Category: Lord’s Supper (page 1 of 11)

God at Work: With Us

“We are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.'” ~2 Corinthians 6:16

In Exodus 24, God has come down to his people on a mountain. He comes to be  near them, to be with them. He’s keeping his covenant promise to live with us, to dwell among us. And you see all three of the Church sacraments in this passage. The people have assembled together in God’s presence. It’s the Day of Assembly. And the people are worshiping. They hear the Word of the Lord and they respond, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do!” They’re making burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, and sacrifices to God. The people are being washed by blood. Paul says in 1 Corinthians these people were all baptized when they passed through the Red Sea. But they are certainly being cleansed.

“Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you…’ Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel… They saw God and they ate and drank.” ~Exodus 24:8-11

God comes to his people, he cleanses us, he makes us righteous and whole, and he eats and drinks with us. We see God at the table.

But that’s not enough for our God. It’s not close enough to us. So he makes his dwelling place in the tabernacle in the desert and, later, inside the temple in Jerusalem. But that’s not close enough to us for our Father. So he comes here himself in the physical flesh and blood of Jesus. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He tabernacle with us as one of us.

When Jesus was baptized, Luke tells us “all the people were being baptized.” Matthew says the people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” to be baptized. And Jesus joins us in the water. He meets us there in our cleansing. God’s presence is there. The dove, the Holy Spirit, the voice of God affirming and commissioning: “You are my child, I am proud of you.”

And Jesus meets us in worship. The Gospels say he went to the synagogue regularly, as was his custom. He went to the temple, faithfully, for the corporate assemblies and festivals. He never missed. And he ate and drank with everybody — rich and poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, sinners and saints.  He ate with Mary and Martha and tax collectors in their own houses. He set up a picnic with 4,000 Gentiles out in the wilderness. He got in trouble because he refused to discriminate. He ate with all of us!

That last night with his closest disciples, around the table, he’s eating with us. “This is my blood of the covenant,” our Lord says.

“I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God… I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” ~Luke 22:15-18

And then on the day of his resurrection, Jesus can’t wait to eat with his disciples. He makes lunch plans with two of them on the road to Emmaus and when Jesus breaks the bread, they “see” him. That evening he shows up where the apostles are, right in the middle of dinner. They’re not sure it’s him — maybe this is a ghost. So Jesus asks for a piece of fish and eats it “in their presence.” Later, when people ask Peter how he knows Jesus is alive, he replies, “Because we ate and drank with him after he was raised from the dead!”

But that’s not enough for our God. He wants to be even closer. He doesn’t want his presence with us to be limited by physical space. So he pours out his Holy Spirit on everybody. By his Spirit, God Almighty takes up residence, he tabernacles, he makes his dwelling place, inside each of us and all of us.

We see all these sacraments on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call… Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day… They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” ~Acts 2:38-47

Look, baptism doesn’t work because we believe all the right things and we say all the right words. Baptism saves us because God is there. God meets us in the water. He forgives us, he cleanses us, he unites with us in baptism. He connects us to the salvation death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord so he can live with us.

And Jesus doesn’t meet us at the table to shame us. It’s not, “Look what I had to do for you — remember it!” It’s his gift to us, this sacred time with him and with one another where God accepts us and affirms us, where he nourishes us and sustains our lives. It’s not, “I had to die for you — be grateful!” It’s, “I love you; I want to eat with you.” It’s an invitation.

And worship doesn’t work because we’ve got it figured out and we’re good at it. Worship works because God is with us and he’s working. His presence is with us. God is speaking to us by his Word. Christ Jesus is eating with us and nurturing us at the table. And the Spirit is interceding for us with words we can’t begin to describe.

Our actions don’t move God to grace; God’s grace moves him to action. These sacraments, these ordinances, are gifts of God’s grace to us. He initiated these things we do together. In baptism and at the table, together with God’s people in holy assembly, God says to us, “We can meet each other here.” That’s his promise: I will meet you here.

He left heaven to give these gifts to us. He came to us and suffered and died for us in order to be close to you. He wants to be near you. He wants to change you and make you whole. He loves you. He wants to eat with you. It’s an invitation.

In baptism and at the table and during the assembly, God promises, “I’m here. You may not see me every time, you may not feel it every time, but I’m here. You may feel far from me, but I am present with you in these special times and places. I am near you. I am cleansing you and nourishing you and changing you.”

This is God’s work in transforming encounter, in the sacraments. Even if you don’t see it or feel it, you can trust it.

Peace,

Allan

God at Work: Sacrament

Sacrament: A physical symbol that acts as a means of God’s grace by which we participate in a spiritual reality.

