Thursday, March 19, 2020

Experiencing Good News: Celebrating the Presence of Christ in Communion Together

We live in a world that hungers for Eucharist: the sweet fellowship people experience in the presence of Christ. + David Fitch

In continuing to consider the Gospel of Jesus after reflecting on 
Praying Good NewsSharing Good News, Working Good NewsReconciling Good NewsForgiving Good NewsBefriending Good News, and 
World-Altering Good News, we are now going to take a deeper look at another crucial aspect of the abundant life Jesus offers: Experiencing Good News.

David Fitch provides thoughtful considerations on how to experience Jesus' Good News at the Lord's Table in Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for MissionThrough Fitch's inviting and compelling storytelling and scholarship as a church planting pastor and theologian, the seven disciplines | practices of:

(1) The Lord's Table, 
(2) Reconciliation, 
(3) Proclaiming the Gospel, 
(4) Being with the "Least of These," 
(5) Being with Children, 
(6) Plurality of Diversely Gifted Leaders, and 
(7) Kingdom Prayer 

are showcased in Jesus'-glorifying fashion.

For this post, I wanted to record some of the excerpts from Faithful Presence that help prepare us to come to the meal of Jesus with anticipation, hope, and worship as we consider again the incredible gift of the Eucharist or Communion Meal Jesus passed on to us as the Lord's Table.

Shaped to see Jesus at the Lord's Table and at the Tables of Our Neighbors

Every time we gather here around our Lord's Table we are being discipled into a discerning posture that trains our eyes, minds, and hearts to discern the real presence of Christ among us. As we are being led to partake of the Lord's Table, we are being shaped to discern his presence here first and then in the world. We are being shaped to see Jesus, recognize him, and join what he is doing around the various tables of our lives.

| 1 | We are shaped into a posture of submission at the Lord's Table. We can't come to the Lord's Table apart from submitting to his presence and all of what is happening around this table. Jesus illustrated it in Luke 22, when the disciples were posturing for power and position he said, "not so with you" (vv. 24-26). He then inaugurates the table with the words "As my Father has conferred on me, so I confer on you a kingdom" (vs. 29). He in effect announces that a new kind of authority will be manifest around this table, and it will be manifest in submission to one another (vv. 25, 29-30). Indeed, he models this by washing the disciples' feet around the table. In this posture the kingdom and His presence is revealed. God is love, so he comes to be among us. This means that by surrendering to his presence we open up space for him to work and to discern his work among us and in the world. This is the way God works in Christ. The table teaches us how to submit to his presence and then to do the same when we sit at all the various tables of our neighborhood. It relieves us from trying to control or to coerce the neighborhood.

| 2 | We are shaped at the Lord's Table into a posture of receiving. At the beginning of the Lord's Table, we always give thanks. Thanksgiving is fundamental to the act of coming to the table. It's the first thing we do as we gather around the table and is why the historic church has called the table Eucharist, the Greek term for "thanksgiving" or "gratefulness." Every time we give thanks before we eat at a table, we are enacting this tradition of the Lord's Table. Giving thanks opens us to receive from God. It opens space for the blessings of the kingdom. In many of the ancient liturgies we must cup our hands in order to receive the bread. The wafer is placed in the open hand (or sometimes an open mouth). We must receive the bread, not take it. It is the same for the cup. In many ancient liturgies we are not allowed to take hold of the cup, only receive it as poured into our mouth. I believe this posture of receiving is essential as we go into the world to discern Christ. As we sit, listen, and be present with our neighbors, we release control and open our lives to receive the ever-surprising work of God. We open space to receive from God what he would do instead of imposing our expectations on him and others.

