Saturday, November 4, 2023

Table of Hope | The Beauty and Power of Communion

Hapag ng Pag-asa, "Table of Hope" by Joey Velasco

An invitation for the hungry who are skeptical, seeking, or wondering about the life-transforming mystery of encountering Jesus at the Table

One of the most powerful ways Jesus invited us to remember Him and His beautiful sacrifice and service for us is by coming together hungry to be with Him, encountering His presence, receiving from Him at the Communion table with others, and then living life like this table is always before us for others and the life of the world. 

Holy Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper is the meal Jesus joined with His disciples in eating and drinking before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25). It's the meal His first followers across culture and society joined together in the "breaking of bread" to enjoy together (Luke 24:35, Acts 2:42). It's the meal Paul passed along to people across ethnicities and socio-economic status to share and declare Jesus' Kingdom together by remembering His death and resurrection as the beautiful means for reconciliation until He comes again to make all things new (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). 

And it's the meal of the Story of God. I love how Presbyterian pastor and theologian Peter Leithart puts it in his book, Blessed are the Hungry:

What happens in holy communion? I wish to say: “We, as children of Adam and Eve, are offered the trees of the garden; as sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, we celebrate a victory feast in the King’s Valley; as holy ones, we receive holy food; as Israel, we feed on the land of milk and honey; as exiles returned to Zion, we eat marrow and fat, and drink wine on the lees; we who are many are made one loaf, and commune with the body and blood of Christ; we are the bride celebrating the marriage supper of the Lamb ... at the Lord’s table we commit ourselves to shun the table of evil.” The Lord’s Supper is the world in miniature; it has cosmic significance. Within it we find clues to the meaning of all creation and all history, to the nature of God and the nature of man, to the mystery of the world, which is Christ. It is not confined to the first day, for its power fills seven. Though the table stands at the center, its effects stretch out to the four corners of the earth. + pgs. 11-13 

The Names for the Meal Jesus Gave Us

Anglican theologian N.T. Wright in The Meal Jesus Gave Us provides background for the multiple names for this meal in Chapter 7: Putting the Story Together Today:

(1) The first was simply "the breadbreaking." The early Christians in Acts 2:42 met together to "break bread," and presumably this doesn't mean simply "to eat together." This was the breadbreaking which spoke of Jesus and his death.
(2) The second phrase was "the sharing (i.e. Communion)," which is the English translation of a Greek word you may have heard, koinonia. Another translation of that same word is "communion," which means that we are communing, or sharing, in the death and risen life of Jesus (as well as communing with one another as we do so) like it is used in Philippians 2:1-2 (i.e. having the same love) and 1 Corinthians 10:16 (i.e. participation in the blood and body of Christ).
(3) The third name was "the thank-you meal (i.e. Eucharist)." Jesus always said "thank you" to God; the Church, in breaking the bread and pouring out the wine, says "thank you" to God for what he did in Jesus. The Greek for "thank you" is eucharisteo (perhaps you've heard modern Greeks say this, pronounced efaristo), and some of the earliest Christians therefore called the meal "the Eucharist" in reference to how Jesus gave thanks for the meal (Luke 22:19) and blessed it (Luke 24:30) and how Paul calls it the cup of blessing that we bless (1 Corinthians 10:16). This is perhaps the most common word for the meal in use among Christians around the world today.
(4) The fourth name was "the Lord's Meal," or "the Lord's Supper." "Supper" sounds rather strange in some ways today, because that English word now normally refers to an evening meal, whereas this meal was and is celebrated, often enough, first thing in the morning. However, since Jesus' original meal was an evening one, and our Jesus-meals look back to that event it has its own point to make. Paul also referred to it as the table of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:21).
(5)  The fifth name, "Go  you are sent out" (i.e. Mass), didn't come into use until a bit later. When Christianity reached Rome, and when the meal became regularly celebrated in the Latin language (most Christians in Rome spoke Greek as their first language until well into the second century at least), the end of the meal would be signaled by the person presiding saying, "Go  you are sent out." This, as we shall see, is a powerful part of the whole event, as those who have fed upon the death and risen life of King Jesus are equipped to serve him in the world. The Latin for this phrase is "ite  missa est." From this there developed the word "Mass," the meal that ends with this sending-out, this commissioning as we see with the disciples after breaking bread with some in Emmaus, eating with them in Jerusalem, and then sending them with power to be His witnesses into the world (Luke 24:30-49).

