Category: Lord’s Supper (page 1 of 13)

Clearly in the Wrong

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” ~Galatians 2:11

Peter? Clearly in the wrong? Seriously? I mean, we know Peter’s got a big mouth and he’s a little impulsive, but clearly in the wrong? Peter’s one of the original twelve apostles, part of Jesus’ inner circle. He’s like the captain of the apostles. He’s a pillar, a foundation stone of God’s Church. He’s clearly in the wrong? Well, what in the world is he doing?

He’s refusing to share meals with Christians who have not been circumcised. He’s “drawing back and separating himself” from the Gentile Christians because some of the other Jewish Christians were starting to talk.

Apparently, the Jewish and Gentile Christians were all eating together. They were ignoring circumcision and food laws and Jewish holy days — they weren’t worried about the Law of Moses, they were all one in Christ. They ate together all the time. And when Peter came to Antioch, he joined in. He’s good. He participated in the practice of these fellowship meals, these symbols of unity. But then these “certain men from James” show up and Peter excuses himself from the table. Either the presence of these men or the message they brought — something — shook Peter up and he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. He drew back and separated. And his actions were so obvious and so influential that “even Barnabas was led astray” and stopped attending the fellowship meals.

What Peter is saying by his actions is that Gentile Christians are only second-class Christians. If they want to eat with Peter and the other Jewish Christians, if they want the full benefits of God’s salvation, then you have to belong to a certain group: MY group. You have to conform to OUR rules, you have to adopt OUR practices, you have to embrace OUR traditions. What Peter is saying is that salvation and the unity of God’s people is based on circumcision and law and not on grace and faith.

And when Paul shows up at Antioch and sees what’s going on, he can’t handle it. It’s too much. “There is neither Jew nor Greek!” That’s Paul, right? “We are all one in Christ Jesus!”

So Paul opposed Peter to his face, “in front of them all.” This is a public rebuke because it was a public problem, I guess — because he was clearly in the wrong. This is strong language. Most scholars agree that Paul is saying more than “You’re wrong.” He’s saying, “You’re condemned by God.” Peter is perverting the Gospel with his behavior.

This isn’t just a minor disagreement over a trivial part of the Gospel; this is the very heart of the Gospel! It’s not a little squabble over an interpretation; this is about who you are in Christ, your identity in the Lord!

Peter and these Jewish Christians are withdrawing and separating from the Gentile Christians. They’re claiming to be better, to be more saved, to be more correct, and to be closer to God’s will because of their Jewish culture. Paul says they’re “not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.”

Hmmm…. do we see any parallels today? I wonder about making application, particularly with those of us in Churches of Christ.

Tomorrow. I’ll finish this up tomorrow.

Peace,

Allan

Expressing the Gospel

If the table is the place to experience the real presence of Christ and the real fellowship and community we have together with God’s people — if the purpose of communion is, well, communion — then the way we do it matters. The form of the Lord’s Meal serves the function. In fact, I’ll suggest the form is the function. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You wouldn’t raise money to fight the sexual exploitation of women by having a car wash at Hooter’s. You can’t hold a Weight Watcher’s meeting at Furr’s Cafeteria. We don’t ask people to pay for Financial Peace University with a credit card. That defeats the purpose. The form matters.

That’s what’s wrong with the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. That’s what the apostle Paul is so concerned about: the form, the way they were eating the meal. The form of their meal was working against the purpose of the meal. In fact, Paul tells these Christians, the way you’re eating it, it’s not the Lord’s Supper at all.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else.” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-21

It’s important to remember that the Church’s Lord’s Supper started out as a full meal. For almost the first 300-years, the Lord’s Supper was a potluck. The Greek word “dipenon” is translated as dinner, feast, meal, banquet, main meal. It most commonly refers to the main evening meal. And, according to Paul, if the church eats the meal one way, it’s the Lord’s Supper; if you eat it another way, it’s your own supper.

So, what’s the problem Paul’s trying to correct? What are these Christians doing wrong?

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-22

The problem at this church was the breakdown of community during the Lord’s Supper. You’re not waiting for others, you’re not sharing your food with others, people are going hungry, people are being humiliated. The rich Christians are getting stuffed and drunk while the poor Christians are starving and being singled out as not belonging. People are going back for seconds before others have been through the line once. They’re saving seats. Members are on one side of the room and visitors are on the other. New members are eating by themselves. Division. Selfishness.

Even if they had no idea what the Lord’s Supper is all about, common courtesy demands they refrain from getting stuffed and drunk while their brothers and sisters are hungry. But their meal was being shaped by culture instead of Christ. The Gospel is all about breaking down barriers and uniting together in holy community. Only thinking about yourself, only worrying about your own needs at the Lord’s Supper denies the Gospel the Lord’s Supper is intended to demonstrate. Paul says it makes a mockery of God’s Church.

