bright and cheerful as you seem to feel now?'
"'O, no,' she replied, 'very far from it. When my husband died, and I was left alone in the world, I used to feel very sad and rebellious. Many a time I was so sorrowful and despairing as to be tempted to take away my own life. But, in the good providence of God, I was led to read the Bible, and to pray for help from above. I became a member of the church. But, for a while, I did not find much comfort in my religion. And the reason of it was that I did not have very clear views of Christ as my Saviour, and of the wonderful things he has promised to do for his people in the future.
"'But, on one communion occasion, my minister preached on the words -- "Christ in you the hope of glory." That was a blessed communion to me. I saw then, as I had never seen before, how that sacred and solemn service was intended by him to be to all his people, at one and the same time, the means of preserving in their minds the remembrance of the sufferings he has borne for them in the past, and also of keeping alive in their hearts the hope of sharing in the glory which he has prepared for them in the future. And I have never had any trouble in my mind since then. My communion seasons were always bright and blessed seasons to me as long as I was able to go to church. And though I can no longer go up to the sanctuary and partake of the bread and wine, "the outward and visible signs" made use of in the heavenly feast; yet, blessed be God's holy name, I can, and do partake in a spiritual manner of that which those signs represent. I feel and know what it is to have "Christ in me the hope of glory." And this "satisfies my longing, as nothing else can do." I find peace and comfort in simply "looking unto Jesus." I have had much outward trouble and affliction since then. I live alone. There is no one here to help me. Sometimes I have nothing to eat, and but little to keep me warm. You see me sitting here now. Thus I have to spend my nights. My complaint is the dropsy, and this prevents me from lying down. But I would not exchange my place as a forgiven sinner, with "Christ in me the hope of glory," for all the wealth and the honor that Queen Victoria could bestow upon me!'"
What a blessed Saviour Jesus is, who can thus spread the sunshine of his peace and hope through the hearts and homes of the poorest and most afflicted in the land!
And thus, we have spoken of three good reasons, why all who love our Lord Jesus Christ should keep this solemn sacrament which he has ordained; we should do it because we see in it -- the word of his command -- the memorial of his sufferings -- and the hope of his glory.
And when we partake of this solemn ordinance ourselves, or see others partaking of it, how well we may say in the beautiful lines of Havergal, the English poetess:
"Thou art coming! At thy table
"O the joy to see thee reigning,
"THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME."