Communion – an engagement promise reminder

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engagement-ring  I’ve struggled for years to grasp the spiritual richness of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.

Many Catholics and Episcopalians regard this sacrament as the highlight of their weekly worship experience.  I know.  I’ve talked with them, trying to glimpse and sense what it is that nourishes them so richly.

It’s NOT like I don’t make an effort to meditate on what Jesus suffered for me personally by going to the cross. It’s just that I feel enriched more through the sermon and corporate prayer.  And because some of my friends and family wax on about the centrality of the Eucharist to their worship experience, I keep feeling like I must be missing something.

Reading  Ann Voskamp’s  recent book  the-broken-way The Broken Way, I grasped a fresh understanding of what this sacramental liturgy might represent.

Voskamp reminds her readers that what Jesus performed during that last meal with his friends was a covenant, similar to a wedding vow.  Think about Hebrew culture two millennia ago and and how couples were first betrothed and then married. You’ll recall that the engagement itself bestowed legal status and rights. The initial commitment was the BIG DEAL.

When God births us the first time, we receive the spirit of life. When He births us the second time, He gives us His very own Holy Spirit.  Paul teaches in his letter to the Ephesians at 1:14 – The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

So you could call the indwelling Spirit of God Jesus’ engagement ring – a very real promissory note whose presence we are meant to sense intimately and enjoy.

But knowing that we humans NEED tangible concrete reminders, Jesus instructed His Bride (us, the Church) to reenact often the engagement ceremony.   Re-reading the account of His vows would be a start, but incomplete.  Jesus put into place a practice of sharing a scaled-down version of the original covenant meal, meant to be enjoyed with re-awakened awe among fellow members of Jesus’ Bride.

Each time we eat and drink tokens from that historic and singular Covenant, we recall what Jesus performed FOR US in order to ‘win’ our hand. A few of those ‘challenges’ He embraced ‘for the joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:2)included these deeds:

  • He temporarily emptied Himself of His divine status and privileges and happy community
  • He accepted the weaknesses and degradations of Hebrew poverty under cruel Roman rule
  • He endured hateful and murderous scorn from family, neighbors, church leaders
  • He suffered abuse and murder due to false charges
  • He showed the entire Creation a righteous life, down to the last jot and tittle of the Law’s requirements.  He even exercised complete patience and strength to withstand every temptation Satan could throw at Him.
  • He took on to His perfect body and life all the sins of His Bride and paid off the debt she had accrued.

The New Covenant ceremony Jesus enacted was His announcement of His coming marriage to US!!!! And until the wedding date, He promised a Helper who would be the deposit guaranteeing this promised union and subsequent inheritance.  During the Covenant Supper He described the home He was going off to make ready for His Bride. And He told His Bride not only to ponder the reality of her new status as legally betrothed bride, but also to cash in the promises and call on her bridegroom’s Father who would now be her Father, too!

Can you catch a glimpse of the rich layers of this Covenant Reenactment and how much we need it?  

I frequently forget that you and I are legally engaged to Jesus.  With rights and privileges that make a difference in this life.  And although our Bridegroom has gone ahead to make our home ready, He has not left us alone.  He has given the Church His best friend who is His stand-in until He comes for us.  This supernatural Helper is the same as Jesus; only He is inside of each born-from-above believer, whereas Jesus in His resurrected flesh is with the Father. For the time being!

Ann Voskamp’s lavish unpacking of ‘Communion’ has made me very glad that our church holds to a regular reenactment of the engagement covenant.  I easily forget.  

Thank you, Jesus, that You have commanded that we DO this to remember You.

Sex and Sacraments

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  I love the concept of ‘category error’. That’s when someone criticizes something for lacking an attribute impossible for it even to have.  Like saying that there is something wrong with water because it doesn’t provide fiber.  Or the Russian cosmonaut saucily boasting that he had been to space and not seen God.  (Silly, God is not a material/ physical being.  There’s no WAY you could have seen Him!)

So in thinking about categories, I want to make the boast that Tim & Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, is in a category of books unparalleled.  It is NOT at all like any book on marriage that you might have read or heard about. 

