Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lenten Reflections on the Catechisms - The Lord's Supper

"Lenten Reflections"
Alternating during the Wednesdays of Lent, I am taking turns with the local Lutheran pastor preaching or guiding meditations and reflections on themes from the catechisms.
Shared on Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Scripture readings: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:26-29

I wish the Schwan Truck would start making regular deliveries again, because I’m waiting for a new bag of frozen pierogi. A pierogi is like a Polish ravioli. It’s a pasta stuffed with potatoes or other stuff. It’s good stuff. I have a taste for it.
Photos: Burkett Lake, north of Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
March 2017
I have a taste for pierogi because I have (or did have) something that you may not have had. I had a “Baci”. Baci is a Polish word for grandma, and I had a Polish grandma, and (because of her) I’m also Polish. Of course, I’m an American, too, and that’s very important to me. But I’m also Polish.
I know this because my Baci told me so; along with my other older Polish relatives. They told me I looked Polish, although I suspect that this was a love-based sort of “fib”. They also told me that I thought the way I did because I was Polish; and it’s true. I do think like them (at least a little bit) to this very day.
“Jak się masz?" That means, “How are you?”
Since we’re in church I should say, “Pan jest z tobą”. * (I know I'm not saying this right.)
Then, I guess, that you should respond by saying, “A także z tobą.” (That would mean, “And also with you.” You can guess what the other means.)
So, in a way, I am Polish. I’m American, but I change when I eat pierogi. I become Polish. All of a sudden, I become, once again, the kid helping my Baci make pierogi for my family, and learning Polish words. I become the kid who ate the food of Poland with my Baci.
This is a long way to say that the Holy Communion of the Lord’s Supper is an even holier and more powerful meal than pierogi. The Lord’s Supper claims you and changes your identity.
It tells you that you are a different person, and that you belong to someone else. If you will believe, the Lord’s Supper makes you a Jesus-person, and you belong to him.
Some of the old catechisms, the old teaching-questions-and-answers, of the Reformation ask us what are the ways that Jesus uses to make his salvation effective. What are the ways that Jesus uses to make everything that he is, and everything that he has done powerful, and real, and a living part of us? What are the ways that Jesus uses to make everything that he is, and everything that he has done, and everything that he has change our lives, and change the very nature of our world, as we experience it, and live in it? There are several ways.
Those ways are called: his laws, his word, the sacraments, and prayer. The sacraments of the church of the Reformation tradition are Baptism and the Holy Communion of Lord’s Supper.
The tradition I come from says that the power of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t come from the ceremony of it. The power doesn’t come from what the bread, and the wine, or the juice, are made of (when we eat and drink them as part of the ceremony). The power doesn’t come from the authority of the person who is doing the ceremony of the Supper, or who gives us the bread and wine. Our tradition says the power comes, “by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.”
My Baci had a lot of blessing in her. She had a lot of spirit in her. She had something that made me different (in some ways) from any of the other kids I knew.
In God’s hands, the Lord’s Supper goes deeper than that. The blessing of Christ and the working of his Holy Spirit are infinitely more powerful in the work of changing us and making us different.
My catechism says that the Lord’s Supper is a regulation. That means it’s a rule. We might not like rules, but it should be easy to see what a strange rule it is that requires us to accept the idea that humble things, like bread and wine (or juice) are the way to receive great things.
That should make us think deeply. The everlasting Son of the Everlasting Father came by the power of the Everlasting Spirit to become a baby, who became a carpenter, who became a wandering teacher, who became a victim of injustice who was executed on a cross in order to give us great things.
His rule says that there is no other way than this. The Lord becomes a servant. The servant becomes the King and Savior. The bread and wine become the presence of Jesus: the Servant, the King, and the Savior, the Life-Changer.
It’s the only way. It’s the rule. To become great, you first must be a servant, and even a slave. This is the rule in the heart of God. This is the rule for his kingdom, in the church. This is what God wants to do, in order for his people to carry his kingdom out into the world. God wants to make you become the humble signs of great things.
This is the rule for what he does with bread and wine. It’s the rule of his heart, and he insists on using his rule to change you into something else, and make you his own. He wants his heart to become your heart. The Lord is wonderfully consistent on this point: this rule.
You can see how this regulation of the Lord’s Supper can only be truly received by faith. It’s not the rule of the world’s heart. It’s the rule of God’s heart. It takes faith to receive the Lord’s rule for what is truly great, and to be changed by it. It’s by faith.
My catechism, and the word of God (properly understood), teaches that, in this meal, Christ and the benefits of a new covenant are “represented, sealed, and applied to believers by physical signs.” (Question #92) This just means that what Jesus is, and what he came to do, and what he continues to do, can be communicated to you through the bread and the wine.
When you have been claimed by Jesus, you don’t just see signs with the eyes in your head. You get a new heart that sees, and hears, and knows. A seal was a bit of wax that had been imprinted with a symbol of the identity of the owner of the object, or the maker of a promise. A covenant is a promise.
Parents have to be careful what they promise, because a child always remembers a promise. If you don’t keep it, your child will howl the words, “But you promised.” A child knows that a promise isn’t words. A promise is a reality that they want to be their reality. The Lord’s Supper is about such a covenant-promise, and such a reality.
The Lord’s Supper builds on the promise and covenant of the Passover Feast of the Jewish people. It represents a new life. It represents a journey to the Promised Land. It represents a journey out of Egypt: out of the land of idolatry (which is deceptions and lies), out of the land of human power, and control, and prestige, and out of the land where faith is not the way of life.
Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood of the new covenant.” His point wasn’t to say what the bread and wine were made of. He meant to say that the new covenant (his promise) was made from him. Jesus is the promise. Jesus is freedom. Jesus is mercy. Jesus is hope. Jesus is our light, and our Promised Land.
The word “remembering”, for the ancient people of the Bible, meant much more than thinking about the past with your brain. One of the commandments says to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” This doesn’t mean that we can say, “Hey, it’s the Sabbath. Darn, I forgot all about it. It’s too late to do anything about it now.”
Remembering, as all ancient people understood, meant to enact the thing: to make it real, or to let it become real. Doing the Lord’s Supper means living in the world of the cross. With Christians, and among Christians, as the people of Jesus, the whole world (the world as everyone else knows it) has been swallowed up by the world of the cross and the resurrection. The spirit of the season of Lent, means recovering, and rediscovering, what it means to live in the world of the cross and the resurrection.
This strange world doesn’t make us so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. We bring this heavenly world into the world that everyone thinks they know, and the Lord’s Supper is a door to heaven from which Jesus comes out to us, and changes our life together, and sends us out into the world.
Remembrance is this. Remembrance is the door by which the kingdom of Jesus works. It’s how he seals us as his own and says, “I own you. My sacrifice on the cross owns you. You belong to me. Be my presence in my world.”
“This is my body and blood” means “this is me on the cross”. This is my offering and my gift to you.
Let’s look at some of the questions of that old catechism called “The Westminster Shorter Catechism”.
Q91. How do the sacraments become effective means of salvation?
The sacraments become effective means of salvation, not because of any special power in them or in the people who administer them, but rather by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.
How would you describe the experience of the blessing of Christ and the work of his Spirit when you share the Lord’s Supper? Has something ever happened to you there?
Q92. What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is a holy regulation established by Christ, in which Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers by physical signs.

