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Weary at the foot of “the” Mountain…

Altar with communion

 

Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.   1 Corinthians 11:28-32 (TEV)

Seventh, when a man has this hunger and so is prepared for the sacrament, he must carefully avoid receiving it while trusting in his own worthiness. Nor must he merely pray, as some do, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but say only a word, and my soul will be healed” [Matt. 8:8]. I am not rejecting that prayer, but one should be aware of something else. I am referring to the words Christ spoke when he instituted the mass: “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Take, drink, all of you; for it is the cup of the new and eternal testament in my blood, poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins” [Matt. 26:26–28].
Although the priest utters these words softly during mass (would to God that he would shout them loudly so that all could hear them clearly, and, moreover, in the German language), every Christian should have these words close to himself and put his mind on them above all others. For just as they are meant for us all, so they are spoken by the priest in the stead of Christ to all who stand around him. We should take all of these words to heart, placing our trust in them and not doubting that with these the Lord invites us to be his guests at this abundant meal.

928    You are right. “The peak,” you write me, “dominates the country for miles around, and yet there is not a single plain to be seen: just one mountain after another. At times the landscape seems to level out, but then the mist rises and reveals another range that had been hidden.” So it is, so it must be, with the horizon of your apostolate: the world has to be crossed. But there are no roads made for you. You yourselves will make the way through the mountains, beating it out by your own footsteps.

It seems like the last month (or is it the last decade) has brought one more challenge after another. And just s one challenge is climbed and another challenge looms.  Not all are mine, yet some I walk over with others, for the church never journeys alone. We weep and laugh together, we strive together, even as we sometimes strive against each other.

The reality St. Josemaria paints is painful, to know this journey isn’t easy, to know the pains we will feel, the times where we are spiritually out of breath and feel like we cannot walk one more step.

Then we look up, and we realize that on this mountain is something worth the effort, something that is worth it, something that will sustain us, give strength to our weariness, and heal our brokenness.

The Lord’s Supper is neither about our worthiness, or a brief confession (often without thought) of our unworthiness. It is about the promise, the incredible blessing of what Christ promised as He broke the bread,  as He blessed the cup. He invites us to share in His being broken, that we can also be made whole.

I have seen it over and over again, the sinner, barely able to address their brokenness, finding peace there, at the communion rail.

This mountain is different, it not another challenge, it is the destination. It is the feast with God, long foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and which foreshadows the final feast…

May we never lose our hunger and thirst for it…
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 173.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Powerful Presence of God… some thoughts on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16  When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.   1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NLT)

We have quoted all of this here, not to begin an argument on this subject (his Imperial Majesty does not disapprove this article), but to make clear to all our readers that we defend the doctrine received in the whole church—that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that “death no longer has dominion over him.”7

826      You have to make your life essentially, totally eucharistic.

My father’s 88th Birthday was on Monday, and one picture of my dad continues to come to mind.  It was him, kneeling at the altar rail, wearing his sunglasses (with a  light brown tint )

I knew the reason he wore him, he was afraid of people seeing the tears that would flow as He received the body and blood of His Savior Jesus.  The presence that would lay his broken and wounded heart out, and allow healing to happen.  The tears couldn’t stop while he was there, the was nothing he could do about them.  And there was, in the midst of the tears caused by ripping open the scars, a sense of wonder at the peace.  It overwhelmed him.  There are two pictures of my dad that come to mind when I think of him in his older years, and this is the primary one.

I then think of a phenomenon that occurs when the youngest of children approach the rail in my church.  It started with one girl during an Ash Wednesday Communion service.  She was 2 and a half, and so comfortable at the rail next to her mother that communed that she grabbed hold of it, and wouldn’t let it go.  Her scream pierced the darkened church a moment later, “No I want to stay with Jesus!” she said!  Since then, almost always on their first visit, we’ve seen children do this, again and again, grasping onto the rail, or trying to come back after their parents returned to their seat.  Far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and my elders and deacons know well to simply tell the parents it is okay for them to stay there. They are welcome, and they are at peace.

When I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, as he advises us to make our lives eucharistic, ( or some Lutherans might use the word Incarnational) it resounded to me.  The words were supported by the observation in the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession – as Melanchthon reminds us we are communing with the Body and Blood of Christ, the presence of the living resurrected Messiah, Jesus.

We are in His presence, He gives us Himself in this bread, in this wine.  It is something that should leave us in awe at His sacrifice of love, at His desire to be part of our lives, part of us.  That in this meal, at this moment, we find ourselves in the same place as the elders of Israel in Moses day.

9  Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain again. 10  There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! Exodus 24:9-11 (NLT)

He did not destroy Him, they were so at peace in the glorious presence of God that they ate and drank ( the NLT adds in “a covenant meal, ” but they were indeed celebrating the Mosaic Covenant – God’s promise to care for them, to make them His people)

I know my dad felt that overwhelmed, even if he had great trouble describing it with words.  Just the thought would bring tears to his eyes, and cause him to struggle to speak.  He would be so overwhelmed he didn’t want to approach it too often, he had to work himself us to go to that place, so overwhelming was the peace and his need for it.  I think kids are more aware of the presence of God than we could credit them for, which is why the altar is a joyous, peaceful place they don’t want to leave.

I could tell you the story of others, whose body language shared how crushed they were by the world, or by the weight of their own sins, only to approach the altar and have all that pressure dissipate, all that weight lifted.

