Monday, February 11, 2008


The church's mission and the Lord's Supper are vitally linked. Jesus spelled out our mission when he said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). The "good news" is centered in God's gift of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection: "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:10). The proclamation of this good news is our mission. Paul makes the connection between this mission and the Lord's supper clear when he says, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If true, the visible sermon we proclaim at the Lord's Table is far more powerful than the word spoken from the pulpit. I think my parents sensed this. At Milwaukie, when I was a boy, we had one of the best preachers around, namely Alger Fitch. Later he became nationally known among our churches as an outstanding speaker. Occasionally, we would leave church early on Sunday in order to visit my grandparents in Forest Grove. But we never left before communion. Apparently, they felt we could miss Alger's sermon but not communion. They didn't articulate this to us but as I look back, it is clear to me now how vitally important it is that the whole church gather every Lord's day to "proclaim the Lord's death" at the table.

Beyond engaging in the very essence of mission--proclaiming the redemptive sacrifice of Christ-- there is another effect of our faithful observance of the Lord's Supper. It provides the nourishment for the work of mission. Recently I reread Tom Wright's little book, The Meal Jesus Gave us. tom Wright is an Oxford lecturer, theologian, prolific writer, and Anglican pastor. In it he says, "When I was engaged in regular pastoral ministry I found that the only way I could cope with the daily demands was the daily Eucharist. There I could lay all my puzzles and problems symbolically before God and find them not removed but reshaped in the pattern of Jesus" (p 76).

Set as it is in the heart of worship, and in conjunction with the spoken word, our communion with Christ provides the renewal and resources that we need for mission as well as the opportunity to participate in the proclamation of the gospel.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Isaiah was not thinking about our use of candles on the communion table but something he said helps us understand their symbolic meaning: "Arise, sine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (Isa 60:1). What might these candles be saying to us about the light that has dawned upon us?

A story that I came across recently about a little candle will help us see their significance. The little candle stood in a room filled with other candles, most of them much larger and more beautiful than she was. Some were ornate and some were rather simple, like her. Some were white, some were blue, some were pink, and some were green.

When the sun went down and the room began to get dark, she noticed a man walking toward her with a match. She suddenly realized that the man was going to set her on fire. "No, no!" she cried, "Don't burn me, please!" but she knew that she could not be heard and she prepared for the pain that would surely follow.

To her surprise, the room filled with light. She wondered where it came from since the man had extinguished the match. To her delight, she realized that the light came from her. During the next few hours, she noticed that, slowly, her wax had begun to melt. She became aware that she would soon be gone. With this realization came a sense of why she had been created. She thought, "Perhaps my purpose on earth is to give out light until the end." And that's exactly what she did.

God gives each of us the opportunity to produce light in a world that needs brightening up. Like that little candle, we can produce the same amount of light, no matter how small we are or what color we might be. God has given us the source of our light in the greatest gift we will ever receive, Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world (Ruth Chavez Wallace, Pension Fund Bulletin).

Jesus, like that candle, gave out light to the very end -- in fact, it was at the end of his life that his light in a darkened world was at its brightest. It is not accidental that the churches in Revelation 1-3 are called "lampstands", holders of the light of Christ. The candles on our table remind us of our mission as well as of Him who is the light of the world. The Apostle Paul saw us actually participating in his mission, his light-giving life and death as we take communion. He put it this way: "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? ... the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:15-16). As Isaiah said, let us "arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I have heard it said that the church is like a chain, having many individuals linked together. I don't like this image of the church because of its implications. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. What happens in the church when the weakest link breaks? Are the rest incapacitated, as a chain would be? I don't like this image because it negates the strength of the other links. Elton Trueblood suggested that a better image would be that of a cable, consisting of many wires. If one wire becomes frayed or weakened in some way, and even if it should snap, the other wires with their combined strength would still carry on their work.

