‘TABLE TALK’

Image result for Free pics of breaking of bread

'Bloody redemption' by Charlie Mackesy

[See my previous blogs on Communion: ‘Communion’ re-discovered… (part 1)]

You recall Luther’s famous ‘Table Talk,’ a collection of his sayings around the dinner table, circa 1531-1544. Today a little ‘Table Talk’ around the Lord’s Table...

Jn. 6:52-59 follows Jesus’ ‘feeding of the five thousand’ and his bold declaration that he had come into to the world as ‘the Bread of Life’ (v. 25ff). As he expounds this statement, his Jewish synagogue audience in Capernaum grumbles about his provocative claims and teaching. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (v. 52). In some ways their puzzlement is understandable against the backdrop of Moses’ ancient warnings against eating animal meat containing blood (Dt. 12:23-25). Then Jesus adds his own warning, “‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink… the one who feeds on me will live because of me… Our forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live for ever!'” (v. 53-55)

A few clarifying comments:

  • Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically here (a characteristic of John’s narrative), otherwise he would seem to teach some kind of cannibalism! He is also not teaching ‘transubstantiation.’ With great respect to my RC friends and mentors [see footnote 1], and as a fairly well educated but essentially simple Jesus-follower, I just don’t get ‘the magic of the mass.’ I recently attended a requiem mass in support of a grieving family. At a given moment, the tinkle of a man-activated bell and the incantation of a fallible priest, the wafer and wine were trans-substantiated into the body and blood of Jesus. Is this not human manipulation of divine grace? At this service, it was also made abundantly clear that eating the wafer and drinking the wine was reserved for members of the local parish alone, excluding even faithful RC members of another parish. Not that Protestants are not guilty of some of these things – Calvinists have often talked about ‘fencing the table.’ Surely a plain reading of the Bible doesn’t indicate ‘special hoops’ for broken sinners to jump through before being licensed to partake in ‘the means of grace?’ Imho Communion unites rather than divides! (note, the 1 Cor. 11 passage must be carefully studied in its general and specific context, lest it be mis-applied!)
  • Jesus comes as one fully human in every way, hence the repeated reference to his ‘flesh’ and ‘blood.’ The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us…’ (Jn. 1:14). That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim…’ (1 Jn. 1:1ff). I emphasize this in the face of classic Gnosticism and Dualism (most of the NT Letters addressed these issues), Charismatic ‘super-spirituality,’ etc.
  • This passage’s connection with the practice of Communion is acknowledged by most established NT scholars and theologians.

Now for some Communion basics and newer insights:

