On the first day of the week, after the resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples, very likely in the upper room where the Last Supper took place, and reminded them of their commission: "As the Father has sent me, I also send you."
That commission was uppermost in my mind last week because I attended the Week of Missions at Winema, a beach-front conference center on the central coast of Oregon. Among the missionaries were Bernie and Kelly Bledsoe from Kansas who serve with the Christian Missionary Fellowship in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. He is a Doctor and she assists in the clinic they operate. He moved us deeply with his passion for working with those infected with HIV and Aids. Mike and Lida Sweeney, with Pioneer Bible Translators in Papua New Guenea, are truly pioneers in a sometimes hostile environment. He is now the professor of missions at Emmanuel School of Religion in Tennessee. We also heard reports of work among Russians and Mongols in Irkutsk, Russia, among Chinese in Hong Kong, and new church planting in New England.
As I thought about the missionary messages at the conference it occurred to me that the Lord's Supper is missionary in nature. Not that everyone who partakes is meant to go off to Kenya or some other place. Rather, in the generic sense, as we partake we receive the benefits of God's missionary action in Sending Christ, and we are reminded once again that we are God's "sent out" people.
One of the names that came to be used for the Lord's Supper when Greek replaced Latin reflects the missionary significance of the supper. Sometime late in the second or early in the third century Latin replaced Greek as the language use in the church. Tom Wright explains, "...the end of the meal would be signaled by the person presiding saying, 'Go -- you are sent out.' This ... 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" (Tom Wright, The Meal Jesus Gave Us, 36).
While we do not call this event by a Latin name, we recognize its connection to the great commission of Jesus to "go into all the world and preach the gospel." Each time we partake we are involved in and commit ourselves once more to God's mission in some way.
However, I fear that we have lost this sense of being sent out -- commissioned -- perhaps by moving the Lord's Supper away from the end of the service and highlighting the sermon. It might be well for us at times to have the Lord's Supper last and recapture the sense of mission it contains.
On this first day of the week as we meet with him at his table, may we also hear him saying to us, "Go -- you are sent out" -- to be my people in this world.
(Used at Twin Oaks Christian Church, August 12, 2007).