Sunday, June 22, 2008

At the Table: Unauthorized Worship, Part 3

The Passover meal was celebrated by Israel at twilight, in haste, on the fourteenth day of their first month each year, by command of God. The commandments and specifications regarding it were numerous, and always tied to the story of God saving Israel with a mighty hand from captivity in Egypt. The penalty for disobedience was strict: to be cut off - excommunicated - from the people of Israel.

The only exception that God made was a time when the nation re-instituted the practice on the fourteenth day of the second month after many years of not observing it at all (2 Chronicles 30).

No stranger to the commanded custom of Passover, Jesus told his closest followers that He had looked forward to celebrating it with them in Jerusalem that final time.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. ~ Luke 22:14-20


No one in Israel's history before was ever recorded as identifying the matzoh with a body, let alone his own. No one was quoted as identifying the blood of the grape as human blood, certainly not his own. The hint of cannibalism would have taken the Israelite of century one back to days when Samaria and later, Jerusalem, had been under siege and about which a song of lament asked, "Look, O LORD, and consider: Whom have you ever treated like this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for?" That abomination had been prophesied early on by God Himself (Leviticus 26:29).

Jesus was also no stranger to their disgust at the notion; He had encountered it while teaching in Capernaum (John 6:43-66).

Nothing in the law permitted anyone to speak in such a way about the Passover as He did at the table, nor to turn it in any direction away from that moment of God's salvation from slavery in Egypt.

But Jesus had a greater salvation to achieve for all people and all time - not just Israel of 2,500 years before - and He had in mind this meal as the way His followers would remember it.*

So He innovated.

I don't know what else you can really call it, but "innovation." We can look back on it and say that Passover and the Lord's Supper were type and fulfillment; but that is the advantage that hundreds of years of history gives us. For the people around the table in the upper room, it was innovation: taking something familiar and putting it to a use it had never had before; it was the act of starting something for the first time; it was a change in customs and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites.

And those who followed Jesus adopted it as a new part of their culture. They recognized His authority as the Son of God to institute it.

But how often did they observe it?

If they followed the 2,500-year-old pattern of Israel, they would have celebrated it one time a year, on the fourteenth day of the first month.

If the term "broke bread" has the same significance in Acts 2:42-47 as it does later in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:16, they did so frequently; perhaps as often as daily, or at least weekly.

Do we have a record of how often Jesus instructed them to observe it?

The closest we can come is Paul's recollection of the event - which was related to him either by man or God's Spirit, since he was not present at it - and that is the phrase " 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). The first "whenever" seems to be quoting Jesus. The second seems to be Paul's reminder.

How often is "whenever"?

Obviously, the when of it is not nearly so important as the how of the Supper: in remembrance.

So, it would seem, at the table Jesus left to His followers the privilege of innovation as well - regarding the when of it. And perhaps sometimes it was daily, and sometimes it was weekly. (One can only assume weekly from Acts 20:7 from the fact that no mention was made of breaking bread at the Feast of Unleavened Bread - the Passover - twelve days before when the mission team was at Philippi.)

Most church fellowships would argue convictedly that Sunday - the first day of the week - is the only day authorized by scripture to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Some hold for weekly observance; others for annually or even semi-annually.

But I have to wonder, in view of two things:
  • the early followers' enthusiasm and the possibility that they may have celebrated it daily

  • the implication even from the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 30) that the penitence of heart was more crucial than the date of the Passover

... I have to wonder if the how has always been more important than the when with regard to feasting in honor of God's salvation among us.

And I have to wonder if we aren't, in fact, expected to innovate in some matters of when we celebrate that communicate the grateful, penitent, anticipatory how of our hearts.




*Someday I hope to blog about why I believe the Bible is one testament, though two covenants.

15 comments:

preacherman said...

Wonderful thoughts.
Thank you brother for this wonderful post. I love the questions you ask and the scripture that is so plain to us. God bless you for searching the truth for each of us. I like it that you challenge us and make us think outside the box. Keep up the great work Keith.
I hope you have a blessed week!

laymond said...

long post, long comment--
“... I have to wonder if the how has always been more important than the when with regard to feasting in honor of God's salvation among us.”