Actually, each strand is weak in itself, just as individual members of the body have their weaknesses. But, as Ecclesiastes says, "two are better than one ... and a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (4:9-12). The cable, with many strands making it stronger than any one strand, is a more scriptural image of the church. It speaks of the unity of the church, of each member supporting the others, and of the church banding together to accomplish God's will.

An example of this can be seen in Galatians 6:1-2, "Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ."

The Lord's Supper symbolizes this nature of the church as it pictures unity -- the oneness in which we support each other. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

The very manner in which we observe the feast often speaks of this unity. In a few churches it is still the custom to use one cup for all. Occasionally, we have used one cup and individually dipped the bread. In other churches all hold the bread until all are served and they partake at the same time. When we say the confession of faith just before partaking, we say it together, as one body. All of this testifies to the strength of a united church.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ALL THINGS NEW Psalm 47:1-2; Revelation 22:8-9

Ancient Israel marked the new year with a procession up Mount Zion to the Temple. It was a time of festive celebration. "On New Year's Day, the first rays of the sun, rising over the Mount of Olives, shone in a straight line through the outer eastern gate of the temple, then on across the temple court and over the great altar inside, between the two pillars on either side and on down the long corridor into the holy of holies, the sacred recess at the western end. These first rays of New Year's Day were called "the radiance of God" and symbolized God's entrance into the sanctuary, ... Just at this moment, the shofar or ram's horn would be sounded, and the procession would begin ..." (Jeter, Joseph R.Jr. Re/Membering, 102). As they wound their way up the hill and into the temple area they probably sang the opening of Psalm 47:
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of
joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the

"Shout to God with loud songs of joy," they sang. Why, we ask? And the Psalmist answers: For the Lord ... is awesome, a great king over all the earth." The crops may have failed, the housing market gone sour, the war still killing men, women and children, and we failed to be and do what we intended to be and do. All of this we can see when we look back, and it can drag us down if we don't leave it behind and focus on the God who still sits on his throne -- a great king over all the earth.

This may be why the book of Revelation ends like it does. The Revelation summarizes everything that has gone before: the fall of mankind, the strife and sinfulness that followed, and the death that came upon all. But it also includes the God who sits on the throne and says, "Behold, I make all things new" (21:5). What can we do that will help us look to the future with faith and hope for fulfillment of that promise?

Hear the answer in the last chapter of The Revelation:
Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I
fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these
things. Then he said to me, '"See that you do not do that. For I am
your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep
the words of this book. Worship God!"

Two words: worship God. "The key to hope for the future lies not in resolutions, but the worship of God" (Jeter, 103). In a sense, each Lord's Day is a new year, a new beginning, and the Lord's Table is the place where we can come to worship God and hear him say once again, "Behold, I make all things new."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Cradle and the Cross Luke 2:25-35

Hurting is not uncommon at Christmas-time. I know that we like to have a Christmas of lights and songs of rejoicing and praising, but even the communion table reminds us that pain is also involved. It reminds us that Jesus was born to die. It reminds us that the cradle in a stable is joined by the cross on a hill as symbols that summarize who Jesus was and why he came. The cradle and the cross can not be separated.

We realize this when we read all of Luke's account of Jesus' birth and infancy. In the first two chapters of Luke we see the beautiful story of Jesus' birth -- Mary's song, his birth in a manger, angels singing, and shepherds praising. But then Luke tells us a story that foreshadows the pain and suffering of the cross, not to Jesus only, but also to his mother, Mary. Shortly after Jesus was born Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to "present him to the Lord," since the law stated that every first born male belonged to the Lord. There they came across an old man named Simeon who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Lord's Messiah. When he saw Jesus Simeon took him in his arms, raised his eyes to heaven and declared, "my eyes have seen Your salvation." But when he handed Jesus back to Mary he said, "This baby is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed -- and a sword will pierce even your own soul" (2:34-35).