Being “sealed” is about ownership. What special times, or relationships, or experiences remind you that you are owned by God: that you belong to God?
Q96. What is the Lord's Supper?
The Lord's Supper is a sacrament in which bread and wine are given and received as Christ directed to proclaim His death. Those who receive the Lord's Supper in the right way share in His body and blood with all His benefits, not physically but by faith, and become spiritually stronger and grow in grace.
How do you try, in your life, to “proclaim his death”? How do you “become spiritually stronger and grow in grace” as you become a person of the cross?
Q97. What is the right way to receive the Lord's Supper?
The right way to receive the Lord's Supper is to examine whether we discern the Lord's body, whether our faith feeds on Him, and whether we have repentance, love, and a new obedience - so that we may not come in the wrong way and eat and drink judgement on ourselves.
This concern about the right way, and the dangers of the wrong way, come from the Apostle Paul, in First Corinthians, chapter eleven. The concern isn’t about the danger of guilt, but the danger of coming without repentance, love, and a new obedience. Or it means the faith to come to the only one who can give you what you lack.
William Barclay tells this story: “An old highland minister seeing an old woman hesitate to receive the cup, stretched it out to her, saying, “Take it, woman; it’s for sinners; it’s for you.” (“The Daily Study Bible Series”; “The Letters to the Corinthians”; p. 105)
How might Holy Communion create an experience of a different way of seeing the worth of your life and seeing the worth of other people? How might it serve as a picture of your relationship with Jesus?
There’s a passage that I love, about the Lord’s Supper, in the Scot’s Confession, written in 1560.
“…this union…which we have with the body and blood of Christ Jesus in the right use of the sacraments is wrought by means of the Holy Ghost, who by true faith carries us above all things that are visible, carnal, and earthly, and makes us feed upon the body and blood of Christ Jesus, once broken and shed for us but now in heaven, and appearing for us in the presence of his Father.”
The bread and the cup seem too small to hold all of this; and our time with them seems too short. Our own lives seem too small and too short.
But this is God’s rule for himself, and for us. The rule is that God makes himself your food. How will this change you? What will you do with it? Just think about that.

*Note: About the Polish quote with the asterisk: if you didn’t guess, this would mean, “The Lord be with you.”

(The catechism questions and answers are quoted from “The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English” by Douglas F. Kelly and Philip Rollinson; P & R Publishing Company)

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