Wright sums up all of the above when he writes in Chapter 10: A Taste of What's to Come:

The Jesus-Meal brings together sacrifice (Lord’s Supper), feast (breaking bread, Communion), and thanksgiving (Eucharist) so we can live as His sent ones (Mass). This is the food that assures us we are on the right road, and that the God who began a good work in us, and now feeds us with his own life, the life of his own Son, will bring that good work to completion when all things are made new and we stand at last in the presence of Jesus himself. This meal is designed by the Father, by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, to bring a taste of things to come, fresh grapes from the land of promise for those at present wandering in the dusty desert. “As often as you eat this bread,” said Paul, “and drink this cup, you announce the Lord’s death until he comes.” Held secure between past and future – God’s past, God’s future – we go forward on our journey strengthened and given hope. And between faith and hope we are given love, because we are given Jesus’ own presence. + pgs. 52, 58

Key Emmaus City Church sermons and liturgies related to this meal that expound on it more are:

The Lord's Supper: Beholding Beauty and Offering Repentance   
Communion: Practicing Forgiveness and Reconciliation   

Themes Displayed at the Communion Table

I've also found that when encountered together every week, there are powerful revelations that Communion unveils in how Jesus is with us and drawing us into His story again and again:

  • Redemption: Jesus meets us where we are and invites us to be welcomed home and eternally valued as we turn from the mirror and turn to the One who was without any flaw and revealed our eternal value to God by covering all of our flaws (Luke 5:32; 2 Corinthians 5:21). When we turn or repent from the things that are temporary that we have used to attempt to satisfy our deepest desires, and turn to Jesus, the One who lived and died for us, who broke His body and poured out His blood for us, our shame and sin is covered and washed away and we are made new in Him. He has redeemed us, not only buying us back from everything we've sold ourselves out to and the deathly toll we have been paying to isolate ourselves, but setting us free from our slavery so that we can step into the light and truly be loved and love in return.
  • Reconciliation: At the table, we not only see visibly the good news that Jesus lived and died for us, but that He made a way for us to be reconciled to the One who made us and loves us. We also see that if we have been forgiven this much, then we need also to forgive. Jesus taught us to pray, " ... and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us ... (Luke 11:4)." The table not only speaks to how God has reconciled us to Him, but that we need to offer our tables in our ministry of reconciliation to those who have been hurt by us, or who we have hurt, and offer the same grace across relationships, cultures, and ethnicities, as well as where racial divides have occurred (2 Corinthians 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:13-19).
  • Restoration: We all need food to live. Our strength and energy will be sapped without it. But the food in this world only provides temporary relief. Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). In Him, we find fulfillment to know who we are and how to live. We know that we are loved because He gave His life for us (1 John 3:16). In knowing Jesus and what He did for us, we do not need to thirst or hunger after other things to fulfill us, but can receive from Him to live abundantly in and through the restoration He gives us (John 4:13-14). 
  • Renewal: Jesus told the disciples that He would not drink of the cup of the new covenant again with them until He returned with His kingdom (Luke 22:17-20). In the meantime, He is preparing a place for us, interceding for us and making us new to reflect Him as we continue to celebrate the first Lord's Supper (John 14:3; Romans 8:34; 2 Corinthians 5:17). And when He comes again, we will be joined with Him at His Marriage Supper of the Lamb when He finalizes His work of making all things new (Revelation 19:9Revelation 21:5).

For seven words to help further explore the themes above, while also expanding into even more of the wonder offered in this table of hope, check out A Holy Meal: The Lord's Supper in the Life of the Church in which Gordon T. Smith powerfully reflects on The Lord's Supper as a gracious means of (1) Remembrance: Memorial; (2) Communion: Fellowship with Christ and One Another; (3) Forgiveness: Table of Mercy; (4) Covenant: Renewal of Baptismal Vows; (5) Nourishment: Bread from Heaven; (6) Anticipation: Declaration of Hope; and (7) Eucharist: Joyous Thanksgiving Celebration as we participate in personal and communal understanding and embodied experience of Jesus providing for us from Himself.

