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Communion: More of a Meal or a Ceremony?

First let me admit, I’m fairly ignorant regarding the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a., communion, a.k.a., the eucharist).  I grew up Baptist; what can I say?  In any event, I’ve ‘celebrated’ communion with Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Charismatics, non-denomers, third-wavers, home groups, and even Catholics.  I’ve even led communion a few times.  I get it more than I used to, but to quote U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  But I think this post from Scot, and the book he’s reviewing, is on to something.  What do you think?

Here’s my comment on Scot’s post with a question I honestly think about from time to time, and wonder if what I’m looking for isn’t somewhere close by:

We’re considering starting an Alpha course at my church, and as we’ve been going down this road, I can’t help but think that no small part of the success of the Alpha course is the theological and redemptive power of the shared meal in Jesus’ name (often underestimated in Western evangelicalism). I honestly wonder which is more “Eucharistic”–the shrunken and ritualized wafer and juice of church ceremony, or the full meal of pasta prepared by the saints for sake of outsiders and newcomers to the faith, which we all eat together as we talk about Jesus.

. . . I’m honestly really wondering about the spirit and intent of communion, the size of the meal vs. the specifics of what’s served, the presence or absense of conversation with others, and even the tone and setting. With all of the editorial differences b/n the last supper and current practice, I wonder if Alpha has hit something, or several somethings, significant that the Church has edited out of its modern translation of the practice.

Turn here

Have you noticed how easy it is for one’s Christianity, one’s faith, to become a side show, one hobby among many, rather than the center of one’s life and motives?  For my part, I am in a stage of repentance.  I cannot say that my existence of late can be best described as myself no longer really living replaced by Christ living through me.  Rather, my life of late has been me largely going after what I want, doing some of what he wants, even working with him from time to time, while wearing various pieces of “Jesus veneer.”  I say “veneer” because I’m disturbed at how thin the Jesus I’m wearing is, or has become.

It’s just so easy to try to live your own life for yourself.  It’s right there.  It seems so logical.

But I can’t keep it.  It’s like building sand castles at low tide.

Lord, help me stop building everything that’s doomed to fall down.  Help me give up my pursuits, deny myself, and work and rest at your direction alone, for the sake of everyone around me.

Thin Gospel = Thin Ecclesiology?

Anyone who’s read this blog more than twice knows I’m big on a big gospel.  Another way of saying it is that I disagree with reduced modern usages of the term “gospel” or “salvation” that are significantly narrower in scope than the usage of that term in the scriptures.  I’ve said it before and I say again, the gospel of the New Testament is more than “God forgives/justifies sinners.”  Likewise, “salvation” in the New Testament, let alone the whole bible, is more than forgiveness and justification; just do a New Testament word study on the greek word “sozo” to see what the NT writers think when they think about Jesus “saving” people.

So here’s what I’m wondering: When we narrow the concept of “salvation” to a smaller concept than the biblical one, how does that also narrow our ecclesiology, our ideas of what a church is and is called to be?  How does our idea of “gospel” shape our idea of “church?”  How would a more robust gospel change our idea of church and our practice of it?

“If anyone [gay] wants to come with me, let him deny himself [the rest of you are already good to go].”

Dave Fitch is hosting a difficult and important conversation at his blog, and with much grace all around.  The following is my latest comment, which I probably should have posted separately here in the first place.  Sorry Dave!  Looking forward to future posts in the series!

One of the things I’m getting (and liking) in this conversation is a small taste of what I hope David means by “welcoming and mutually transforming.”

By David’s and Isaac’s conversation, I’m already seeing how I have taken so many of my own practices and desires and even parts of what I consider my own identity as givens, or rather how I’ve attached to them a sense of entitlement that is beyond questioning, even by Christ’s purposes.

I find the last comment by Isaac particularly interesting (Isaac, I don’t want you to feel like you have to address it if you’re growing tired of the conversation; you’ve already given a great deal.), especially as it ends with the idea that sexual orientation seems to be much larger than sexual desire.

