I promised to conclude this series with some significant personal experiences of ‘the breaking of bread.’ Let me tell you how it all started, and then conclude with how things have developed since (in a 4th and final blog). I guess it started during a visit to NW and Central China two years ago. I was part of a small leadership team of 5, on a learning curve. The very first book I read after conversion as a teen was Hudson Taylor’s classic, The Man Who Believed God. In more recent years I had researched the House Church movement in China for a master’s degree – now I would be able to witness things first hand.
- While in the Tibetan mountain city of Xiahe, we gathered one morning for informal communion in a tiny hotel room – two South Africans, an English/Polish couple and our Australian team leader. Let me explain: Xiahe is the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, and hosts the second most important Buddhist monastery in Tibet. The monastery also includes a university. Coming back to the communion: someone sensed ‘prophetically’ (?) that Jesus was truly in our midst and delighted by our fellowship with him. I read from Ps. 24, which emphasises the LORD as King. This truth became very real as we explored the city and particularly the monastery – that day I met up with a young teenage Buddhist monk (in typical saffron garb) and his little brother. We seemed to bond instantly, and I embraced them both and silently prayed for them while chatting and taking their photograph.
- On the Sunday morning we met up with an intercessory team of 14, comprising a host of nationalities, young and old. We shared in communion and experienced that mystic bond we have with Christ and his children all over the world. This was followed by a silent ‘prayer-walk’ around the monastery circumference with its thousands of rotating prayer-wheels, spun by Buddhist devotees hoping to earn better ‘karma’ for their next incarnation. One picture, indelibly imprinted in my mind, was of a scrawny, weathered old lady prostrating herself meter-by-meter around the monastery perimeter of 3 and a half kms. She would drop to her knees in the heat and dust, lie flat on her face with arms extended forward in obeisance, stand up and repeat the process until she had encircled the monastery. I had never been so visibly impacted by the graciousness of our salvation in contrast to the need of so many to somehow try to earn acceptance with a deity over the period of a lifetime.
- In the light of the impact of Ps. 24 at our first communion, we agreed to meet (as unobtrusively as we could) at a lesser-used university gateway, a heavy and very old wooden door, and there to break bread and prophetically declare Christ’s story. I recall the remaining bit of wine being splashed on the door while inquisitive passers-by looked on. Crazy? Not when we recall Paul’s words in correcting the Corinthians’ practice of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11:26 (NIV), ‘For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’ ‘Proclaim’ in the Greek is ‘katangello,’ meaning to ‘herald,’ in this instance the story of Jesus, crucified and alive. Communion is not only a celebration of Jesus but a public proclamation of his saving act, looking forward to his return. In other words, we were corporately and publicly declaring that, through the gossiping of the good news and the intercessory prayer of many around the world, people from every nation would ultimately confess Christ, including Buddhist Tibetans. Had not Jesus himself declared, in talking about the signs of the end of the age (which began with his incarnation) (Mt. 24:14/NIV), ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ The celebrated NT scholar F.F. Bruce has commented, “There may be a suggestion of purpose in until he comes, in addition to the primary temporal sense; the eating and drinking would in that case constitute a ‘prophetic action’ helping to ensure the fulfilment of the prayer Marana-tha.” (compare Is. 61)
- We moved on to the ancient city of Xian, famous for its magnificent display of Emperor Qin’s ‘Terra Cotta Warriors,’ today a bustling university metropolis of many millions of Han Chinese and a significant community of Hui Muslims. A high and fairly broad wall encircles the ancient city, measuring some 22.5 kms. Three of us hired bicycles and pedalled around the city in an hour (sore bums and straining legs, but otherwise it would have doubled the price!), with a brief communion at two significant points. Above flew Chinese bunting, we passed statues of the infamous Emperor Qin, a magnificent Chinese band (in ancient military costume) rendered a stirring drum display. It was truly memorable to fellowship with Jesus and one another and fellow-saints around the world in that rather unique setting!
We’ll finish the story next time round…