In Gospel, Perspective, Theology

Once a year, thanks to the holiday attached to the holy-day of Easter,
even non-Christians mark the death of Jesus Christ on a cross in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. We Christians, however, do not limit our remembrance of Easter events to Easter-time.

Certainly, we value Easter as a special time to reflect on Christ’s suffering and crucifixion; but it is by no means the only time in the year that we meditate on this matter. We in fact make an effort to remember Christ’s Passion repeatedly throughout the year by the observance of that unpretentious, unadorned ceremony we call Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Thanks to Communion, we effectively have many Little Easters throughout the year.

Many hymns have been written on Easter themes for Communion purposes. A fine example of these is “By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored”.

Written by George Rawson in the mid- nineteenth century, this Communion hymn is based on the apostle Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (ESV).

The hymn begins:

By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored,
We keep the memory adored,
And show the death of our dear Lord
Until he come.

This opening verse sets the scene for the others. It defines what “our dear Lord” did for us by his sacrifice on the cross: he paid the price for our release from captivity to sin and death and brought us back to spiritual health and divine favour: he redeemed us and restored us. So it is with a sense of adoration that we remember his sacrifice by the simple observance of the Lord’s Supper, in which we symbolically “show” his death.

Like the following verses, the first verse finishes on the words “Until he come”. These are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11, and by using them as a refrain, Rawson emphasises that the Lord’s Supper has a double significance. It is a time to look not only back to Christ’s sacrificial death but also forward to his second coming. Through the Communion rite we portray and proclaim his death in the expectation of his return. And we will keep on presenting his death in this way until he really does come again.

Furthermore, the refrain reminds us of the resurrection—for Christ can only come again because he rose again! Yes, the focus of the Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s death, but such a focus would be futile and would lead us to despair were it not counterbalanced by the knowledge of his resurrection.

The hymn continues, verse two:

His body broken in our stead
Is seen in this memorial bread,
And so our feeble love is fed
Until he come.

This second verse points out that Jesus died as our substitute—“in our stead”. He died in our place and on our behalf, bearing “our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) and suffering the punishment we deserved. The bread is symbolic of his body, which was torn and mutilated during his trial and crucifixion. And it is memorial bread, bread that feeds our memory of Jesus and his sacrifice, bread that keeps our remembrance of him alive. As the bread itself nourishes our bodies, so reflection on what it represents nourishes our love for Jesus.

The hymn goes on, verse three:

The drops of His dread agony,
His life-blood shed for us, we see;
The wine shall tell the mystery
Until he come.

This third verse highlights the torment and torture Jesus suffered when he “ransomed” us “not with perishable things such as silver of gold, but with [his] precious blood” (1 Peter 1:18-19). The wine, the grape juice, is symbolic of his blood, and visually reminds us of the dreadful mystery of our dear Lord’s agony for us.

The hymn next states, verse four:

And thus that dark betrayal-night
With the last advent we unite,
By one blest chain of loving rite,
Until he come.

This fourth verse portrays the Lord’s Supper as a rite, a ceremony, which connects the night of Jesus’ betrayal to the day of his return. The Lord Jesus himself instituted this memorial Supper on the night that he was betrayed. Since then, Christians throughout the world have continually observed it—and will continue to observe it until he comes. In this way the “loving rite” of the Lord’s Supper is like “one blest [unbroken] chain” that links, unites, the Crucifixion to the Second Coming.

The hymn concludes:

O blessed hope! with this elate,
Let not our hearts be desolate,
But, strong in faith, in patience wait
Until he come.

This final verse encourages us to temper our solemnity with celebration. Yes, like Easter, the Lord’s Supper is a solemn occasion, but it is a joyful occasion, too! We should not become desolate as we think back on our dear Lord’s suffering. Rather, we should become elated with the realisation that it is because of his sacrifice that we now have the “blessed hope” of eternal life. On the basis of this exhilarating hope we should strengthen our faith in Jesus and resolve to wait patiently until he comes for us.

Communion, Easter—both commemorations direct our thoughts to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ our Lord. Both remind us that we Christians are by Christ redeemed and in Christ restored. And both prompt us to share the good news that all who will trust in Christ will be redeemed by him from guilt and judgment and restored in him to God and righteousness.

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