September 21, 2014

Made Known at the Table

The Emmaus Disciples, Bloemaert

Journey into New Life, part six
Made Known at the Table (Luke 24)

Our Gospel text for this Easter season is Luke 24:13-35, the story of the risen Lord’s encounter with his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

In this passage Luke tells us what it means to walk with the living Lord Jesus Christ. It is more than a story of something that happened back then. It represents what newness of life is all about, how it works, and what it is like to experience the new creation.

We are the disciples on the road, and Jesus comes to walk with us.

• • •

“He was known to them in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35)

I want to make today’s post personal.

This is the text that settled it for me. Luke’s inspired words convinced me that something more than “remembering” is going on at the Lord’s Table. There is a real presence: the living Lord is really and truly there. He meets us there and feeds us. He reveals himself to us in the Eucharist and welcomes us into communion with him.

Communion is more about Jesus inviting me, greeting me, blessing me, feeding me, and loving me than it is about me “remembering” him.

This is the passage that made me a sacramental Christian.

I don’t know how to talk about this in Aristotelian philosophical formulas. I have no Latin term to define it. I can’t explain the mystery of how the Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, also meets people personally and savingly all over the this world when they come to the communion table. I can’t give you a physical/metaphysical breakdown of the composition of the bread and wine.

But this eyewitness testimony from Emmaus is what first persuaded me that the table set with Eucharistic elements is one of the primary “thin places” in the world where the presence of Christ is manifested. It has to do with new creation breaking into this creation. It has to do with the Spirit making it possible for the Father and the risen Son to come and “make their abode with us” (see Jn 14:23). It is the living presence of Christ among his people. He is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

I don’t think there is any argument about this, and I’m past arguing about it.

I’m also past regularly participating in Lord’s Day services where the Table is not prominent and featured. I do so once in awhile, and only because I’m invited as a guest speaker or visiting with family or friends in another congregation. Frankly, on those occasions, I’m left somewhat empty. I may appreciate the sermon, find joy in praising God through song, be comforted by the prayers. But I don’t find the same resolution; there’s no punctuation at the end of the service when we come forward as brothers and sisters together to meet Jesus and receive his gracious gifts.

To me, that’s what this Emmaus story would be like if it had ended on the doorstep of Cleopas’s house. The two disciples would have had good fellowship with a friendly stranger. They would have talked to him about their lives and disappointments, and heard a fine Bible study. A good walk, a good time together. Like a lot of services in which I’ve participated.

What if they had let him go on down the road at that point, as it seemed the stranger was wont to do? What would they have missed?

Jesus.

Comments

  1. Unsteady Connor says:

    My former priest, who has since left the parish to answer the call to be a bishop in another state, always intoned the word “remembrance” with an emphasis on the second syllable: “Do this for the re-MEM-ber-ance of me.” Being a newcomer to the sacramental world, I was always curious as to why exactly this was.

    Then, in a conversation with me (or perhaps a homily that pierced so intimately that I remember it as a conversation), Dan explained that in a very real sense, when we gather together at the Table, Jesus is re-membered, present in the Bread and Wine and present in his Body. As often as we eat this bread and drink of this cup, we re-member the Body of Christ. Our thanksgiving is both the act of remembrance and re-membrance, as we celebrate his victory that was in his body and celebrate our victory that is present as his Body.

    This post reminded me so much of that guided epiphany that so brightened my experience of liturgy. It’s the physical, spiritual truth that sustains me: because I have known God to be Real in the Eucharist, I may believe him to be Real in my wrestlings.

    • Josh in FW says:

      Well said, thanks for sharing. I love my home church but I wince every month at communion time when the pastor makes a point to emphasize that communion is “symbolic” act of remembrance.

      • Josh, I’ve come to notice that my pastor does not use the word “symbolic” but only “remembrance”. Even as a symbol, the eucharist can be understood as a form of idolatry to some, but “remembrance-only” avoids that.

        Although my pastor has never explained it in those terms, the fact that he stresses remembrance seems significant to me, and I’ll have to talk to him about that.