I don’t see where there is any doubt that the how is the most important factor involved here.
“ The commandments and specifications regarding it were numerous, and always tied to the story of God saving Israel with a mighty hand from captivity in Egypt. The penalty for disobedience was strict: to be cut off - excommunicated - from the people of Israel.”

1Cor:11:27: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

“No stranger to the commanded custom of Passover, Jesus told his closest followers that He had looked forward to celebrating it with them in Jerusalem that final time.”

Two things more we know from scripture is, Jesus’ closest followers were Jews, and the people to whom he spoke were those Jewish friends.
Could it be Jesus was saying to those in attendance, when you celebrate freedom from Egypt brought by God, through Moses, also celebrate freedom from eternal death, which was brought by God, through the Son of God. Two reasons for the Jew to celebrate, I don’t see anywhere, that anyone but the Jew should celebrate Passover.

We take for granted that all instructions given in the bible apply to all Christians, followers of Christ, before and after the sacrifice.
We need to remember Paul was Jewish as well.

Adam Gonnerman said...

My main concern with the "when" is more pragmatic that doctrinal. Then again, there are theological motives for what I'm thinking here, I guess.

"When" should involve, I think, a time when a larger body of believers can be gathered. The local congregation as a whole, perhaps. My reason for saying this is that I've heard stories over the years of college students having the Lord's Supper in their dorm rooms.

Please don't think I'm attacking anyone. The motives for a few guys in a dorm room praying and breaking bread can be very good. It's just that "discerning the body" seems to relate to the body of Christ, the church, and making the Lord's Supper an act of private or semi-private worship seems to go against the spirit of the practice.

Also, it seems to elevate the Lord's Supper higher than it ought, and denigrate to some extent the power and value of other collective disciplines, like prayer, worship and fasting.

laymond said...

Adam might be right, but I don’t think so. At least I don’t see where Jesus required a large crowd to be present.

Mt:26:17: Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?

Mt:26:18: And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.

Mt:26:19: And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.

He could have said gather together the multitudes, but he didn't. He said find a private dwelling.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Laymond,

I'm beginning to remember why I got so tired of internal discussions in the Restoration Movement. It's such a minor point, I don't feel like pursuing it much beyond this point.

My only concern is that the declaration of Christ's death and the discernment of Christ's body (the church) not be reduced to a matter of private spirituality.

Personal discipleship involves a very public faith.

That's it.

Keith Brenton said...

The first Last Supper (that sounds strange) would have been celebrated in what was probably a private dwelling or a space for rent, among thirteen or so fellows, on a Wednesday or Thursday night ... wouldn't it?

Sunday morning is the time that many saints gather, and we do so with the reminder in the back (or even the forefront!) of our minds that He rose on the first day of the week, and offers new life forever.

I agree that, like Passover, this meal of remembrance probably wasn't intended a private observance; rather, as a communal one - a family one.

I don't believe we're wrong to make a sacrament out of something Jesus asked us to do, but is that really what He had in mind?

We so often limit the discernment of His body to the crucified body, without recognizing the resurrected one and the spiritual "body" of which we're a part. Sometimes we try to commune with Him, without communing with others. I don't think that's the point of it at all. We could do that at home, in a closet, as part of our prayers.

What we do when we commune is proclaim His death until He comes; testify of our belief that Jesus died and was resurrected to others, and receive that blessing of validation and communal faith from others.

laymond said...

Keith said; I agree that, like Passover, this meal of remembrance probably wasn't intended a private observance; rather, as a communal one - a family one.

The word probably, you inserted in your statement makes me think you are not certain.

Keith is it OK in your opinion to offer a second serving at the evening service, for those who were not present in the morning, and should everyone present partake?

What about those who deliver the bread and wine to the shut-ins should there be at least a party of 12 present, and should they all partake even if they had already had the meal that morning?
What if you were the only one present, would it be better to just skip it?
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the "Lords Supper"

Adam Gonnerman said...

I really wasn't going to say anything more, but I can't resist.

