The Danger of Neglecting the Lord’s Table

Eucharist - Communion
In his book on the Lord’s Supper, Puritan Thomas Watson warns of neglecting the sacrament:

Has Jesus Christ been at all this cost to make a feast? Then, surely, there must be guests. (Luke 22:19). It is not left to our choice whether we will come or not; it is a duty purely indispensable. “Let him eat of that bread” (1 Corinthians 11:28), which words are not only permissive, but authoritative. It is as if a king should say, “Let it be enacted.”

The neglect of the Sacrament runs men into a gospel penalty. It was infinite goodness in Christ to broach that blessed vessel of His body and let His sacred blood stream out. It is evil for us wilfully to omit such an ordinance wherein the trophy of mercy is so richly displayed and our salvation so nearly concerned. Well may Christ take this as an undervaluing of Him, and interpret it as no better than a bidding Him to keep His feast to Himself. He who did not observe the passover was to be cut off. (Numbers 9:13). How angry was Christ with those who stayed away from the supper! They thought to put it off with a compliment. But Christ knew how to construe their excuse for a refusal. “None of those men which were bidden shall taste of My supper,” (Luke 14:24). Rejecting gospel mercy is a sin of so deep a dye that God can do no less than punish it for a contempt. Some need a flaming sword to keep them from the Lord’s Table, and others need Christ’s whip of small cords to drive them to it.


imageIt is of interest to note that at the inauguration of the Old (Exod. 24:1-11) and New Covenants (Matt. 26:26-29) God was with his people, and eating occurred. There is also a prospect held out for us, an eschatological feast in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Matt. 26:29; Luke 14:15; Rev. 19:9). There will be eating and feasting at the consummation. All of this is due to the blood of the Lamb, slain for sinners, in order to bring us to God. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the past, blesses us in the present, and looks to future eating, future feasting with the Lamb in all his glory.

~ Richard Barcellos

The Lord's Supper As A Means of Grace: More Than a Memory (Christian Focus Publications , 2013), 457

Like many others, I had grown up with the idea that bread and wine, Communion, taken too frequently would grow old and become a mere ritual. But personal experience has proven just the opposite. I have found the Table, like the Word, to be a satisfying means of nourishment and spiritual growth. Far from becoming routine, it has become like an intimate relationship.

Robert Webber

Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 53

The Center of Worship – Robert Webber

Ancient Future Worship by Robert WebberSo if you want a definition of ancient-future worship, it is this: the common tradition of the church’s worship in Word, Table, and song, practiced faithfully and communicated clearly in every context of the world. What stands at the very center of worship is Word and sacrament, through which God’s vision for the world is proclaimed and enacted. What contextualizes this worship more than anything else is its music. Music is the vehicle that communicates worship in the language of the people. Music is also the vehicle of our personal response to the story of God’s work in history. We also proclaim God’s story in hymn and song, but nowhere in Scripture or in the history of the church have hymns and songs ever been held as a replacement for Word and Table. Word and Table remain the God-ordained way to remember God’s saving deeds in history and anticipate his final triumph over death and all that is evil. So if you want to do ancient-future worship, learn God’s story and do it in Word and Table and use hymns and songs for responses not only from the great treasury of the church through the centuries but also from music that is current.

Robert E. Webber. Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (p. 168). Kindle Edition.

 

Jesus the Bridegroom by Brant Pitre (Image)

pitre-jesus-the-bridegroom-cover-w350The themes in scripture that are woven into its tapestry from Genesis to Revelation, are, in part, what give the Bible both its authority and beauty. Years ago I read a work by the late J. Sidlow Baxter called The Master Theme of the Bible in which he traced the theme of the Lamb of God throughout the scripture. I remember being both deeply encouraged and filled with wonder at this singular thread that stretched the breadth of God’s Word. I had that same experience reading Jesus the Bridegroom by Brant Pitre as he explores the theme of the God who wants to marry His people. Dr. Pitre is Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, in New Orleans, Louisiana.  With a Ph.D. in New Testament and ancient Judaism, Pirte’s passion is to help people “see” the message of scripture through the lens of ancient Jewish eyes. He makes use of a wide range of extrabiblical Jewish writings (which he is careful to insist are not “inspired”) and quotes heavily from these Rabbinic sources to add color and insight to the New Testament.

This world is the betrothal… the wedding will be in the days of the Messiah. – Exodus Rabbah 15:31

Pitre endeavors to present Yahweh not only as the creator but as the One who desires to be “united to His creatures in an everlasting relationship that is so intimate, so permanent, so sacrificial, and so life-giving that it can only be described as a marriage between Creator and creatures, between God and human beings, between YHWH and Israel.”  Pitre traces this idea beginning with the “divine wedding” covenant at Mount Sinai, through the spiritual adulteries of Israel and into the moment when John the Baptist describes himself as the “friend of the Bridegroom.” (Jn. 3:29) The Bridegroom is Jesus, the Incarnate One, who has come to win the redemption of His bride. Pitre works through the accounts of the wedding at Cana, the woman at the well, the last supper and the passion of Christ, showing the remarkable connections between them, the prophets and the Jewish traditions. (The observations on the wedding at Cana and the Samaritan woman are more than worth the price of the book.) The story finds its culmination in the marriage supper of the Lamb and a vision of the glorious bride of Christ.