        I think the four ways of understanding the eucharist are:
        –Roman Catholic “transubstantiation” where the elements literally become the body and blood of Christ.
        –Reformation “consubstantiation” where Christ is present “in, with, and under” the elements.
        –Symbolic meaning of the elements as the body and blood of Christ.
        –Remembrance of Christ as we take the elements.

        If that’s the case, your pastor is a step closer to Rome than my pastor.

        In a separate incident, by way of illustration: a man showed up several weeks ago in our church (again) after about 10 years of attending somewhere else. This man is a local character, opinionated, knows his King James Bible, and at times awkward to have in a Sunday School class (the first time I ever preached, about 15 years ago at a night service, he interrupted me on a point about the Trinity!). But he does know the Lord in his own way. In our class that morning he got off on a small rant about Roman Catholics (I counted three anti-Catholic utterances that morning) and he said that we no longer have to sacrifice the body and blood of Christ, and to do it in that manner is “blasphemous”. It was the first Sunday in April and I pointed out that we were about to have communion, and he made the distinction between the way we do it and the way the Catholics do it, which, of course, is “blasphemous”. I didn’t linger on the subject.

        Anyway, he’s been back a few times and largely behaves himself, but this brings up the question of how to understand the Eucharist / Lord’s Supper / Communion / Mass. Do we risk idolatry if we take it as more than “remembrance”?

        I’m with Chaplain Mike.

        • Wasn’t Luther’s understanding of communion called Sacramental Union? The bread being Christ’s Body and the wine His blood, not physically, but much in the way that Jesus himself was fully man and yet fully God without the one becoming the other.

          Anyway, coming from an Anabaptist background I grew with the “symbolic” explanation. But Luther’s understanding is so much richer and makes the practice of communion so much more meaningful.

          • Aidan Clevinger says:

            Oh no, Luther understood that Christ’s physical body and blood were present in the bread and wine. It was Calvin who said that they were present in a “spiritual” sense.

          • Thanks, Aidan and TPD. So with Calvin’s view that makes five interpretations. I’m sure there are more, and it’s funny they don’t get talked about in any church I’ve been in. Had to learn this from church history courses.

          • Both parties adopt the “spiritual presence” terminology at times, meaning drastically different things. The Lutherans mean “spiritual” in a sense that the body and blood are there, but not replacing the physical elements: Being joined to them. Key phrase: Objective presence. The reformed say “spiritual” meaning that when we partake, we feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, who is not actually present because he is currently seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Key phrase: Subjective presence. Lutherans typically shy away from the phrase “spiritually present” in order to make sure our view is distinguished from the subjective one. But the bottom line is that Lutherans believe unbelievers coming to the sacrament do receive Christ, but not to their benefit like believers. The Reformed say that unbelievers coming to the sacrament only receive bread and wine.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Thank you. Communion brings to mind and body, once again, the reality of the risen Lord. He that died on a cross is with us in the here and now, meeting us at table. And all attempts at explanation fall short.

  2. JoanieD says:

    “He was known to them in the breaking of bread.”

    That passage has always had an impact on me as well, Chaplain Mike. I don’t know the ins and outs of how it all works, either, but I trust that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist somehow. I know that God is everywhere and I know I encounter God in prayer and through scripture, but there is still something special in the encountering of God in Holy Communion. Maybe it is because we are doing such a humbling thing…going with all our brothers and sisters to do something that makes “no sense.” Also, it is a very intimate event, in that we are taking something physical actually into our bodies. My husband thinks it is ludicrous to believe such a thing, so I don’t talk with him about it.

    • Josh in FW says:

      It pains me to hear how your husband does not encourage your pursuit of Christ. I will add him to my prayer list.

  3. “My husband thinks it is ludicrous to believe such a thing, so I don’t talk with him about it.”

    Sadly, so do many Christians. Their ‘reason’ tells them so. I’ll pray that one day your husband believes that He can be in it. And that He IS, in it…for his sake.

  4. Yes – I’m a member of a garden-variety non-denom church, but this is why I time and again I show up at a sacramental church. For communion – real communion. I can’t explain it, but it sure seems that I just have to do it.