This Sunday at Central we’re beginning a 13-weeks Bible class series on the sacraments of baptism, communion, and the Christian assembly. Our intent is to move more toward viewing these special moments together as places and times when our God is redemptively present and seriously at work. We want to learn how to focus more on what God is doing and less on what we are doing in these practices. And the word “sacrament” is significant for our understanding and growth.

The definition above is my own version of how the Church has understood the term for centuries. Let’s explain it using each of the divine ordinances.

Baptism – The physical symbol is the water. The water is real, it’s tangible. You can see it, you can feel it, you can experience it. It’ll ruin your phone, it’ll go up your nose — it’s real. But the water also represents a reality beyond itself. It points to something bigger. The water symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What makes baptism a sacrament is that, by God’s Spirit, we actually participate in the reality it symbolizes. In baptism, we are buried and raised with Christ Jesus. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Lord’s Supper – The physical symbol is the bread and the cup, the cracker and the juice. Those are concrete, real things, physical things. You can smell the juice, you can crunch the cracker; it gets stuck in your teeth, it can stain your slacks — it’s real. But the meal represents Jesus eating and drinking with his disciples. What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that, by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the thing it represents. We are literally eating with the Lord. Somehow, mysteriously, yes, he meets us at the table and eats with us.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” ~1 Corinthians 10:16

Christian Assembly – The physical symbol is the people in the room. It’s us. Real men, women, and children, wearing clothes, laughing, singing, whispering, chewing gum, praying; babies crying and people sneezing — it’s real. And it symbolizes something bigger. It represents the heavenly assembly around the throne of God. By God’s Spirit, we join that heavenly chorus — we are actually participating in what we can’t see yet. We are singing and praying with all the saints of all time in heaven, in the eternal presence of God. That’s what makes the Sunday morning worship gathering a sacrament.

“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous men and women made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

God is present with us, saving us, nourishing us, changing us. When we view these three ordinances as merely commands to obey, we’ll focus on what we are doing. When we understand them as sacraments, we’re better able to focus on what God is doing.

Peace,

Allan

God at Work: Ordinance

I was eleven-years-old when I was baptized on a Sunday morning in the fall of 1977 at the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. As soon as the sermon was over and the congregation began singing “Trust and Obey,” I stepped out into the aisle from the third row where my family always sat and made my way to the front. It was a short walk — like four steps. After the song was over, my dad told the church how proud he was of me and he took my confession.

“Allan, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?”

“Yes, I do.”

We both walked behind the stage into a dressing room where I put on a weird little nightgown thing, my dad shoved me into the water, and I was baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

When I came up out of the water, the church began singing “Happy, Happy, Happy.” We didn’t clap after baptisms back then, our congregation always sang this awful song. It’s a horrible song — I hope you don’t know it. As my dad and I were walking up the steps out of the water, he looked at me and asked, “How do you feel?”

I replied, “I feel perfect.”

And I did.

The following Sunday I took my first communion. And I felt like everybody was watching me. My mom and dad, my sisters and my grandmother on that third pew, my uncle and aunt and cousins behind us — it was a big deal. And when that tray came down the row, I pinched off the tiniest little bit of cracker that was humanly possible — I didn’t want anybody to think I didn’t know what I was doing — and I drank that little sip of grape juice. I kept my head down, didn’t make eye contact with anybody and thought about Jesus. Shhhhhhh. We’re thinking about Jesus.

And I felt like a Christian. I felt like I belonged. The Lord’s Supper is what you do when you’re a Christian. Every single Sunday. That’s why you go to church even when you’re out of town on vacation: so you can take communion. That’s why if you have to leave church early for work or a special event, you only leave after communion. In fact, communion is such a big deal, if you miss Sunday morning, we’ve left it prepared for you in a little side-room on Sunday night where you and four or five others can sit down and eat it while three deacons stand there and watch you.

But we never missed worship. Every time the doors were open — that was us. We were right there on that third pew worshiping. All five acts of worship: singing, praying, preaching, Lord’s Supper… and… announcements? I can’t remember. Do not forsake the assembly. It doesn’t matter if the Cowboys are in the Super Bowl or if CBS is showing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer back to back, we’re going to church.

Because that’s what Christians do. Those are the ordinances, the commands. Especially those big three: baptism, communion, and the worship assembly. We do those things. And we go to great lengths to make sure we do those things in the right way at the proper time using the correct words. And it didn’t take long for me to learn how to do exactly what we do.

