A couple months ago, I was reading in Oswald Chambers’s, My Utmost for His Highest, that a true saint “becomes broken bread and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for other lives.” Although I have pondered communion quite a bit over the years, particularly in my theology classes, this statement by Chambers triggered a sequence of reflections I had never previously considered.
As believers, we are Christ’s body. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “This is my body broken for you; this is my blood split for you.” Putting these two truths together illustrates the calling of the believer. If Christ’s physical body was broken for sinners; how much more his spiritual body–the Church. Our souls are saved, but our bodies and lives will be broken. It is a sobering reminder; one we participate in regularly.
Every month or week, this ordinance of communion calls us to reorient our lives from worldliness to the imitation of Christ. Communion not only draws us together regularly as a community to embrace Christ’s working of salvation in and for us, but also its working through us. It is a physical manifestation of what our lives will be. In eating the bread and drinking the cup, we’re recognizing that we participate in brokenness for the sake of others. We are volunteering ourselves to suffer for Christ’s mission.
Therefore communion isn’t just about what we receive, but what we give. Are we willing to take the gift that asks us to reciprocate in giving up our lives? That’s the beauty and struggle of being a believer. Suffering is integral to the life of the Church. It is only through suffering that Christ brought salvation. The suffering will end–when salvation is complete. But right now, we are still participating in God’s working out of salvation, and thus, as his body, we should expect to be called to the same suffering and life he lived.
In pondering how the Church spreads the gospel message by participation in Christ’s suffering, the image of the feeding of the five thousand came to mind. As Christ fed the many by multiplying the loaves and fish, so also he multiplies the message of communion through his Church. It’s a sobering call to take up our crosses and follow him; but’s a joyful one. For this suffering bears out into gospel, good news–from Christ’s suffering springs eternal life for the many!
Hateful words pour from all forms of media. I cringe. Judgments pronounced; allegations made; fingers pointed, and sourced by many Christian voices. Why? Why do we let pride control us–prompting us to defend ourselves from the same judgments we’re so quick to cast on others?
This ugliness is a fraud. Our defenses were useless long before now. We’re trying to hide the fact that we’re in the wrong. Well, let’s be honest, we are. All of us contribute to the messes in this world. None of us can innocently point the finger and cast the first stone. Have we deceived ourselves so much that we can’t acknowledge our sinful state? Even that crowd long ago recognized their inadequacies when Jesus spoke regarding the adulterous woman’s condemnation.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her…At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time…” John 8:7b, 9a NIV
Such a sorrow this is. We can’t get anywhere with judgement and name-calling. That’s not the Gospel. Christians, we know that! We know that healing only comes when we confess our wrongdoings. This comes from repentance and reconciliation. It leads to growth and restoration. We’re saved by grace, because we are in fact in the wrong and can’t ever be or look good enough to change that state ourselves. It’s only by confession and forgiveness in the work of Jesus Christ that we’re saved.
We need more confessional voices. Honest humility. I’ll start! I am so quick to judge, compare, and evaluate. I am more concerned for my interest–not others’. I am more jealous than joyful for others. I do not love well. I am so easily distracted from pursuing God’s kingdom work. But these sins don’t have victory; don’t have the final say. I stand condemned but for Jesus! He forgives me, and His Spirit enables me to grow in love and right conduct. Daily humility and confession are the practices that make the way for transformation. Let our voices be confessional not condemning.
A couple weeks ago, I went camping solo for the first time–well, not really solo but without my parents. My friend and I drove up to the beloved Adirondacks to soak in some sweet pine scent, stars, mountain views, and freedom from technology. We were successful in achieving all that we desired to accomplish but not without some effort. The most comical episode came after first passing our campground due to poorly labeled maps, roads and no GPS signal, setting up the tent in the dark, and searching for a gas station in the remote woods. Yes, the ultimate struggle took the shape of a neatly formed, tepee of sticks. Now I by no means have the skill of an eagle scout, but growing up as a staff kid in the Adirondacks, I had my fair share experience in making a campfire. So I was not at all surprised when our fire lit and burned beautifully. Burned beautifully for 30 seconds, that is. Then there was no more fire–nothing but smoke blowing away. Okay, the wood we gathered though seemingly dry must have been a bit damp. We stuffed in more paper, lit it again, and blew on those baby flames willing them to catch the sticks on fire. This repeated probably five times and about twenty minutes later, we finally had a campfire lit and ready for roasting marshmallows.
As I sat there finally enjoying the mesmerizing flames leap back and forth, I was reminded how potent fire can be if it gets going. It took a lot of persistence and babying to get that fire started, but once some large sticks were burning, that fire wasn’t going out anytime soon. In fact, by the time we went to bed, I had to douse it with water. It was worth the effort, and I am so glad we didn’t give up. Believe me, after the third try it really seemed hopeless, but we wanted those s’mores!
Don’t give up! That was the testimony my campfire blazoned.
When I look at the world around me and even at my own life in the process of sanctification, it can seem hopeless. The attempts we make to witness or change the social evils of the world appear to fizzle out. Our work may seem in vain, but it is not. We have the foreknowledge of assured victory, for our “fire” is not of this world. It is not even ours. It is the Holy Spirit’s. Only he can change the hearts of people. This reason encourages us to not give up! We do not act on our strength, but we must act all the same. We are the instruments of God’s Spirit–the breath fanning the flames. We can give our all for the Kingdom of God! Keep blowing–spreading the gospel, and caring for the disadvantaged–God will bring about a “fire” that won’t end. Don’t ever give up on that!
Both through recent conversations and humbling experiences, I have grown aware of how much pride seeps into my thoughts, words, and actions. Pride is one of the seven detestable sins. It grieves God immensely. The first sins, those of Adam and Eve as well as Satan himself, are rooted in pride. How have I grown so numb to this poison eating away at my heart and soul?
Although through much of my early life self-esteem issues plagued me, somehow the misconception that I could do the best in everything if only I tried harder coexisted. Driving to work the other day—when much of my pondering occurs—I realized that it was pride which prompted me to prove myself likeable or accomplished. Now in this pursuit to come off as agreeable and capable, being better than others in order to be the best has not been my intention. It is not about comparison for me. Otherwise the issue of pride would have been apparent to me long ago. Rather, it is a sense of redeeming myself in the eyes of others that in lies the problem of arrogance. It is a rebuff to God to hint at self-reliance. Falling right back into the sin of Adam and Eve, I act as though I can be like God in my own doing. I imply that I can self-improve to perfection—to worthiness.
If I live as though I can earn worth in order to secure the ever so desired love and esteem that results from it, I sadly miss out. It is by recognizing my ineptitude and God’s great grace that I have full access to that love without being worthy. That means the pursuit can be over. I can bask in the goodness of God now.
The gospel doesn’t say “you’re good enough;” it says “you’re not good enough, but it’s okay because Jesus is.”
However, it takes great humility to accept it. To say, “No I can’t ever be good enough; I won’t make it. I will take your offered love just the same, undeservedly,” is immensely hard. We are such a reward-based society, thus the difficultly in admitting we can attain something so good without deserving it. If I bow thus in humility before God and accept his goodness in all things without ever achieving what I would deem excellent, then I can far more easily extend grace to others I will be in the right position as servant to tell the world about the good news of Jesus—what a glorious thought!