Not because of the pastor/priest, not because of the building, but simply because of the presence of God, Because of the gift, the grace He gives us in this holy sacrament, for He gives us Himself….. and like the elders, we do not die in the presence of God, but He nourishes us, as He reminds us of the covenant, of His promise that we are His.

I pray that you and I could be like the kids, who never want to leave, as we experience His presence, as He heals our broken hearts and souls.  May we yearn for it, not to be considered pious by the world, but to experience the foretaste of heaven, and share in His glory.

May we receive His gift with gladness and joy!  AMEN!

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2935-2936). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Eucharist and Its Effective Work on our Hearts:

Devotional Thought of the Day….

1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (TEV) 15  I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16  The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. 

5 Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), “Faith comes from what is heard.” As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament “the visible Word,”5 for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect.  (1)  (from Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession)

“XXV. Of the Sacraments.  Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.”  (2)

 

“What do United Methodists mean when they call this act a sacrament?  Our Confession of Faith states: “We believe the sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening [bringing to life], strengthening and confirming our faith in him. ”  (3)

530    Many Christians take their time and have leisure enough in their social life (no hurry here). They are leisurely, too, in their professional activities, at table and recreation (no hurry here either). But isn’t it strange how those same Christians find themselves in such a rush and want to hurry the priest, in their anxiety to shorten the time devoted to the most holy sacrifice of the altar?  (4)

 

Yesterday I had the great blessing of going back to my alma mater, and teaching a class on the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist and Holy Communion)   it was really a good experience for me, and I think I caused some of the students to think.

I started the class with my own “personal theology” regarding the Lord’s Supper.   I’ll briefly state it here:

You have a 16 oz cup that contains 8 ounces of wine.  Do you:
(1)  Agree and argue the position alongside the optimists that it is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior.
(2)  Agree and argue the position that it is only grape juice, and it only is a act of faithful obedience….

(pause)

or (3) find some bread and with the people of God celebrate (give thanks)  the gift of God given to the people of God as you commune with Him?

As always, there is a third choice, as I I thought through the lesson, I was struck by something truly astonishing.  While the sacramental churches disagree on what I would call the mechanics of the Lord’s Supper – exactly how and when and in which ways the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, they don’t disagree that the Eucharist has a dramatic and transforming effect on those who trust in Jesus, on those in a relationship with Him.

For it is highly effective, and as a means of grace, brings into our lives so much, it is a wonder that anyone would ever avoid it, or not be glad to celebrate it.

The challenge is that how it affects us is not academic, or philosophical, but rather deeply spiritual, and if I dare us the word, emotional.

Maybe that is why we can’t agree on the mechanics, but can agree on its effect.  We can’t academically and logically dissect the Bread and Wine, we can’t scientifically prove the presence of God there… and our post-enlightenment minds struggle with what we can’t forensically prove, what we can’t observe and demonstrate in regards to the elements.

It’s not knowing about God that is important when it comes to the sacraments, it’s about knowing Him.  About realizing the depth of His love, the “sure-ness” of His presence, of resting in His comfort and peace, of being in community with Him, every part of us.

Melanchthon (author of the first quote from the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession) was absolutely right – this is about God’s work in our hearts.  Like the very word of God it cuts our hearts open and circumcises them, cleansing us, as in our baptism – of the sin which ensnares us.  Bathing us in God’s presence, His glory, His love, and bringing healing to our very hearts, our very souls.  It is God working in us, the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us into the image of God – as the sacrament ( the physical element and the word of God – takes hold of us. ) is there.

I didn’t include the RCC quote I used – because of its length, but instead a quote from St Josemaria Escriva, a favorite writer of mine.  I can begin to understand their practice of adoration and contemplation about the “mystery” of this  – the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.  Of sitting silently in wonder at the depth of God’s love, at the incredible power of the Holy Spirit within us, to take the time to think through what we’ve shared in, this body and blood, this precious gift, that causes faith to well up within us.   For far too often as he points out – we rush through such times – we want to get it done, move through it.  Yet think about a good meal – bacon wrapped bacon wrapped shrimp for example.  You want to savor the smell, the enviroment, the flavor.  Could we take such a time with the Lord’s Supper as well, to let the moment nourish our hearts longer – to set aside our intellect and realize how precious it is, that God comes to us, that He is here?  To realize the Spirit’s work in us, drawing us to Him, transforming us, healing us, taking our burdens…

If I, in this week of returning to my alma mater – convince them of nothing theologically – that’s okay.  It’s not what I am aiming for. it’s not what the sacrament is about.  Doing a dissertation explaining 5000 years of sacramental theology?  Cool – but what is needed – knowing our need for God’s presence… and knowing He responds to that need, for this He has promised, this blessing is ours…in Him.

English: The Lord's Supper. Christ standing at...

English: The Lord’s Supper. Christ standing at an Orthodox altar, giving the Eucharist to the Twelve Apostles. Frescoes in the upper church of Spaso-Preobrazhenski cathedral. Valaam Monastery Русский: Алтарная апсида верхнего храма Спасо-Преображенского собора Валаамского монастыря. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So my friends, take and eat…. take and drink often, and know that the Lord is with you…  AMEN!

 

 


——

(1)   Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 211–212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  The Articles of Faith (Anglican) http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html

(3)   http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2311293/

(4)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1282-1284). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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