Day 288: Matthew 25-26; The Lord's Supper – Passover Rebooted

Today’s reading is likely a familiar narrative for many people.  The story of Jesus’ death is likely the most told story of Christianity, rivaled I think only by the story of His birth.  While there is a lot to cover, and we will cover it, I think this time through I would like to look a bit deeper into the Lord’s supper.  To do this, I would like to offer some thoughts and then I am going to include some writing I have done for our Church recently regarding Communion.  I hope that this writing helps to locate this celebration of the Sacrament a bit more in the context and also give a bit of light to all that we do to celebrate it.  We will talk more about this again too as this is one of the most important parts of Christian Worship.

It is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper is actually an extension of the Passover celebration that has taken place since the time that the Hebrew people were in Egypt.  They were charged to celebrate this feast in remembrance of the night that the Lord “passed over” the people of Israel when He killed all the first born of Egypt.  There is a great deal of symbolic action that takes place here that has to do with sacrifice of a lamb, the use of blood as a marker for exemption from punishment, and even a communal meal together.  All of these things are shadows of what was to come, the fulfillment that would be found in Jesus Christ!  Remember that, especially in the early church, the Passover meal would have been the context in which the Lord’s Supper would have been understood; none of it really made sense to them without this historical fact.  Keep in mind too that, though we live in a different context, this “greatest of sacraments” has a lot deeper meaning than just taking a bread cube or reciting a liturgy.  I hope that the following helps a little.  We will talk more about this in coming posts.  I think it is also important to remember and recognize, as we read today, the different places where Matthew says “to fulfill Scripture” and such.  Again this is important because of the audience that Matthew is writing to and the point he is trying to make.

The Table, part of our response to God, is a very unique time for Christians in the Church.  I would like to take a moment to talk through this time, though I must admit that a moment will hardly do it justice.  Often in the Church, especially the reformed churches we have focused in on one very particular meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and have kept its practice well in check.  Yet in doing this, sometimes we lose the much fuller, richer, and deeper meanings behind our practice of going to the Table.  It is appropriate that we talk about Communion in this week as we prepare for the Church’s celebration of Worldwide Communion Sunday on October 6.

As we approach the Table on our communion Sundays, we often read the same liturgy which talks about the meaning of the sacrament and we say that the Supper which we are about to eat is a feast of “remembrance, communion, and hope.”  Following this, we often explain what it means to remember, to commune, and what we have hope for.  Some liturgies specifically state that the Lord’s Supper is a feast of “Remembrance, Celebration, and Anticipation” for many of the same reasons.  When we come to the Table, we remember the night that Jesus was betrayed as well as His death on the cross through which we receive atonement in His blood.  In this supper we also celebrate, because Christ did not only die, but He has risen from the dead and is ascended into heaven from which He sits and reigns!  We celebrate because our sins our forgiven and we have received grace upon grace!  We also anticipate, and our anticipation comes from the hope that we have that we are not left to struggle on our own, but Christ is with us Spiritually and will one day again be with us on this earth when He comes again in glory!

Along with these three main thematic elements, the Church in the New Testament used several different terms for this sacramental celebration, though they wouldn’t have called it a sacrament back then as the word sacrament actually comes from the Latin word for mystery.  Each of these four terms comes with different Scriptural references and emphasizes different elements of the Table.  The first of these and probably the most familiar to us is “The Lord’s Supper.”  This is referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and points to communion as being the Lord’s Supper.  Here we see an emphasis placed on unity and equality as we come to the Table, reminding us that this Table, this feast is not ours but God’s.  The reference to 1 Corinthians 11 is also one of the foundational texts that were used in writing the Belhar Confession, the RCA’s newest confession emphasizing unity within the Church.  We need to remember this as we come to the Table, that Christ welcomes sinners (including ourselves) at His table to fellowship with Him.