As you guys mentioned, there are several ways in which this is true. There are almost always communal bonds at stake, not just with one’s partner but also one’s “people”, one’s community and friends. People frame their identities not merely as persons having this or that sexual “desire” but also as people who are faithful to their particular communities. I wonder which pulls us and shapes our sense of identity more, especially on this issue, our desires or our ties to our communities?

As I think about all these things, I’m reminded of Jesus’ call to priortize him and following him even over our communal ties to parents or children or spouse. Not a favorite passage of mine. We often think of or present Christianity as saying “you have to give up or resist this or that desire to be loyal to Jesus.” But it’s really more radical, more exacting, than that. It’s much larger than our desires. Jesus’ call to follow him is clearly a call to subrogate our desires and our identities and the communal bonds that form and maintain them to Jesus. Everything that would come under the broad definition of “our life” (everything we would lose by death) is what is up for transformation and redirection by Christ.

But I don’t think this is what the LGBTQ sees the largely hetero Church doing or even saying Jesus is actually about in America. We have implicitly said that Jesus doesn’t have any serious correction to give to the typical American way of life, other than to add tithing and church attendance. It’s a club with a cross on the building, claiming to be formed and frequented by God himself, and it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation for who can join.

Maybe part of these discussions in real life has to be particular and personal confessions by hetero Christians of how they’ve flatly ignored Jesus’ Lordship because it has threatened this or that community bond or standing, or some other part of what we want “our” life to be like. Isaac and the LGBTQ community are right in that there is a double standard for what is required at the door of the Church, what’s required to “be Jesus’ disciple” as we’ve implicitly redefined it around us. That has to change, and it has to start with those already in the building, those claiming to be God’s friends. We’ve got to have a few more serious stories of our own about what we have given up to have the pearl. We have to reframe our own discipleship.

“Jesus is Lord” the core pt. 4: “is”

Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton spoke the language of this generation.  And no where did he do so more profoundly as when he famously dodged a flat question with the reply,

It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is.”

I remember how shocked I was when I first heard him say that.  When I look back at that quote it takes me right back to that shock.  And it reminds me of the tortured way some people, even some ministers, talk about the resurrection of Jesus and whether Jesus is alive. 

On that last point, I want to say one thing before the obvious central point of this post.  I’ve learned some great things from “liberal” Christians, some of whom would no doubt launch into a Clinton-esque tortured exploration of “is” if asked if they think Jesus “is” alive.  If my learning from such folks shocks you, let me briefly say there are several theologies in conservative Christian circles that tend to undervalue the power and genius of Christ’s teachings and example, while there are some on the left that do the opposite.  Search this blog for my “Don’t call it grace” posts to begin to see what I mean.  It’s not just his blood, but also his words that give (and are) life; and sometimes Christians, ironically, miss this. 

But my second point is this: People who say they are Christians but want to talk about what the meaning of the word “is” is when confessing that ‘Jesus is Lord’ look just as silly as Bill Clinton when he tried that tack.  There ain’t no debate about what “is” means when the scriptures say “Jesus is Lord.”  In a word, we’re talking about, and affirming, the resurrection.  Interestingly, Jesus himself actually makes the argument that the dead are raised by the usage of the “is” concept.  The fact that Jesus “is” as opposed to merely “was” is absolutely central to the Christian faith, and a big part of what it means to confess that Jesus is Lord.  I’m okay with folks having honest questions about that as they peruse the faith and even as they are on the long journey of the Way.  But let’s be clear what the “is” means in the original Christian creed and in any Christian creed worth having: ‘Jesus is Lord’ means in no small part that Jesus is alive.

The core: “Jesus is Lord” pt. 3 – “Jesus”

In the first post in this brief series, I said I’d post on each word of this central, and original “creed” of Christianity.  I could (and may still) end this series with a post on “Jesus.” I mentioned at the end of the last post:

I’ll leave you to the gospels, to Acts, to the letters to find out what all is in this king’s agenda and regular activities.  It’s good, good stuff, though, I’ll tell you that right now.