| 3 | We are shaped at the Lord's Table into a posture of ceasing to strive. Similar to submission and related to giving thanks, part of tending to Christ's presence at the table is quieting our egos. All of us must release the urge to control and to solve problems. We instead become present to Christ in this space among us. I take this to be the dynamic exposed in Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus comes to the home of Mary and Martha. The text reports that "Martha was distracted by her many tasks" (vs. 40), trying to get things in order and under control. In her busyness Martha becomes perturbed and asks Jesus to admonish her sister, Mary, to help Martha. Jesus replies, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing" (vv. 41-42). Cease the striving and be present to me. Around the table there is a presence that puts my own concerns on the back burner as I tend to the other person before me. When eating at a table in the neighborhood, especially when I am the host, I must learn to quiet my ego. I must also gently point others away from their own self-absorptions. We must tend to the presence of Christ in our midst, what is happening with the other person. We must not draw attention to ourselves. Trust builds from this, which in turn opens a space for Jesus to work. We learn all of this at the Lord's Table.

| 4 | We are shaped as the Lord's Table sets into motion the social dynamic of forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and renewal of all thingsThe Lord's Table rehearses (Greek anamnesis) Christ's death and resurrection. It is Christ's body broken for us: the forgiveness of sins. The cup we share, Jesus says, is the cup of the new covenant in his blood, the new relationship we have with God the Father, the renewal of all things in the Spirit. And so each time we take the bread, we open ourselves to his forgiveness anew. This forgiveness governs our life together. Each time we receive the elements, we are rehearsing our reconciliation with God and one another in Christ. Reconciliation governs our relationships. Each time we receive the cup, we open ourselves to receive the new covenant in his blood, the new relationship with God the Father through the Son by the Spirit. All that has been made possible via the Holy Spirit is opened to us anew. This space around the table therefore shapes us into the logic of Christ's forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewal of all things. It opens up space for the work of the Holy Spirit to forgive, heal, reconcile, and to share grace and miracles of renewal. In the Spirit unimaginable things can now happen. And when we leave this table, this way of relating goes with us into the world. It shapes our discerning of what God in Christ is doing in all our relationships.

How Does Experiencing the Lord's Table Each Week Together Shape Us Towards Submission, Receiving, Ceasing, Forgiveness of Sins, Reconciliation, and the Renewal of All Things Through Christ?

All churches incorporate the "words of institution" as the means to remember together (or bring into the present, anamnesis, 1 Cor. 11:24) the meaning of the bread and wine. "This is my body that is for you." "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11:24-25). 

There is almost always a communal invitation to peace and reconciliation prior to the table. The presiding leader challenges all believers to make sure there be no enmity between us as we come to the table. For as the apostle declares, because of the divisions among the Corinthians, they are in essence denying the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:18-20). 

There is almost always a prayer of thanksgiving and a blessing that inaugurates the celebration of the table. The table, after all, is called the Eucharist (which means "thanksgiving") because it begins with a great thanksgiving, an offering of a blessing to God for all he has done through history. It opens us up to receiving from him and each other as we eat this meal. 

Usually the Holy Spirit is invited to this table (called the epiklesis), making possible the living and real presence of Christ at the meal. Then there is the actual breaking and distribution of the bread and sharing of the cup. This becomes a meal we ingest into our bodies as the very basis of life itself.

In essence, all we have is transformed into his purposes around the table. We believe that this abundance shared around the table will flow forth from the table through the whole of our lives and then return all over again. This table foreshadows the messianic feast to be consummated in the future ("so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (vs. 30)). The table, post-resurrection, is the beginning of the fulfillment of his kingdom.

For more thoughts on the Lord's Table, also check out 

+ Table of Hope | The Beauty and Power of Communion with Jesus and All Who Come Hungry and Thirsty

Previous Good News posts: 

Praying Good News: Believing the Simply Good News of Praying the "Our Father" or Lord's Prayer 
Sharing Good News: Getting Beyond the Awkward and Talking about Jesus Outside Our Comfort Zones 
Working Good News: Discipling for Monday through Friday in Our Work and Workplaces 
Reconciling Good News: Moving with God in Welcoming Justice and Building Beloved Community 
Forgiving Good News: Making Peace Through the Divine Dance of Forgiveness  
Befriending Good News: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission with Friends Who Live Life on the Margins
World-Altering Good News: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities

Next post: Groaning Good News: Making Peace with Creation and Each Other Through King Jesus, Our Creator and Reconciler

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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