This is a book that will bless you, whether you are a teenage girl or guy thinking you might want to marry someday….or you are engaged to be married…..or you are in an unhappy marriage and are searching for a helpful paradigm …or you are like us, coming up on 33 years of married life.

I know I’ve talked about their book before.  My enthusiasm has not waned.

Mike even read it and he has NEVER picked up ANY book on relationships, whether on parenting or marriage or how to live with Felines.

Here’s what spiritual gem I reaped yesterday as I was finishing it.  (Mike zipped through in a week; I’ve been savoring it slowly, just on Sundays at breakfast.)

The Kellers describe married sex as a “Covenant Renewal Ceremony.  I like that.  They say that when you experience that ultimate physical pleasure in that totally safe & secure place with your spouse, you bubble over enthusiastically with verbal expressions or thoughts like:  “I love you SO much!  I feel SO close to you!”   For a few moments afterwards you both bask in contented affection and oneness.

I think I understand the sacrament of Communion better now after reading the Kellers describe the role that sex plays in married life.  If sex is the covenant renewal ceremony reinforcing one’s marriage vows, then the Eucharist serves the same purpose.  I have always struggled to see what is some find deep and meaningful about the actually sacrament of Christ’s body & blood.  I’ve asked myself,

“Just how does the Eucharist administer God’s grace, sustaining and empowering Christians?”

Is it in the power of remembering and reenacting? Is it reflecting on how much it cost God to send His son Jesus as a representative human?  Is it being mindful of how bad we are, and how much we deserve Hell?

In comparing how ‘loved & at one’ I am with my husband after an especially powerful ‘Covenant Renewal Ceremony”  in our bedroom, I think I see a bit more clearly how Grace might come to me through participating in Communion.

What I REALLY love at our PCA church is how the pastor tailors to us his biblical explanation of what this institution of a New Covenant means.  Each time we celebrate Communion, whether it is Pete or Jeff, they link their sermon TO the Eucharist and set it in context, making it really meaningful.

I’m getting a better sense of what a great gift it is to be part of God’s forever family.  And just like in those afterglow minutes with Mike where I am SO grateful to be married to him, I now leave Church more in love with Jesus, the bridegroom. It’s definitely a maturing process, but I think I’m growing and cultivating a deeper and truer appreciation of the Trinity along with a desire to protect, honor and love the Body of Christ.    

Weddings, Part 1: Lewis and Logic

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One is either pregnant or not pregnant.  One is either in Christ or not.

Just as you can’t be a little pregnant, you can’t be a little Christian. Nonetheless, it should not surprise us that pregnant and non- pregnant women could exhibit similar symptoms, i.e. craving for pickles.  We would not necessarily conclude about a pickle-loving friend that he or she must be expecting a child.

So also it is possible that non-Christians can be kind and generous. Their commendable behavior, however, does not make them Christian. But my point is not about examining someone to see if they are Christian, but to assert that there is no sliding scale for determining whether one is in Christ. There are truly only 2 groups of people: Christians and non-Christians. The Law of Non-Contradiction explains God’s logic.  You can’t be X and non-X at the same time.

Why is this important?  Because God has proscribed how we are to treat both kinds of people.

CS Lewis broke into my consciousness when my mother, as a new Christian, lamented the fact that she could not make sense of Mere Christianity, that it was too deep for her.  My first personal introduction to Lewis was reading the Chronicles of Narnia to Graham the summer he was 8.  We took advantage of Wes’ naptime to lose ourselves in the magical world of Aslan and the adventures of the Pevensie children.

Then I, myself, journeyed through Mere Christianity with the help of a weekly group at my former school.  I moved on through Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce as well as devotionals based on Lewis excerpts.  But what has renewed by delight and lifted my thoughts heavenward is a collection of essays named for the first, Weight of Glory.

Here is Lewis’ stunning and arresting premise: there are no ordinary humans.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Lewis continues by starkly laying on his reader the burden of considering first how we treat each person we encounter.  We are either helping them heavenward or assisting them toward the horror of Hell.  And if that thought were not enough, he goes over the top with this addendum, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.”

So….what are we to do?