  1. Communion is for sinners. The Pharisees simply couldn’t stomach that. ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?'” (Jn. 6:42). That’s how ‘religious’ and ‘good’ people often react to Jesus. I recall a story concerning ‘Rabbi Duncan,’ when his elders were passing the Communion cup around the congregation. He had noted a ‘broken’ woman at the back refusing the cup. He proceeded to take the cup from the serving elder and gave it to her saying, ‘Take it woman, it’s for sinners!’ [2] Surely a comforting reminder, knowing our own hearts.
  2. Communion is a gift. Henri Nouwen, the RC academic, preacher and author, has enriched me no end [3]. In a marvelous mini-series, ‘Being the Beloved,’ he asks ‘Who Am I?’ He explains that identity is not found in what I do, nor in what others say about me, nor in what I have. Rather, my true identity lies in the affirmation, ‘I am His beloved!’ We worked through this in our house church recently with great joy, the outline stuck on our lounge wall as a constant reminder. Btw: the first three identities lead to death, the latter identity to life!
  3. Communion is a divine embrace. It renews our relationship with God. We enter union with Christ not by works but outrageous grace and faith alone (cf. Eph, 2:8). Jesus has entered into intimate and permanent relationship with us. By ‘eating and drinking’ we, in a mysterious and precious way, are embraced by Father and Son. Ron Rolheiser tells the story of a six-year old Jewish boy, Mordecai. When he was old enough for school, his parents accompanied him to his classroom. Unfortunately, Mordecai kept on absconding from class. His parents reasoned, cajoled, pleaded, bribed him, but to no avail. In desperation they took the matter to their Rabbi. When they brought their son to him, he didn’t say a word. He simply picked him up, held him warmly to his heart for quite a while, then put him down. Everything changed. The boy happily went off to school the next day and in fact excelled throughout his school career. Will we (especially self-sufficient males) surrender to the warm embrace of Father and Son?
  4. Communion reconciles. Jesus touched on this in Mt. 5:23-24 [3], 6:12 (‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…’) and 18:15-20 [4]. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian ekklesia, calls all saints to ‘the ministry of reconciliation,’ inspired by God’s magnificent act in Christ (2 Cor. 5:11-21). Corrie ten Boom [5], Ravensbruck survivor and global evangelist, was preaching in Germany on an occasion. One of her ex-Nazi camp guards came up to her afterwards and sought her forgiveness, stating that he had recently come to faith. She panicked, paused, prayed ‘Lord please help’ and then stuck out her hand woodenly to her former persecutor. At that precise moment she felt a warmth from shoulder to hand and her heart flooding with the love of Jesus. ‘I forgive you brother, with all of my heart’ she responded. Will we follow her brave example in forgiving all who have sinned against us? Especially in the light of Jesus’ white-hot love for us…
  5. Communion crucifies. His followers heed their Lord, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself  (i.e. his/her selfish ego) and take up his cross (an instrument of death) and follow me'” (Mk. 8:34). The apostle Paul wrote along similar lines in his classic Gal. 2:20 statement. Each believer has to undergo a personal Calvary. It changes everything.
  6. Communion transforms. Physically it’s true that ‘we are what we eat!’ ‘Feasting on Jesus’ in our hearts by faith changes us bit-by-bit in our all-important character, so rare in communities today. Furthermore, from the early Church we learn to ‘break bread’ not once a month or quarterly as generally practiced but regularly, even as part of a daily meal. This affects our families and society around us for good (cf. Acts 2:42ff). Organic house churches testify to this around the world. Surely we have been called to be a loving, ‘alternate society’ in a world torn-apart by so many man-made social and political barriers? [7]

Image result for Free pic of Aldrin celebrating communion on moon

[50 years ago]

Enjoy this song, and consider a family love feast sometime!

Footnotes:

[1] I have a number of RC friends, who count among some of the nicest people I know. I’m also deeply appreciative of RC writers like Hans Urs von Balthazar, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, et al. [sometimes I’m criticized by sincere Protestant friends accusing me of condoning the RC church system. I don’t. Furthermore, I value all truth, no matter the source. ‘There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true’ (Soren Kierkegaard)].

[2] John (‘Rabbi’) Duncan, 1796-1870, a Free Church of Scotland minister, missionary to Hungarian Jews and professor of Hebrew at New College, Edinburgh.

[3] Mt. 5:23-24 recently compelled me to meet with a Christian brother who had seemingly withdrawn his friendship from me. We talked frankly, and our relationship has been wonderfully restored.

[4] Mt. 18:15ff became very relevant to our family thirteen years ago, when we were confronted by a minority but vocal ‘concerned group’ in our congregation asking me to step down as senior pastor (for totally non-ethical reasons). The elders called in a denominational facilitator who, though sincere, only complicated things. Looking back, I’ve often thought if only the concerned group had followed Jesus’ counsel in Mt. 18. By God’s amazing grace we were able to part company amicably, having resorted to Mt. 18 ourselves. The sore issue became a blessing as it helped us transition from institutional church to organic church with great fulfillment.

[5] Corrie came from a Dutch family giving shelter to Jews during World War 2. The family was betrayed, and she and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in the notorious Ravensbruck death camp. Betsie sadly died in the gas chambers. After the war Corrie returned to Holland to care for the mentally disabled and travel to over sixty countries proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

[6] See Wolfgang Simson’s classic Houses That Change the World.’ It was largely this book that inspired me to take my present ecclesiastical and missional journey.

[7] Cf. F. Viola’s Insurgence, p. 336-338.

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