God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 3

Now the important question for us to answer on this night concerns the Lord’s command that we do this eating and drinking until He returns. It is not stated as a suggestion but it is presented by Jesus as a new responsibility for His people. Some describe it as an ordinance or a law, but I find that somewhat troubling. It is ordinance in that we are told to do it, but it is so much more than that, for it is indeed a great gift of life for all who believe. Believers are told to commune, but in communing we receive that which strengthens us and prepares us to go forth into the world as living examples of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In a sense, the Sacrament is medicine for a sin sick soul.

All of us are physical creatures. We experience the world physically. If we burn ourselves it hurts. If we dive into a pool we become wet. If we walk out on a bright spring day we feel the sun on our faces and the breeze in our hair. We are not created to be simply minds carried about by bodies, but discreet from the body. God created mankind to be this way because this is how He wants us to be.

When I read about Jesus I have a mental experience of Jesus, sometimes even a soul experience of Jesus, but I do not have a physical experience of Jesus and His presence in my life and in the world. As important as Scripture is to our faith, and it would be hard to overstate how important it is, it cannot give us that physical experience we as physical beings crave and need. Let me give you a personal example. Our youngest granddaughter lives 500 miles away from us. We get to see pictures of her and even brief little “films” of her activities and that keeps us up to date on her growth. What we don’t often get is the opportunity to hold her or kiss her or even to change her diapers. Our general experience of Hailey is more in our minds than in our bodies. Anyone who has ever been separated from someone they love will understand why you want to hug and kiss that person the first chance you get.

As God who became incarnate, Jesus understood this as well as you and I do. And He knew how important it would be for us to be refreshed and strengthened by His true presence as we face the adversities of life and the persecutions large and small that can confront a true follower of the Risen Lord. So He instituted this Sacrament where He truly comes to us and where we truly experience Him in the most intimate way imaginable. When we receive the elements of the Sacrament we are deeply and personally and physically engaged with God. Trying to explain this is fruitless, but accepting the words, “This is my Body given for you”, “This is my blood shed for many for the forgiveness of sins”, is the pearl of great price for us. It is a taste of what heaven will be like.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that at the heart of God’s restoration of His people there would be a new covenant that would be grounded in a new relationship of knowing God and in the forgiving and forgetting of our sins. This is the promise kept, this is the Word fulfilled each time we come to the chancel rail and take a wafer and a tiny bit of wine.

Maundy Thursday is sometimes called Holy Thursday. It is indeed, friends, it is indeed. Amen.

For parts one and two see:

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 1

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 2

 

Living as a Family with One Another

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

When I read these verses from the book of Acts, the negro spiritual, Let Us Break Bread Together comes immediately to my mind.  The church is a family, and we should spend time worshipping, praising, praying, celebrating the sacraments, and sharing with one another.  Every day is a chance to be together with other brothers and sisters in Christ.  Are you making the most of that opportunity?

Family Faith, Part 2

This continues my post from yesterday about passing on the faith.

I also noticed how children pick up on the special sacredness of the sacraments.. My girls would crane their necks and smile when a baby was baptized.  Then they might ask about their own baptism; one little boy at our current church, stands up straight and tall, like a little soldier, as the Pastor blesses him during the Lord’s Supper.  He’s proud to be one of Gods’ people.

Do you think children aren’t paying attention during the service?  They are.  Here are just a few of the questions my daughters and granddaughter asked me over the years:

Why is one of the advent candles pink?

What is a diadem?

What is that big candle (the Christ candle) and why don’t we light it all the time?

Why does the Pastor turn his back on the congregation while we pray?

And finally (hilariously) ….Why does granddaddy, (the Pastor), need all that money?

These are important, teachable moments, which I cherished and used to initiate discussions about what we believe and why we do the things we do.

Of course, there are many traditions that take place outside of the sanctuary.  Through these my children learned that the household of God is just like any other family. They got together to have fun and learn (Vacation Bible School), eat (Lenten soup dinners), make some money  (annual yard sale), decorate (especially the big Christmas tree!), play games (New Year’s Eve party), take a turn at cleaning the church (not a big favorite) and help others (like the Group Home residents who were members of our congregation).  Memories like these reinforce Christian values.  Little by little they shape our identity.  They influence how we think, what we value and what we do.  Together the separate pieces of congregational life create a beautiful mosaic that depicts the life of Christ in his body, the Church.

So, what can I say? Make the traditions of the church your family traditions.  The foundation you build will last through eternity.

 

A Feast to Remember

Recently, in honor of Veteran’s Day, my husband and I were invited to dinner at a friends’ house.  There were a number of veterans there, and as we ate, they sat around the table telling stories about their time in the military.  There were funny stories and scary stories;  there were stories about the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Merchant Marines;  there were stories about the Vietnam War, World War II, Korea and Qatar.  All these men (and one woman) had a shared experience and it was good to have an opportunity to remember it together.

The ancient Israelites had a feast like this as well,  called Passover.  The Passover was a time to repeat and remember their experience as slaves in Egypt and how the Lord rescued them.  Even though the people celebrating the feast had not participated in the actual events, God wanted them to remember it as part of their personal history, part of their life as God’s people.

As Christians, we celebrate a regular feast as well.  Some name it The Lord’s Supper, others Holy Communion or the Mass, depending on the denomination.  We also come together to remember an experience from our history as a people, the night that Jesus last ate and drank with His disciples before His Crucifixion and Resurrection. For Lutherans, it is much more than just a symbol — it is Christ Himself, coming to us in His body and blood, what we call “the real presence.”  Here’s some of what Martin Luther says we receive in this feast:

“For here in the sacrament [Communion] you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils” (The Large Catechism — p. 98).

Luther said we should partake of this sacrament often.  Why would we want to miss out, simply to sleep in?  A feast is set for us.  A feast where we meet with Jesus and our fellow believers, to not only remember, but receive His blessings today.  It gives us strength and nourishment for daily living.  Don’t miss out — did you go to the feast this week?

Learning from the Liturgy

I’ve always belonged to a liturgical church and I can’t imagine my spiritual life without it.  The liturgy isn’t just a ritual;  it doesn’t lose meaning because it’s familiar.  The liturgy is a powerful tool for teaching.

In the liturgy, I learn to know Christ better.  I meet Jesus through the words of Scripture, the confession and absolution, the sacrament and the sermon.  It’s personal.  Jesus speaks to me through these human and physical means.

Liturgy teaches me that my faith isn’t just about me and God.  It’s about me, God, and my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I’m joined with my fellow members in a mystical way that doesn’t happen anywhere else. We become one body as we sing, recite the creeds, and pray.  I see Christ on the faces of others and I know that they see Him in me.

Through the liturgy, I learn to feel comfortable in the larger church.  If I visit another Lutheran congregation while traveling, I find myself at home in the faith.  The service may be more contemporary, the logistics of communion different, but the elements of the liturgy themselves provide a reassuring familiarity.  I belong without knowing a single person’s name.  This comfort runs through time as well as place.  The earliest Christian services from the 4th and 5th century are strikingly similar to the Lutheran liturgy today.  I am connected to my forbears in the faith through our shared worship experience.

My participation in the weekly liturgy makes the unseen real to me.  When we say in our service that we worship along with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” we’re serious.  It is a “foretaste of the feast to come.”  My actions outside the sanctuary take on a heavenly significance and temporal concerns pale.

The liturgy teaches not only through words, but through shared experience.  It can be heard on the lips of preschoolers and whispers of the aged and dying.

The liturgy is the song of the church.  Live with it.  Learn from it. Love it.