John Killinger, pastor and professor of preaching, tells of how those words were driven into his soul. He and his family were in Spain, in a museum, standing before one of the great Spanish crucifixion scenes. The painting, like so many Spanish works of art, was dark and brooding, unlike the sunlit plains of Spain. Christ hung on the cross. In the lower foreground a woman knelt. "Who is that?" asked their six year old. "That's Mary, Jesus' mother," we explained. He was quiet for a second or two and then he said, very solemnly, "that must have hurted her." Since then, Killinger says, "I have not been able to read Simeon's words to Mary, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also" without remembering that observation (Fundamentals of Preaching, 121).

Luke has hardly finished telling the story of Jesus' birth in a stable than he elicits the image of a cross and the pain and suffering it brought to Mary. Jesus was born to die. The cradle and the cross cannot be separated.

At the Lord's Table, as we remember how Jesus suffered on our behalf, may we also remember Mary, and many others -- even today -- who know him as friend, as teacher, and as Lord who also suffer and, in some way, enter into the pain of the cross.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A TIME TO FORGET Philippians 3:13-14

At the Lord's Table we often speak of remembering, and of course, we should, if for no other reason than that Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me."

On the other hand, when we come to the table it should also be a time of forgetting. We must not only remember God's saving grace in Christ, seen on the cross, but we must also forget the past mistakes and failures that keep us from accepting His grace and moving on toward the future that god has for us.

Anyone who competes in athletic games knows the importance of forgetting. I make a lot of bad shots as a golfer but I can't dwell on them -- I have to focus on the next shot. When the American gymnast, Paul Hamm, fell after vaulting he had to forget it and concentrate on the next event. Anyone who lives in the past will lose his future.

Paul was looking to the future when he wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

At the Lord's Table we see with double vision. We look to the past and remember his sacrifice on our behalf, but we also look to the future and anticipate our destiny with Him. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 11, speaking of our action in the Lord's Supper, "We proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." Remembering his death and what it means for us helps to wipe out the memory of our failures. It frees us to look to the future, to "press on toward the goal" that Christ sets before us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Table Talk 2 -- Lord's or Servants? Luke 22:14-20, 24-27

The "words of institution" are often used with the Lord's Supper but they are seldom used in context. That is, no attention is paid to what else Jesus said at the table that evening. I mentioned previously that part of the table talk that night focused on betrayal and failure. The next topic Jesus found necessary to address was whether his disciples would be Lords or Servants.

Most of Jesus' teaching during his ministry focused on the Kingdom of God -- its nature and purpose. His disciples were interested because they, like most Jews, longed for the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. They saw in Jesus a Messiah who could free them from Roman oppression and lead them to the glory and power of the Kingdom. Then, one day, Jesus began to tell them that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed. The Gospel writers make it clear that the twelve disciples, prior to the resurrection, never understood this. A crucified Messiah did not fit with their kingdom expectations.

These two subjects, the Kingdom and his death, came together in Jesus' table talk at the Passover meal. First, Luke tells us he spoke of the kingdom: "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (22:15-18). For emphasis Jesus said it twice. Then he spoke of his death: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' Likewise He also took the cup after supper saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (22:19-20).

Again, they completely missed the point. He had hardly finished speaking before a debate broke out among them. Thinking only of the coming Kingdom and their place in it they began to argue, not for the first time, about which of them was the greatest. And again, he had to remind them that "the leader is like one who serves ... and I am among you as one who serves" (vs 27).

We know that in the world of politics even the greatest leaders spend much of their time and resources on getting re-elected. Position, status, power, and authority are all that matter. But, Jesus points out, it is not that way in God's Kingdom. The only way up is down. The only way to lead is to serve. The only way to greatness is through lowly servitude.

Is Jesus speaking to us in his table talk at the Passover meal? Is he speaking to us at the communion table, wanting us to forsake our status seeking, our lordly ambitions, and like him become a servant of all? Is he asking us to make that kind of sacrifice? There was a cross in his future. Is there a cross in ours? If we take him seriously, there may be, for did he not say, "If any want to become my disciples let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 8:23).

When we use the words of institution it would be well to keep in mind what else Jesus said at the table.