Communion is also a familiar reference to the sacrament of the Table that we celebrate.  The ESV Bible that we now use here at ORC, in 1 Corinthians 10, has substituted the word “communion” for “participation” which only helps us to better understand this particular emphasis.  When we partake of the bread and the cup we are communing with and participating in the Body of Christ.  In this we touch Christ and Christ touches us, not in a manner in which these elements actually are Christ’s physical body, but in a spiritual sense in that at the Table, for these brief moments, Heaven and earth meet and we actually come to the Table of our Lord and sit with Him.  The liturgies of the earth church, and the great prayer of thanksgiving that is included on the next page, held this view as well.  As we approach the table we are lifted up and the barriers between heaven and earth are broken down and we are welcomed at the Table of our Lord.  This isn’t often how we think about Communion, especially as we sit in our seats and receive the elements from a tray, but it is a greater vision of what is happening in this time.  We are both communing with our Lord, but we are also participating as part of His Body.  Augustine said of this, when you take the elements, “Be what you see, receive what you are.”

The final two terms for the sacrament that we use a bit less are the terms “Breaking of the Bread” and “Eucharist.”  These terms come from Acts 2 and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark respectively.  The emphases of these are both fellowship and thanksgiving.  Acts 2 gives us a vision of the early church in which the believers celebrated “the breaking of bread” whenever they were together.  Jesus Himself gives us a vision of giving thanks when He breaks the bread and when He passes the cup as He explains these things to His disciples.

On the next page, you will see the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, a prayer that has been used before communion for many years.  See if you can find elements of what we just talked about in this prayer.



Day 60: Deuteronomy 30-31; A Matter of Life and Death

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

There is so much that is said in these last 5 chapters of Deuteronomy.  This really is Moses farewell address; his last effort to impress upon the people of Israel the importance of the Law and of following God.  Reading this, it doesn’t take long to realize either that this section of Scripture, Deuteronomy 30-34, is inextricably linked to the reading of the Law, and specifically the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.  It is about loving the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength!  God is impressing upon the people what will happen to them if they don’t, but also reassuring them that when they return to Him, His blessing will again be with them.

Again, the distinction is made between the life that comes from following the Lord and the death that comes from not.  These words, spoken some 3000 years ago have held their meaning throughout the ages.  I think of my own life, when I am following God, loving Him as best I can, and trying to stay in tune with Him in my life, I see myself being happier, joyful, and prospering (not necessarily in a monetary sense but within my soul).  When I become disconnected from God, life seems empty and messed up.  Other things try to fill the void that is left to no avail.

God also impresses one more thing on to this command, the point that these things are not too lofty or difficult to do.  He points out that they are not difficult to understand, with some hidden knowledge that people might not be able to comprehend.  It is made clear too that the things being asked of them are not too difficult that some might be unable to accomplish them.  The life that God calls us to live is made abundantly available to us in a manner that is easy and understandable, attainable for all people.  And yet, even this is not enough to get us to God or to get us in right standing with God.  The physical actions must be accompanied by inward transformation (circumcision of the heart).

These people have just come from the wilderness, a place that is often barren and desolate.  The wilderness is a powerful image in Hebrew Scripture.  “Wilderness signals the reversal of creation, a land that moves from the centered, ordered, predictable, secure places of home and city to the de-centered, chaotic, unpredictable, fragile, and sometimes hostile regions beyond the borders of cities and outside the purview of home.  Wilderness features a transition from that which is familiar to that which is unfamiliar, from safety to fragility, from known to unknown, from structured to unstructured, from close cloistered spaces to wide open spaces. The wilderness strips you of everything superfluous and reduces you to that which is most essential, most necessary, most vital for life. In this way the wilderness plays an indispensable role in shaping and forming identity.”  -Travis West

God intentionally led the people of Israel into the wilderness and kept them there for a time, intentionally stripping them of their identity of being slaves to Egypt.  In that time they were re-identified as the people of God, given new purpose through the Laws set down for them.  It is only after this process is “complete” that they were allowed to enter into the promise land… allowed to become what they were intended to be.

In many ways we too face the wilderness in our lives.  In the year of this writing, we are currently in the time of Lent.  This is a time in which we are invited to enter into the wilderness of life, as Israel and Jesus did, to be stripped bare of all those things we don’t need.  We are to be un-identified with all the things that we would use to find our identity in, and then re-identified and re-centered on Christ.  In a way, we choose to be “dis-membered” so that as we approach the time of Easter and remember the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, we can come and be “re-membered” in Christ as we remember Christ’s death.  And even in this time we hear the words of God through Moses echo in our ears, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”

May it be that we choose Life!



