Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Communion - Four Key Words

Four Key Words
There are four key words to keep in mind when coming to the Lord’s Table; important words that will help us in our appreciation of it.

The first one is Covenant – “This is the new covenant established by my blood.” This is our first base – it’s God’s covenant, it’s about what he has done. The Old one couldn’t do the job because of our falleness, so God establishes a new one. The idea of a covenant then roots us in Christ’s performance NOT ours. This provides a balance to the experiential nature of Spirit-filled Christianity and represents the tension between the ages, the now and not yet of the kingdom – the sacrifice once and for all time and the full consummation of what that means in the future. God’s act in Jesus has changed the way God feels, i.e. the Passover, “When I see the blood I will Passover you.” If things are going well for you then we are reminded when we come to the table its because of what Jesus has done; if you are struggling when we come to the table then we are reminded that its not our performance but his that counts. In Israels households there were no doubt good sons and bad sons, but it was the blood of the lamb that would save each. The Communion Table levels us all.

The second Remember – “Do this in remembrance of me…” For the western mind this is no more than the recollecting of details and events with no present reality, but for the Hebrew/Jewish mind it was a remembering that engages with and relives the event. It was a reactivating of its significance, so that generations later it was their story. And in many ways it was, you see we live in an individualistic isolated world, they lived in family/community world. Their identity wasn’t in themselves it was in thier community and its history. So there great, great, great, great… grand parents story was their story, and they remebered and told in such a way. So it should be for us as we break the bread and drink the wine.

The third is Communion. The original word is translated variously in different versions and places in the Bible as communion, participation, sharing; 1 Cor. 10:17 “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
1. It is with Christ. This must be foremost, we commune with him.
2. It is with one another. Jesus died for the church, a body, his body. It expresses our unity. Sharing = a rejoicing in the common bond we have in Christ… This is where the scripture “Examine yourselves” comes in. This is not about introspection, but the fact we are part of the body, and is in regard to the body – our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to recognise it, honour it, and extend the same grace and mercy to it. It becomes then a meal that unites us and sustains us.

The fourth is Proclamation – “You proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” – what an amazing line – we proclaim both death and life at the same time! Everytime we Break Bread, eat the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the reality of Christ – his life, his death, his ressurection,his coming again and in so doing we proclaim the power of the gospel to save all that will put their trust in him.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Communion - what is it? Part 2

To understand communion we need to look at where it came from. The scripture provides us with a very direct clue “As they were eating…” (Matthew 26:26). The question is what were they eating? And the answer is the Passover meal, something which Jesus said, “With desire (strong desire) I have desired to eat the Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15).

To find the real meaning then we need to go back to its origin in the Old testament in Exodus 12. In this chapter we come to the climax of the spiritual battle that was taking place. Every demonstration of God’s authority and power over the gods of Egypt had been resisted – Pharoah would not let God’s people go.

This last demonstration was going to involve the death of the firstborn in every Egyptian home – but there was a problem: God is holy and just. How could God be true to himself, and save some and yet judge others, after all his own people were sinners?

For justice to be done God instructed the selecting, keeping and slaughtering of a perfect lamb, and the eating of its flesh. This lamb was to take the eldest son’s place – to be his substitute. They were to take the blood and put it on the door posts and lintel because as God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” It was there for God, and for them. It changed first of all the way God felt about them, secondly, it would be the cause of the eldest son’s deliverence (I would encourage you to read/reread the story and put yourself in the eldest son’s place, consider what he and his family felt).

This was the “Lord’s Passover” and they were to keep it as a memorial feast to the Lord every year (12:14). This passover not only looked back, but it became part of the promise and anticipation of Messiah, the hoped for Deliverer.

Jesus said he strongly desired to eat this passover with them before he died.

Why? He wanted to invest it with new meaning, he wanted to transform it and give it new significance, and as he does so it becomes his story; he is the Passover Lamb, the fulfilment of Israel’s Story, the promised Messiah – as Paul was later to say, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

“All” says scripture “have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory,” and it is no easy thing for God to forgive sinners – he is utterly holy, and we have fallen completely short. I believe it was Carnegie Simpson who said,”Forgiveness to man is the plainest of duties, but to God it is the profoundest of problems.”

God cannot simply ignore our sin or turn a blind eye to it. God must be true to himself. The only thing God can do is to take our place, take on human flesh himself, be tempted in everyway as we are, then go to a cross as our substitute bearing our sin. He must bear our judgment, he must die our death. His death as John Owen put it would be the “death of death in the death of Christ.”

A Lamb who would be our substitute. Judgment. The shedding of blood. Passover!

This is the meaning that that Jesus invests the passover with. This was not the Last Supper, but the Last Passover!

More to come…. next time a key word….

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Communion - what is it?

Last week I preached a message on Communion. It was good to look at the subject again, I mean it begs a question, what place does it have in the experience of the Spirit-filled Christian/Church, after all, we seek and know the presence and power of God, why would we want to go through what appears to be a ritual?

Then again I think of being asked as a pastor by a Christian of many years, “What is meant to happen when we take communion? What am I meant to do?” I wonder how many others think the same?
As a boy I remember observing communion (or the Lord’s Supper as it was known) in the church I grew up in. The Christian adults at the end of the meeting once a month all got up and went to the front and had their own little meeting, while we children stayed quietly (and I mean quietly) in our seats… The Table was covered with a cloth, there was bread and wine, a reading, prayer. It was quiet, solemn, serious (not that quiet, solemn and serious is neccessarily wrong)… after that it was a mystery…

So what of it? What is it and what is meant to happen?

Real (Physical) Presence
Well there are those who think the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus once the priest has prayed – it’s now consecrated, holy, and when they take communion it’s at an altar where Christ is offered afresh.
For others the bread and wine don’t physically change but nevertheless there is a very real presence in and under the elements, much as a sponge dipped in water is a sponge with real water in it.
Spiritual Presence
Still others say, no, Real Presence is wrong, but there is a Spiritual Presence in the Bread and Wine, somehow Jesus is present in them, though not physically.
No Presence
And others reacting to both of the above say, no, there is no real physical or spiritual presence, they are only emblems, its just a means of remembering Jesus – his death and resurrection, and we shouldn’t be looking to experience anything.

Present at the Table
Now the fact that Jesus said ‘this is my body’ can mean no more than he intended it as a representation is revealed in the fact that he was sitting there in his body, and the bread he held was just bread – nothing had changed. Yes he was present to them and yes his desire is to be present to us. The drama was in the action. Jesus said elsewhere that when two or three are gathered in his name he is there among them. The same I think applies to communion, it’s a meal he invites us to partake of, its a table and not an altar – thats important as an altar separates and needs special people to officiate and offerings to be made, whereas tables put us all at the same level and are the place of fellowship. The presence then is not in the bread and wine but in the act itself when done in faith.

In a world where much of our worship can be about what we are doing, “I worship you,” “I give you my life,” “I trust in you…” (and theres a place for that) the communion table is solely about what he has done, and invites us to.

More to come…