This Meal is to Empower, Enrich, and Enable Us to Embody the Life of Christ for the Sake of the World

This wonderful meal also provides a fulfillment and a focus for why God is restoring us as Reformed theologian and professor Michael Goheen shares in his classic, A Light to the Nations:

The Lord's Supper is another means by which Christ gives His Kingdom life to His people by the work of the Spirit. ... At the time of Jesus, this meal's significance was interpreted by most Jews as not only looking back to what God had accomplished in Egypt but also looking forward eagerly to what God was going to do with the coming of the Kingdom. ... If we put this in the context of the unfolding story of Israel, we see that, like baptism, the eucharistic meal is charged with eschatological and missional significance. It is a meal that is to nourish restored Israel in its kingdom life. It is the means by which God's people are empowered and enabled to embody the life of Christ for the sake of the world as they participate in what was accomplished in the crucifixion. This is so because Christ Himself is present in the meal and gives His own life to His people. + pg. 142

Five Prayers for Those Considering Communion 

Below are five prayers adapted from Worship By the Book that provide invitation for trusting in Jesus during the meal, and give voice to the longing in our hearts to be welcomed at this gracious table of God.

Prayer for those searching for beauty and goodness
Lord Jesus, if what You claim is true, please guide me, teach me, and open to me the reality of who You are. Grant that I might be undaunted by the cost of following You. As I consider the reasons for doing so, give me an  understanding for You that is wondrous, convincing, and that leads to the life that You promise. Amen.

Prayer of trust
Lord Jesus, I admit that I am weaker and more needy than I ever before believed, but, through You, I am more loved and welcomed than I ever dared to hope. I thank You for loving me, bearing my shame and guilt on the cross, and offering me forgiveness and new life. Knowing that You have been raised from the dead, I turn from my striving to find life elsewhere and receive You as my Savior and Redeemer. Amen.

Prayer of commitment to Jesus
Lord Jesus,  You have called us to follow You in baptism and in a life of committed to You, to Your family, the Church, and to others throughout the world. Grant that I may take the necessary steps to be one with Your people, and live in the fullness of Your Spirit. Amen. 

Prayer for those struggling
Lord Jesus, grant that I may see in You the fulfillment of all my needs, and may turn from every false satisfaction to feed on You, the true and living Bread and drink of You, the Vine of the best wine. Enable me to lay aside the temptations and sins that cling so closely, and run with You and others the journey set before me, looking only to You, the Author and Finisher of my faith. Amen. 

Prayer for the believer
Father, I come now to Your table, to partake of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. I ask that You would search my heart and show me what I may repent of so that I may turn to You and embrace Your promises anew. Although I am unworthy of such free, powerful, and loving grace, You have made me worthy. Though I am often two-faced, You have turned Your face to me and covered all my betrayals and lies by Your very own body and blood. May You be glorified in our partaking of Your sacrament together as hungry and thirsty children who are welcomed at Your table. Amen.

Considering the prayers above, which resonates with you the most in your life right now? 

Would you consider praying one of the above in a small step of faith even if you're not sure you believe in God and don't really know Jesus? Or if you've been distant from His Church, would you consider reconciling, as He has reconciled Himself to you, and connect with His family again? For those who partake of Communion with Jesus and His Church, Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks beautifully in Life Together: 

As (we) are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord so will they be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and his community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament. + pg. 122

With Emmaus City Church, we ask you to join with us sometime and consider, "Why are people so thankful that God has shared His life with them through Jesus in this meal?" Author Ann Voskamp provides a thoughtful answer that I'll close this post with:

There might not be a bone in your body that wants to deal with today. And the kids might be darn grumpy or you'll go to be with the church and then it's somebody else's kids falling apart and the pastor or priest has had a hard week and he's winging it a bit and it's all falling flatter than he'd care to admit. And you're straggling in feeling, honestly, a bit disheveled and bruised from a week that's got you swinging on the end of a fraying, thin thread of faith alone, and it doesn't matter if you're wearing your brokenness bold for the world to see today, or if this is the the week you, or anybody else, is burying the brokenness under pressed and ironed clothes. Every single one of us is The Busted who needs a space of grace. Every single brave, beautiful one of us is The Busted who needs a space at the table to feast on great platters of grace and heaping dishes of mercy and brimming pitchers of hope. So, let it happen, this swinging open of the doors of the sanctuaries, this making the Table of the Lord longer, this laying out a spread of grace - The Busted who are the Beloved just coming together for a washing of wounds and a communion of refreshment and endless draughts of great grace.

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

Email Pastor Mike | Website Visit Us | Support Us | Facebook Us 

No comments:

Post a Comment