Day 59: Deuteronomy 28-29; Covenant Renewal

The first thing that we come upon today is a section of blessings and curses for following and ignoring the law respectively.  Deuteronomy 28 is very similar to the Leviticus 26, we we talked about roughly 3 weeks ago.

Chapter 29 of Deuteronomy begins the final section of the book, or ends the middle section, depending on how you look at it I suppose.  In any case, it is an occasion when the people of Israel got together and renewed the covenant.  This happens many times in the Bible, either after some big event, or in a time when it hasn’t been done in a while and the people have fallen away.  Here, as they prepare to enter into the promised land to take it over, they are coming out of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  For them it is a time to come together and say, “we’re in!”  and proclaim together that they will follow the Lord’s commands.  They’ve heard the stipulations and the rewards/punishment for their subsequent attempt to follow the covenant, they know what they are getting themselves into… all there is to do is to say YES!!

A favorite author of mine once said that “all Christian worship is an occasion for covenant renewal.”  It is a time when we can come together and hear God’s word for us; a time when we can collectively say once again, “We’re in!”  The Israelites would have had a sign to signify their obedience.  Usually this would have been a sacrifice, or sometimes a ceremonial meal… we have this too in the Lord’s supper.  It is a sign and a seal of the New Covenant in Jesus blood, and we take it into ourselves and it becomes a part of us.  As St. Augustine said, “be what you see, receive what you are.”

When we gather to worship, do we often think in this manner?  Do we come expecting that God will speak to us?  Do we hear and respond “everything the Lord has said, we will do”?  Or is worship simply a task to be accomplished, a thing to do because we’ve always done it?

The next time you enter into worship, remember that we are renewing once again our covenant relationship with the Lord, sealed in our baptism and confirmed time and again at the Table of Our Lord.



Day 20: Exodus 11-13; Let My People Go: The Passover and The Exodus

Goodness… I don’t even know where to start with this post after reading this section.  There is so much that is going on here!

Well, to continue our discussion from yesterday, this is the final plague, God’s final attack on the Egyptian deities.  He has dismantled many of the other gods that the Egyptians had, but now He has taken on and defeated (as if there was ever a fight to be had) the gods of life and death.  God has shown to Pharaoh his absolute power of all things, and proven to the Egyptians that their gods are nothing in comparison to the God of Israel.  So Pharaoh drives them out of the land just has God had said.  And, like God told Moses, the people of Egypt gave them whatever they wanted and the people of Israel became quite wealthy an account of their former masters.

Also mentioned here is the vast number of people that left.  Roughly 600,000 men plus women and children.  As we talked about a couple days ago, the people had grown from a group of 70 people into this large number, easily over 1 million.  They were able to do this living in a fertile land area, protected by the world power of the time.  What marvelous providence from God.

Here in this reading too we see the image of the smoke (or cloud) and fire again.  While this time it doesn’t happen in a vision, the Lord leads the people of Israel out of Egypt through a pillar of cloud (smoke) and fire.  These are, like the smoking fire pot, and even the burning bush experience, symbols of God’s power and holiness.

Finally, there is one big thing in this section that will forever impact the coming stories, foreshadowing the coming feasts that we celebrate and will celebrate some day: The Passover.  We’ve talked a little bit about feasts.  If you don’t remember, it was on January 4 with the feast that Melchizedek gave when Abraham rescued Lot.  That was a foreshadowing of the Passover and the many other feasts that would become a part of the Hebrew religious tradition.  All of these feasts, but especially the Passover feast are themselves a foreshadowing of the feast which we now know as the Lord’s Supper!  And, really, the Lord’s Supper (communion and/or Eucharist) is actually itself a foreshadowing of the feast of the Lord in Heaven in which we shall participate when Christ comes again and all things are restored.

There is a great deal of other symbolism in the Passover as well!  The Lamb, the blood of the lamb, the bitter herbs, the lack of yeast, and even the part where they aren’t supposed to leave anything behind.  I’m interested to know your thoughts on what these symbols all mean!