So, that’s the problem. What’s the corrective? How does he fix it? By pointing to Jesus. He reminds them of Jesus.

“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.’  ~1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The table is shaped by the salvation work of Jesus. The Church’s Meal reflects and demonstrates the Gospel values of sacrifice and service. The Lord’s Supper expresses the way of Jesus: selflessness, giving to others, considering the needs of others more important than our own.

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” ~1 Corinthians 11:26

The Lord’s death broke down all the barriers between us and God and between us and each other. The Lord’s death unites all God’s people together. Around the table on Sundays and anytime we eat and drink together in his name, we’re proclaiming and practicing all the salvation things Jesus died for. The meal proclaims everything that was accomplished at the cross: acceptance, fellowship, unity, forgiveness, peace, love.

And when Paul uses the term “Lord” and when he says “until he comes,” he’s reminding us that Jesus is alive and he’s coming back! And until he comes, we express and experience the realities of our salvation with him and one another in holy community around his table. How we eat the Lord’s Supper matters.

Peace,

Allan

Experiencing the Gospel

Some of us say the communion meal is the most important part of our Sunday assemblies. That’s the whole reason we come together. In fact, some people leave church right after the Lord’s Supper: the crumb, the sip, we’re good, I’m gone! Our actions betray us: We take communion to the hospitals and preside over a lady in a wheelchair breaking a cracker while three men stand by and watch. Our language betrays us: We say we offer the Lord’s Supper on Sunday nights or in our small groups to people “who need it.”

The Lord’s Supper is not a binding duty or a mechanical ritual. It’s not a box to check or a magic pill to swallow. It’s about love and unity and fellowship.

We’ve done everything we can to mess it up. For several centuries now the Church has gone to great lengths to make the meal as private and personal and individual as possible. The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, introspective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” We’ve removed ourselves from the transforming character of the meal.

If the Gospel is that by the death and resurrection of Jesus we can be totally forgiven of our sins and be completely cleansed and pure and can come right into the very presence of God; if the Good News is that we can have a holy and righteous relationship with God and one another; if the Gospel is that we are united with Christ and united with one another in Christ, where do we experience that? How does that become real for us? How do we feel it and know it’s true?

At the table. We experience the Gospel at the table.

Let’s remember our big picture understandings of the communion meal. The Lord’s Supper is eating and drinking a celebration meal with God. Remember, that’s God’s goal. That’s what God is after, it’s what all of salvation history is about: God eating and drinking with us. Because sharing a meal together means there’s relationship. You’ve got things in common. No barriers. There’s acceptance and understanding and trust and friendship around the table. When we’re all dipping our chips into the same bowl of salsa, all the walls are down. There’s community. That’s what God wants with us.

What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the reality it represents. We are literally eating with Jesus. Somehow, mysteriously, he meets us at the table and eats with us. All of us.

The table is where we experience what it means to be saved. The oneness, the forgiveness, the community, the relationship, the unity, the acceptance, the fellowship, the common ground. The blood of Christ is what makes us righteous and clean. And the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10 that when we drink the cup together, we participate in those benefits. Eating the bread together is a communion or a sharing in the unity we have in Christ. We are the body of Christ together. And we experience that around our Lord’s Table.

The people of Israel eat the sacrifices and so receive the benefits of forgiveness and community that’s achieved at the altar. We eat the meal and receive the gifts of forgiveness and community that are achieved at the cross.

By faith, our baptisms make us one people in Christ. No divisions, no differences, no distinctions — we are one body in Christ. And we experience that around the table. The peace, the reconciliation, the community with God and one another.

You want to feel like you really belong? You sit down to a meal with your family.

Peace,

Allan

Unworthy Manner

“Therefore, 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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” ~1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Boy, we have latched onto these three verses, haven’t we?! Our distortion of these three verses, maybe more than any other passage in the Bible, has irreversibly changed the dynamic of the Lord’s Supper from one of joyful and communal participation in salvation and life to one of somber and individual reflection on sin and death. And the key phrase in these key verses is “unworthy manner.”

The Greek word in the original text we translate “unworthy manner” is “anaxios,” and it’s an adverb, not an adjective. In this context, “unworthy” doesn’t describe you. This is not about the state of your soul or the status of your salvation or what you’re thinking about during the meal. “Unworthy” describes the way you eat and drink, the “manner” of your eating and drinking. “Unworthy” is describing the verbs, not the nouns.

Whether or not you are unworthy to eat and drink with the risen Christ and his holy people isn’t the concern. That question has already been answered: No, you are not worthy! None of us is worthy! We are unholy sinners who have no right to be in God’s presence, eating with him at his feast.

Or…

We are all worthy! By the death and resurrection of Jesus you and I are worthy! We’ve been made worthy by grace through faith in Christ. You see what we’re saying? The question of our worthiness is not the issue at stake in this passage.