For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5

Pitre’s Roman Catholicism is quite evident in some of his application but there is a wealth of insight here that any Protestant would be rewarded by and I found a great deal of the language not often used in Protestant literature to be refreshing. Roman Catholic thought is most evident in the chapter called “The Bridal Mysteries” in which the subjects of baptism, Eucharist, marriage and virginity are discussed. Even though there is much that I would disagree with Pitre on, I found an enhancement of my own views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper while the material on marriage and virginity were outstanding. Pitre’s illumination of marriage from Paul’s letters and the Jewish sources is very instructive and interprets the union in a remarkable way. As we face the current onslaught of support for gay marriage, there is much here that explains why that aberration is the complete antithesis of God’s design for marriage. Pitre doesn’t mention gay marriage but he so elevates the mystery of marriage (Eph. 5:32) that it insists only on the union of man and woman. Furthermore, and I say this with compassion and understanding the sacrifice involved, the section on virginity or “consecrated celibacy” is a positive and holy direction for those Christians who struggle with same sex attraction.

Pitre concludes the book with a meditation on the  Samaritan women. He highlights Jesus, the bridegroom, waiting for this woman to ask her for a drink. Jesus “thirst” was a prelude to the moment in which he would offer her the gift of living water. This quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is, frankly, one of the most  lovely things I have ever read:

“‘If you knew the gift of God!’ The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.”

I know some of my more reformed friends will not be able to crawl out of their anti-catholic shells far enough to appreciate this but that would be their loss. The notion of prayer as an encounter between God’s thirst and ours? That is priceless.Jesus is ever at the well, wooing his bride and inviting us to partake of the living water he alone can offer.

The Great Eucharistic Flag of the Church

20130417-174749.jpgAA Hodge in his Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine, speaks of holy communion as the “visible mark or badge of Christian discipleship.” His words that follow are a stirring call both to a life of testimony and the essential nature of the sacrament.

It is true that a true believer, who for any reason is prevented from confessing Christ by wearing publicly his sacramental badge, may just as efficiently confess him by other significant words and deeds. And it is further true that if a communicant is indeed a true believer at heart he
will constantly confess Christ in other ways—indeed, in all conceivable ways—in all his life. Nevertheless, a loyal citizen cannot choose his own flag. The public and official signification of loyalty cannot be left to the accidental choice of individuals. Above all, in a state of active war no loyal soldier can for one moment fail to hold aloft the one battle-flag which his leader has in trusted to his care. He covers it with his body, he shields it with his life, he carries it aloft with streaming eyes and heaving breast at the head of the host. So do we with solemn joy, with reverent love and passion, carry in sacred pomp this sacramental flag of confession and of challenge high in the face of the world which crucified our Lord.

We Require Feeding

In Remembrance of Me“In worship we gather together to draw near to God, who is full of grace – the very grace so vividly displayed by communion. Grace has saved us, and, as we discover so often in worship, it continues to be evident, shaping those who gladly submit to the Lord. Bread and cup take us to a manifestation of grace in the selfless advent and giving of Jesus on behalf of rebels, and they lay in stores of the spiritual enrichment we receive at Gods hand. As we eat and drink, our bodies are fueled only modestly in terms of physical nutrition; in spiritual terms, we enter time and space saturated by grace and can be permeated, refreshed, and refueled by it. We must teach ourselves that coming to this table is as necessary as eating. We must train ourselves to recognize that we require feeding.”

– Dan Schmidt, Taken By Communion

We Come in Remembrance

communionWe come in remembrance that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent of the Father into the world to assume our flesh and blood and to fulfill for us all obedience to the divine law, even to the bitter and shameful death of the cross.

By his death, resurrection, and ascension he established a new and eternal covenant of grace and reconciliation that we might be accepted of God and never be forsaken by him.

We come to have communion with this same Christ who has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the world.

In the breaking of the bread he makes himself known to us as the true heavenly Bread that strengthens us into life eternal.

In the cup of blessing he comes to us as the Vine in whom we must abide if we are to bear fruit.

We come in hope, believing that this bread and this cup are a pledge and foretaste of the feast of love of which we shall partake when his kingdom has fully come, when with unveiled face we shall behold him, made like him in his glory.

Since by his death, resurrection, and ascension Christ has obtained for us the life-giving Spirit who unites us all in one body, so are we to receive this supper in true love, mindful of the communion of saints.

– From the Reformed Church in America