Today is Good Friday. On this day, Christians around the world celebrate one of the greatest events that changed the course of history: the death of Jesus on the cross.
My wife and I usually like to go to a well-programed, evocative, sensory church service on Good Friday. If we can, we try to fit in a service at Riverview Church, Perth’s largest congregation, which every year puts on a high production-value service which ultimately gets the tears flowing. This year, we had a cell group outreach and we spent most of the morning preparing, so we didn’t get time to get down to any of the services at Riverview.
But I think spending Good Friday with our cell group, our close-knit Christian community and a few invited guests, sharing a good meal, worshipping together and taking the bread and wine is as close as we get to properly observing and celebrating Good Friday.
Good Friday always evokes in me some contradictory feelings. It’s a sorrowful day when you think about the sufferings of Jesus, how he took our place and our punishment.
But it is also a time of joy, of celebrating our deliverance and liberty, knowing that all our sins are forgiven and because of Jesus’ death, we now have right standing before God and are called His children.
First Corithians 11:23-33 says this:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.
Verse 29 says that we need to “discern the Lord’s body”, or to bear it in mind.
I think a lot of us misunderstand the significance of the Holy Communion. If you’ve been in the church long enough, it’s sometimes just treated as another part of our Sunday program once a month when on top of the bags we pass around, we also pass around a little plastic cup of juice and some crackers. In our church, we’ve maximized the convenience factor with a presealed cup and cracker combination. Our little commercial, mass-produced cup almost lends a flippancy to the occasion.
On the other hand, we can approach it with deft solemnity. I remember when I was younger hearing from the pulpit that we shouldn’t partake of the bread and cup unworthily in case we invite judgment on ourselves. In particular, if you weren’t born again, you shouldn’t partake. It’s as if being unsaved wasn’t bad enough, but the combination of being unsaved and taking something so sacred would somehow invite special judgment. The pastor would say that this was what was meant by taking the bread and cup in “an unworthy manner”. So sometimes, when I was worried about whether I was saved or not, I would let the cup pass.
But both attitudes betray a lack of understanding about the significance of the Holy Communion and exactly what Jesus was calling us to celebrate.
Luke 22 describes how Jesus instituted the celebration of communion on the Jewish Passover. He could have done it on any other day, but he picked this significant day (the day before He was charged and crucified) – and it was no coincidence. By doing so, Jesus was making a statement that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament type of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12, when Moses told the Jews to sacrifice a lamb without blemish and smear the blood on the doorposts of their homes so that when the angel of death passed, those identified by the blood would be spared. The Passover became the catalyst of the liberation of the Jewish nation from Egyptian captivity. Since then, the Jews have generation after generation celebrated the Passover in remembrance of that great day of their deliverance.
The Jews traditionally ate the Matzah bread during Passover and this was the bread Jesus would have used when he instituted the Communion. The Matzah is actually very symbolic, particular in the context of Isaiah 53.
- The Matzah is unleavened, meaning it has no yeast in it. In the Bible, yeast is often associated with sin. So the Matzah is symbolic of the sinless of body of Jesus – He who knew no sin, became sin for us.
- The Matzah is also flat because when it is being prepared, the dough is beaten flat. At Calvary, Jesus was beaten and flogged. Isaiah says of Jesus that “he was crushed and bruised for our iniquities”.
- The bread is then put through fire to be baked. Jesus bore the fire of God’s wrath and judgment. Isaiah says it this way: “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”
- If you look carefully at the bread, it has holes in it. Isaiah says “He was pierced for our transgressions.”
- And you can also see the stripe marks. Isaiah says that “by His stripes, we are healed and made whole.” Even as we take the bread, we believe that by faith that God can do a healing work in our lives too: healing our diseases and illnesses; emotional brokenness; disconnectedness; breakdown of relationships. God can heal all these things.
And then comes the wine. Jesus said of the wine that this represented the blood of the new covenant, poured out for us.
What is the new covenant?
Under the old covenant, the law was instituted to prescribe behaviour and standards fitting of the people of God. If you could do everything according to the law, then you will be blessed. But if you failed, then you would be cursed and punished. The apostle James says that if you fail in one aspect of the law, you fail the entire thing.
God saw that it was impossible for us to keep the law in its entirety. Justice demanded punishment, so God sent his Son Jesus, who was completely sinless to die in our place. On the cross, the demands of justice and the wrath of God were completely exhausted in the body of Jesus. As we are in Christ, the principal clause of the new covenant is in Hebrews 10:16-17 is that God has now written His law on our hearts. But not only that, He says that our sins and lawless acts He will remember no more!
The blood was also a mark of distinction. Like in Exodus 12, by the mark of the blood, the people of God were distinguished from the people of Egypt. When we drink of the wine, we remember how God has sealed us by His Holy Spirit as His own – we are His children and nothing can snatch us out of His hands.
You will notice that in Luke 22, there are actually two cups. In the Jewish tradition, the first cup is known as the cup of sanctification. Ephesians 1:7 says in Him we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
The second cup is known as the cup of praise. It is an acknowledgment of the goodness and love of God that has brought us all His benefits.
So I go back to 1 Corinthians 11. To drink in an unworthy manner has nothing to do with our own sinfulness because we are already deemed worthy in Christ. But the challenge in 1 Corinthians 11 is all about how we regard the wine and the bread (our attitude towards Christ) and how we regard one another and the people around us (our attitude towards others).
Just as Christ’s physical body was broken to bring us wholeness, Christ also resurrected, not just a physical body, but also His spiritual body: the church.
And that is why on Good Friday, as we celebrated the Passover meal, I think God was smiling on our small group as we gathered to eat together and fellowship. Nothing unites more than fellowship and feasting. Today was all about remembering Christ’s death and sacrifice, but it was also about celebrating HIs redeemed body amongst the gathered community and taking our place at the love feast.