The concern is, now that you’re at the Supper, how are you eating and drinking? Are you only concerned about yourself? Are you isolating yourself and others at the table? Are you paying attention to the people around you? As you eat and drink, are you recognizing the body?

The main point of the Lord’s Supper is to share it with one another, not satisfy your own needs. That’s the core of Paul’s instructions in this section of his letter to the Christians in Corinth:

“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” ~1 Corinthians 11:33

Some translations say “welcome each other.” The point is that we eat together.

The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, reflective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” Scripture says the focus during the meal, of our bodies and our brains, should be on one another.

Peace,

Allan

An Apology

In an attempt to present the Lord’s Supper as the time and place where we experience our unity with Christ and express the unity we have with all Christians in Christ, I used a picture during yesterday’s sermon depicting a variety of people joyfully gathered around a communion table. The picture served as the background in a PowerPoint slide for 1 Corinthians 12:13: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

A concerned parishioner gently informed me later that the picture showed a cat at the table.

A terrible, terrible mistake on my part. As God is my witness, I never once saw that cat when putting the PowerPoint together last week. We all know that all cats are reserved for the fiery lake of burning sulfur and do not have a place at the Table of our Lord. I regret the mistake. Please forgive me.

Peace,

Allan

Word and Table

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” ~Acts 2:42

The Greek word koinonea means fellowship. Communion. Sharing. Having things in common. Luke describes it in the above verse as eating together and praying together. That’s what makes a Christian assembly, those are the worship habits: Teaching and Fellowship. Scripture and Communion. Word and Table. That’s the time and place where everybody ministers together, everybody participates, everybody’s heard, everybody shares. God meets us, Jesus is present with us, and the Holy Spirit shapes us in our regular gatherings around Word and Table.

That two-thousand-year-old pattern, I believe, is based on the habits of Jesus during his ministry.

When Jesus taught, he generally did it in the context of a meal. He opened up the Scriptures and ministered to others around a common table. The Word is proclaimed and then the reality of the Word is practiced and experienced around the meal.

In Luke 14, Jesus is eating a Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee and, as we would expect, he starts teaching: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

At the banquet at Levi’s house, Jesus gives us the Word: “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And he’s sitting around a table with tax collectors and prostitutes. The Table is the tangible experience of the Word.

With five-thousand hungry people in the wilderness, Jesus tells his apostles, “You give them something to eat. You engage the mission. You participate in serving others.” And then he empowers them to do just that. Then they all ate together, as much as they wanted.

At Zacchaeus’ house, the Word, the teaching: “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost!” And around the meal, the hospitality and community of the Table: “Salvation has come to this house! This man is a son of Abraham!”

In John 13, on that last night before he was crucified, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. And some teaching. The evening meal was being served, the Bible says, and Jesus got up and washed everyone’s feet. A tremendous act of humble service. Jesus made himself the least important person in the room in order to serve others.

“Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Our habits together around Word and Table shape how we think and act. It shapes us into a people who think and act like our Lord. Jesus gets up from the table during the meal to say to each of his followers to say, “I am your servant.” And he tells us to do the same for each other.

Some of us view our worship gatherings as a legal duty and everything has to be done exactly right. Some of us see our worship assemblies as an experience; it’s all about how it makes me feel, so there aren’t really any rules to follow. Some of us have grown up with no real understanding about community worship, so we don’t really think about it at all.

Our worship assemblies are the time and place where our living God meets us, where we all meet in the presence of God together. We are gathered by God’s Spirit around the Word. The Word of God reminds us who God is and what he’s doing and who we are and to whom we belong. The Word has to the power to teach us, train us, and transform us to continue the Kingdom work Jesus has already begun. The Word reorients us away from the shadows of this world’s fading kingdoms and toward the eternal realities of the Kingdom that has come and is coming.

And we experience those realities around the Table. The Holy Spirit brings us together around a meal where we actually experience God’s mercy, acceptance, wholeness, equality, compassion, and peace.

But we can get so wrapped up and bogged down in the details of our worship practices and the finer points of our traditions and our methods, that we don’t give much thought at all to the main point of our assemblies. We worry about how we do church and what we can and cannot do in church, forgetting this a Holy Spirit endeavor. All of this takes place in and by the Spirit.

We worship God in Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who mediates God’s grace and the presence of Christ to us around Word and Table. God gathers us together. God initiates and enables our praise. God eats with us, the Holy Spirit prays with us and for us with groans we can never comprehend, Jesus intercedes for us. God gives us the words to say in our worship. God speaks to us through his Word and then places that Word into each heart in exactly the way he wants it to go. We are brought together in the presence of God and he’s the One doing everything!

We should relax about our rules and stop worrying about our methods and submit to what God’s Spirit wants to do. Instead of fretting about how we do church or how somebody else does church, we should pay more attention to how God does church.

Peace,

Allan

 

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