But I’m not sure I ever seriously considered what God is doing when we are doing what he wants us to do. Where is God? How is he involved? What is God doing?

Oh, I suppose if you had asked me back then I would have come up with an answer.

What was God doing when you were baptized? Well, he was watching from above. And when I came up out of the water, he forgave all my sins and wrote my name into his book of life. He saved me. He checked the box next to my name. My obedience pleases God.

What’s God doing when you eat the Lord’s Supper? Well, he’s with us, he’s present in a vague and spiritual way. And he’s watching me. He’s happy that I’m thinking about his Son. My sincerity pleases God.

What about during worship? When Christians get together to sing and pray and read the Bible, where’s God then? Well, he’s listening to our praise, he’s soaking up the songs. He’s the audience of one. My performance pleases him.

We probably think individually about these three things: baptism, communion, and the assembly. I think that’s our tendency. This is about God and me. It’s personal. But they are all three actually communal in nature. They have more to do with the community. We also think and talk about these things primarily as commands we obey, ordinances we are obligated to fulfill. But they are all three more fundamentally about what God is doing. These are all communal moments, these all happen when we’re together. But, more than that, these are moments when God meets us, when he is especially present with us and works on us, changing us more into the image of Christ.

This Sunday our adult Bible classes at Central are launching into a thirteen-week series on these divine ordinances. What we’re trying to do as a church is move more toward viewing these three areas as encounters with God and less as things we’re just commanded to do. We want to participate in these things and experience these things more and more as means of grace, or avenues by which God meets us and blesses us with spiritual gifts. The theological term is sacrament or sacramental.

Now, the word “sacrament” can mess some of us up if we don’t slow down and talk about it. The word “sacrament” carries some baggage with some of us. We think it’s a Roman Catholic thing or it’s about magic words or secret powers. It doesn’t mean any of those things. But the term is vitally significant for our understanding of what’s happening during baptism, communion, and the assembly.

Because “ordinance” means we do something. “Sacrament” means God does something. “Sacrament” means God is at work.

We’ll define “sacrament” and flesh out the practical implications for us in this space tomorrow. Stay with me.

Peace,

Allan

The Ultimate Feast

“People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” ~Luke 13:29

Jesus is talking about heaven when he says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets will be around that table. John’s Revelation tells us that heaven will be the ultimate gathering of “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” the ultimate feast around our Lord’s banquet table.

At communion, we get a small heavenly glimpse of that great eschatological feast. We come together around our Savior’s table. In the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, we connect not only to our Lord, but to every person in history — past, present, and future — who’s been saved by the blood of the Lamb. Past the barriers of time and space, we’re united as one

Different people. Different ages. Different cultures. Different languages. Different backgrounds. Different viewpoints. Different habits. Different genders. Different denominations. Different jobs. Different haircuts. Different beliefs. Different likes and dislikes.

Same sin. Same need. Same Lord. Same baptism. Same forgiveness. Same salvation. Same commitment. Same table. Same loaf. Same cup. Same body. Same Church. Same Spirit. Same hope. Same faith. Same God and Father of us all who is over all and through all and in all.

Our communion meal points us to the heavenly meal. It gives us a peek. The way we eat and drink and share the Lord’s Supper must be shaped by our great anticipation of that day when all God’s children will be home, gathered around our Father’s table.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing the Risen Christ

There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. There’s a lot to see and experience there. The soldiers saw the angel and experienced great fear. The women saw the stone rolled away and experienced great confusion. Peter and the apostles saw the burial cloths and came away with a lot of questions. There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. But nobody saw Jesus there.

Jesus isn’t there.

I want to see Jesus. I want to experience Jesus. I want to touch Jesus and know Jesus and be in his presence and hear his voice.

You know where that happens? At the table. The disciples do not see or experience Jesus in his resurrection fullness and glory until later that Easter Sunday when they are sharing a meal together. Jesus revealed himself during the meal. He appeared to his followers and spoke to them at the table. That’s where we see our risen Lord.

When we are around the table together with the risen Messiah as our host we experience forgiveness and belonging, unity and sharing, acceptance and fellowship. We see Jesus in the changed lives of the people with us around the table. We Jesus in that there are no walls, no barriers between us and God and us and each other; nothing separates us at the table. We Jesus when we remember that we have forgiven those around the table with us and have been forgiven multiple times by those same people. We see Jesus in the joy reflected in the faces around the table. We experience Christ in relationship with others.

Our salvation from God is not a system. It’s not a theory. And it’s certainly not a five-step plan.

It’s a sacrifice and a meal.

Peace be with you,

Allan

Surely Not I

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

Older posts