Because of the power of this government, everything about Jesus, the one Christ-ened with power by God to lead and transform, is news.  The specifics of what he does with God’s power and what he commands and empowers us to do is what makes the news good.

Who is this Jesus that God has given all authority in heaven and the earth?  What’s his agenda?  What are his priorities?  To answer this question I urge people to read the gospels.  Please intentionally try to shelve what your own tradition tells you are Jesus’ priorities.  Let Matthew give you his take.  Let Mark and Luke do the same.  Let John.  Let Jesus.  Look at his actions and words and try to discern what this guy is about.  Reading any one gospel only takes a half-hour or so.  I guarantee that reading any one of them, if you’ve never done it, will shift your idea about who Jesus is and what matters to him. 

Warning: you may find yourself wondering why your church does what it does and how.

Jesus is Lord – the core pt. 2

Here’s proof of my genius: Christianity is about Jesus.  🙂  It’s not a movement led or inspired by me, or you, or the Pope, or even Billy Graham.  Nope.  Christianity is a Jesus-centered, Jesus-shaped, Jesus-led movement for the benefit of all the universe. 

Or at least it’s supposed to be.  And that’s the first, most obvious and wonderful reminder of the statement that “Jesus is Lord.”  Christianity is well known for its exclusivist claims about Jesus.  We quote Jesus’ statement that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except by him.  Unfortunately, we tend to use this as if it was merely a statement by Jesus that no one goes to heaven when they die apart from Jesus.  While that’s true, I wish Christianity was better known for the larger exclusivity claimed for Jesus in that quote and in the statement that “Jesus is Lord.”  When we say that “Jesus is Lord” we’re not just saying Jesus has the exclusive power to give life after death.  We’re saying he has all authority over everything, everywhere, which is more in line with what the gospels seem intent on trying to tell us about him.  He has power over wine and weather, forgiveness and fish, sin and sickness, demons and death. This larger authority is a far, far better and more natural reason for us to become his disciples in this life, than authority over the afterlife alone (which likely why the great commission is phrased like it is).  Who better to follow than the Man with all power and authority over every facet of life?  Really.  Got a better suggestion?  Who and why exactly? 

When someone runs for president of the United States and is expected to have a decent shot at winning, the whole world wants to know what this person is about: what’s their past; what formed them; what are their passions; what does their life’s work so far tell us about them?  What we want to know is this: what is this person going to do with the power and title of the presidency of the United States?  A perfectly reasonable thing to want to know in light of the power of that office to affect so many.  If a U.S. president wants to address the nation, television stations will, in mass, interrupt their typical programs to cover every line.  Why?  Because this person has power to affect many.  His or her intentions are news.

Let me suggest that this is precisely what the gospels do for us, only the office in question is not the presidency of the United States.  The office in question is the throne of David, God’s Messiah, who will lead the whole world with God’s own agenda and power, and whose reign will never end.  Jesus’ ideas of good will cover the earth.  His idea of what’s right is the basis for his judgment. That’s why the gospels don’t often self-describe themselves as “the good news about justification” or something similar.  Rather, they routinely self identify as the good news about Jesus, the Christ (annointed king).  The atonement, thank God, is part of this king’s great deeds, even his greatest, but also thanks to God, it’s not all there is to the ‘gospel’ of Jesus and the government he’s now leading and calling us to receive and enter on the earth.  Because of the power of this government, everything about Jesus, the one Christ-ened with power by God to lead and transform, is news.  The specifics of what he does with God’s power and what he commands and empowers us to do is what makes the news good.

I’ll leave you to the gospels, to Acts, to the letters to find out what all is in this king’s agenda and regular activities.  It’s good, good stuff, though, I’ll tell you that right now.   To quote a favorite hymn, “When Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”  Jesus is Lord.  More to come.