I was thinking about how we Christians are like members of the bridal party, getting ready for the big event that actually is not about us, but Jesus and His Church.  We’ve all been invited and are considered valuable participants.  When we criticize a brother or sister in Christ for not being strong or gifted in a particular manner like us, we are acting ridiculously.  Instead of sniping at one another, we should marvel at the other’s differences and thank our creative Lord.

My normal reflex is to be the Pharisee who prides herself in being good at X, unlike my fellow Christian/ fellow bridal party member who obviously doesn’t have it together in MY area of strength.  My busy gloating, secret smugness and touch of disdain prevent me from seeing her God-assigned role and her God-endowed gifts.

And what about those unfortunate souls not including in the bridal party, how are we to treat them?  Actually it is possible that we are incorrect in our assessment. So since we are not privy to the Heavenly Wedding Plans of Christ and His Bride, we would do well to treat all neighbors as possible fellow participants.  Kindness is never wasted.

Next week – Weddings Part 2:   God and Love

Why baptize babies?

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Colossians 2:12 Having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead.

We are new to the reformed faith (PCA) and have been learning a lot about baptism and why infant baptism is practiced. I came out of a ritualistic, liturgical church where many people believe that the baptismal rite itself has the power to insure entry into Eternal Life for recipients. I rebelled and took up the view that baptism should be reserved for those who make a profession of faith. After all, Jesus commissioned his followers to disciple all people groups. Following that imperative, He then mentioned two component parts of that process: a) baptism b) teaching. I interpret the Great Commission as an activity whereby we share the good news about what Christ has done. People repent and put their faith in Christ’s work on the cross and in God’s promises of present spiritual gifts and in future grace. They are baptized as a sign of that transformation and they continue to be taught.

But what about infant baptism? Where does that fit in ? Why baptize a baby if he hasn’t repented yet because he hasn’t HEARD that he’s under God’s wrath? Why baptize a baby if he has yet to learn the way to escape God’s wrath, thus fleeing to Jesus?

A clue came to me today as I was meditating on Colossians 2:12. I am enjoying the process of memorizing the Book of Colossians. It’ll probably take me 6 months, but every moment spent on it is worth it. Memorizing Scripture as opposed to reading Scripture is like walking instead of driving by a place. You see so much more because every word has to be chewed on and placed in one’s memory.

Maybe infants are ONLY buried with Christ in baptism. They are raised to life later when given faith (faith comes from hearing…) and that faith is actually exercised. Verse 12 says that we are raised from death when we believe that God actually raised his Son from the dead. At the point we understand and believe God we get LIFE. So baptizing a baby is a good thing. It’s like Part One. It doesn’t magically impart eternal life. But it does bring a baby into the family of God and bodes well for the baby. Hopefully he is discipled so that faith can take root and grow. A crucial component of the infant baptism process in the PCA church is that only believers’ children are offered baptism. So the sacramental ceremony is a reminder to the parents and the wider covenant family of the church that they are undertaking the responsibility to train up this child in the faith.

Physical Union as Sacrament

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In today’s offering (7 Dec 09) at Skipmoen.com, he talks about the sexual union in marriage as something akin to worship. He writes, “Given by God, consummated in His garden of delight, enacted under His banner according to His design, sexual intimacy is an act of worship, an experience of something connected directly to holiness, so close to God’s nature that it is as if we are burned by His flames.” I realized that what he is talking about are Sacraments. My husband and I now attend a church where two sacraments are practiced regularly, Holy Communion and baptism. I have always struggled with the significance of the Eucharist. Never have I felt the need to reenact it. Once I had a conversation with a friend who maintained that sharing in the Lord’s Supper was the highlight of his Sunday worship experience. For me, it has always been the sermon. I love words. I would rather read a book than watch a movie, or attend any cultural event. I feed on words. In more self-exalting moments I dismiss those who ‘need’ Communion as perhaps less intellectual than I.

But God humbled me this morning while reading Skip Moen’s commentary. I suddenly saw physical actions as necessary as and certainly more transcendent than words. My husband can tell me he loves me, but when we are in the midst of our most intimate sharing, I KNOW most assuredly that he loves me, needs me and is giving himself to me. So maybe THAT is what my friend experiences each time he physically approaches God’s alter and partakes of the bread and wine. I’m looking forward, now, to my next experience of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I’m anticipating that I might actually FEEL that God loves me.

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