We're getting into the area of hermeneutics again, and though I agree that no matter what we do we are going to be following some sort of "pattern," there is no way we can have an answer for every detail. The "command, example and necessary inference" method is profoundly disrespectful to the Scriptures as literature. Inspired by God, yes, but exhibited differing genres, audiences and intents.

We will not have an answer for everything, so I think the only way forward is to allow for best judgment, respect for one another and for congregational autonomy but also love.

Keith Brenton said...

Laymond, I'll answer you because you asked my opinion. And I think the post makes it clear that I believe the early disciples were probably left a lot of discretion in the observance of Jesus' feast of remembrance.

I think there's no minimum number; no once-a-day restriction; no time-of-day restriction. I think it's sad when folks take emblems of communion to others but will not commune with them because they already have done so at "big church." Does this meal lose significance with frequency? Or gain it? That's a question one can only answer in his/her own heart.

I think it's wrong to deny the fellowship of this meal to anyone, and not just by serving it only at a morning gathering of the saints. (Is a celebrant to be excluded because his/her job includes a Sunday morning shift or travel?) It's tantamount to judgment of others, if not judgment pure and simple. It's exclusionary. I don't know if the communion meal has the same significance to someone who is not a follower of Christ as it does to someone who is. That's just it. I don't know. So it really shouldn't be up to me to decide, should it?

Take a few moments to read - or, better yet, listen to agnostic writer Sara Miles' change of heart when she was offered a morsel of bread at a San Francisco church: This I Believe: Strangers Bring Us Closer to God.

Then you tell me definitively and authoritatively whether Christians should have closed or open communion.

laymond said...

Quote Keith ; What we do when we commune is proclaim His death until He comes; testify of our belief that Jesus died and was resurrected to others

Quote Keith also “I don't know if the communion meal has the same significance to someone who is not a follower of Christ as it does to someone who is.”

I look at these two statements and wonder, did the same man say both? How can it possibly mean the same thing to a non believer as it does to the one who believes Christ died and was raised by God into eternal life.
Keith I read the S. Miles statement, and surely you don’t believe she became part of the body of Christ without repentance and baptism, do you.?

Quote S. Miles; that by eating a piece of bread, I'd experience myself as part of one body. This I believe: that by opening ourselves to strangers, we will taste God.

Quote Adam Gonnerman; Also, it seems to elevate the Lord's Supper higher than it ought, and denigrate to some extent the power and value of other collective disciplines, like prayer, worship and fasting.

And I might add repentance and baptism.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Repentance may sometimes need to be collective, but in the process of becoming a disciple it is personal. Baptism is not a "collective discipline." It may be public, but it doesn't seem to require anyone other than one to lower into the water, and the person being baptized.

Mmmmmm...hairsplitting. I'd best be careful. My renewed contacts in the Churches of Christ might lead me back down the wrong track again.

Keith Brenton said...

What did I say that led you believe I can decide whether a writer in San Francisco is part of the body of Christ, laymond? I don't know all about her relationship with Christ; I know how it began ... with a morsel of bread. She "got it." She understood what Christ was about: the bread of life.

I have to ask myself, how many times have I had a morsel of bread in my mouth and I just didn't "get it"?

That's what I meant, laymond. Not judgment. Not deciding the innies and outies. God is far better equipped to do that than I will ever be.

laymond said...

Keith; if you noticed, the caption under the picture said she was a member at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. And unless I have been misled, like the Catholic church , they do place greater value on the communion than on water immersion. I also have heard of a lot of good things they do for the downtrodden in their community. may God bless them for that. We should all be more like them in that respect.

Adam; I know repentance and baptism is a personal thing between you and your God. I might have said it better ,if I had said in the case of the lady, what she said about the chunk of bread lowered the value of repentance and baptism.
in my opinion.

May God bless you both

David U said...

Keith, I am on the road and wanted to be blessed..........so like many times before, I went to your blog! AWESOME post, brother! I agree with every insight you made in this post. I won't communicate them at this time, but I have some strong convictions about how we have gotten FAR FAR away from the original intent of the Supper.

Thanks for the blessing!
DU

preacherman said...

Keith,
I really enjoyed the discussion. I think you and adam are really doing a great job with the point. You have really opened my mind up. I apprecaite you brother!