Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Eucharist: The Healthy Habit

Did you know that participation in the Lord's Supper regularly can be good for your health?

Doctors, psychologists and others knowledgeable about health tell us that people with positive attitudes are generally more healthy than people with negative attitudes. There is something about an attitude of gratitude, a cheerful outlook, or an optimistic spirit that's good for us. Actually, this is ancient knowledge, as Proverbs 17:22 reminds us: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones."

We have also learned from surveys that church going people are generally more health than non-church-goers. Being part of a caring, thanks-filled, upward-looking, happy fellowship is good for us. Many factors contribute to a healthy fellowship but at the heart of it is The Eucharist. In my church tradition the word Eucharist, which means to give thanks, is seldom used for the communion service. Perhaps we should use it more often because it is taken directly from the Gospel accounts of the last supper where we are told that Jesus took the bread and the cup "and gave thanks." Consequently, The Eucharist has often been called "The Great Thanksgiving."

It is a very common thing, this giving thanks before a meal. A lot of us do it regularly. It has been done in families for centuries. Certainly, Jesus and his disciples were familiar with it, especially at the Passover, but Jesus took a common practice and gave it a radical new focus as he lifted the bread and the cup and said, "this is my body ... my blood ..." Now, as we focus on Jesus, we have a whole new reason to give thanks.

We bring a lot of baggage with us each Sunday, stuff that weighs us down, makes us feel bad, and even affects our health. How good it is for us to put off the old bitterness of broken relationships, the burning resentment of some injustice, our worries and fears for the future and just be thankful. Thankful for whom Jesus was -- thankful for His death on our behalf -- thankful for god's love so freely given -- and thankful for God's loving and supporting people gathered in worship. Coming to the Lord's Table each week with thanksgiving is a healthy habit.

In Colossians 3:12-15 Paul is not writing directly about the observance of The Eucharist, but his words summarize this healthy habit when he says:

Therefore, as the elect of god, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body;
and be thankful." -- Its good for you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"THIS" 'N "THAT" 1 John 4:10

When reading its easy to skip over such innocuous words as "this" and "that." On their own they don't appear to be very important. In reality, there is a big difference between "this" and "that." "This" implies something close, specific, concrete. "That" refers to something over there, something more abstract.

E. Stanley Jones, long time missionary to India described how in other faiths, "that" points beyond themselves to an abstract God, to some great unseen. For example, in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism the pinnacle of "that" is reached when it describes God as "Neti, Neti," meaning, "not that, not that." God is so beyond everything and so abstract that words cannot describe or even point to It. The best thing they can say about God is "not that, not that." In contrast, Jones said, in Jesus the distant "that" becomes the nearby "this." "For Jesus is the personal approach from the Unseen in which the unfathomable "that" becomes the incarnate "this" (Christian Maturity, 121). In other words, In Jesus, the far off God comes near.

John makes this clear in 1 John. His most used word in the letter is "love," as it appears 43 times. "This" occurs 29 times. When "love" is used with "this," love is transformed from an abstract principle to a living reality. As in 4:10: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins."

When Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me," its as if he were saying, "Father, how can I do this?" Nancy Reagan was interviewed during former President Ronald Reagan's heartbreaking decline with Alzheimer's disease. With each passing month, she took on more of his daily care. While she felt he still responded to her, there were many times he did not appear to know her. The interviewer commented on her obvious fatigue and asked one last question: "How do you keep on doing it?" Her haunting answer was: "Sometimes, you just love." I like to imagine this was God's gentle whisper to his Son that night: "You can do it my Son. You just love." (Elysse Grinnell, Just Because He Loved. Christian Standard, Jan 7, 2007).

The Lord's Supper testifies to the reality, the specific, the historical, and personal love that god has for us. As John says in 1 John 3:176, "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us ...."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Why Every Sunday? (4) -- Proclaiming the Gospel

Previously I have discussed why it is important to have the Lord's Supper every Sunday. I feel it should be done for at least these reasons:
  • To follow the example of the New Testament Church
  • To honor Jesus' command: "Do this in remembrance of me," and thus keep our memory of him alive and fresh.
  • To experience his presence as host
  • To receive the benefit of his shed blood, the forgiveness of our sins.

Another good reason is connected to the commission Jesus gave his church in Mark 16:15 when he told his disciples to "preach the gospel to all creation." We have always understood that this commission was for all of his church, not just the twelve apostles. Which leads me to wonder -- if I went to the average member, even a very well informed and biblically literate one, and said, "OK, its your turn to preach the sermon next Sunday!" what do you think he or she might say? Or if I were to ask the congregation, "what have you done lately to fulfill our Lord's command?" it might leave them speechless. And yet, I can tell you what our congregation has done lately -- in fact, just last Sunday. Actually Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:26,

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."

Each Sunday, until he comes, we have the opportunity to proclaim the Lord's death. And what kind of sermon is it? This is no 20 minute, fast-food handout; no homily on how to be happy. This is the gospel! We "proclaim the Lord's death" on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, and thus proclaim the heart of the gospel. Every Lord's Day we lift this cup and say to the world, "this is his blood shed for the remission of sins." As long as the church is faithful week by week the gospel is proclaimed from the table, if not from the pulpit. In fact, the Lord's Supper is mission focused.

Someone has said, "the highest cannot be spoken; it can only be acted." And so it is with the gospel. Words alone cannot express its richness and depth. We have the high and holy privilege of proclaiming the Lord's death each Sunday at his table. What greater reason can there be to have the Lord's Supper every Sunday?