  5. Communion is an intimate joining of spirits. By receiving your body and blood I am also handing you my body and blood to become one and the same. In common card parlance I am going ‘all in’. Nothing left. Nothing held back. Nothing else to count on. Forget your own people and your father’s house. I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness.

  6. When I left the Baptist/non-denom world as one beaten up by ministry, the one thing I craved was the communion table. That was the place where I found healing, refreshment, and nourishment for my soul. The table, and the liturgy of the table, is where I found Jesus to be present and real.

    Great series, CM.

  7. Tokah Fang says:

    “I don’t know how to talk about this in Aristotelian philosophical formulas. I have no Latin term to define it. I can’t explain the mystery of how the Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, also meets people personally and savingly all over the this world when they come to the communion table. I can’t give you a physical/metaphysical breakdown of the composition of the bread and wine.”

    This part of your essay reminded me of one of the troparia of the paschal hours.

    “In the grave bodily, in hell with the soul as God, in Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou Who fillest all things, O Christ the Infinite.”

    Knowing something is, and understanding how it is are very different things.

  8. My wife and I are two months into a new, sacramental, walk with Jesus. I can’t express how my spirit drinks in how we (now) slow down for the breaking of bread and partake of the LORD’s supper. What a blessing. I would recommend it (HIM) to anyone, but I’m not going to make this a soapbox issue with family and friends.

    As a sidebar: it’s great not to have the sermon be the big deal: that puts unreal pressure on the sermon maker.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As well as focusing everything on what’s essentially Speechifying. Giving undue emphasis to a charismatic speechifier, an Obamessiah in another context.

      “THE VOICE OF A GOD, NOT OF A MAN! THE VOICE OF A GOD, NOT OF A MAN!”

      And when you add emotional spectacle around that speechifying (up to and including larger-than-life images of The Anointed on a giant TV screen behind the pulpit in a multi-million-dollar Megachurch), you start bearing a resemblance to a Nuremberg Rally.

      “SEE HIS FACE! HEAR HIS VOICE!
      THE VOICE OF A GOD, NOT OF A MAN! THE VOICE OF A GOD, NOT OF A MAN!”

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And that is the difference between a Liturgy and a rah-rah pep rally/P&W rock concert.

  10. We bring the bread and wine, Jesus provides the body & blood.

  11. Paul Timo says:

    RE: “remembering” and “thin places”

    I believe that a lot is lost in translation from the original Hebrew concepts and Greek text of the last supper passages to the English phrases “Do this as a remembrance of me” or “Do this in memory of me”.

    The Greek word “anamnesis” and the Hebrew concept of “zakar” carry the meaning of bringing something out of this world into our world or something out of our time into the present moment.

    “Zakar” and variants of this word are used in the language of old covenant worship. God commanded the Hebrew people to re-experience His works in each generation through “zakar”.

    For example, when Jewish people today celebrate Passover, they don’t say “remember when our ancestors were slaves in the desert.” The say something more like “remember when we were slaves in the desert.” They use words and physical things (bitter herbs, honey, wine, etc.) to help them re-live God’s saving acts.

    My understanding is that Jesus commands us (“do this”) to re-experience his passion, death and ressurection through “zakar” or “anamnesis” in the words and actions and bread and wine of the last supper. This is more than a passive “remembering”. It is more like being at the foot of the cross and then seeing the empty tomb.

    Paul

    • Unsteady Connor says:

      Yes! Sacramental practice is not as the anti-Catholic teaching of my evangelical upbringing taught me to understand “what they believe”, that Jesus is sacrificed again and again in the Eucharist.

      Rather, we are present with him there in the celebration of communion. The Eucharist opens a sacred window in time, whereby we have the grace of communion with Jesus.

      Thank you, Paul.

      • Radagast says:

        Vertical time as opposed to horizontal….

      • Very well said, UC, well said.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        A time-window.

        Anyone who’s seen Doctor Who would understand that one.

        • Unsteady Connor says:

          Exactly. Is it weird that science fiction and fantasy have kept me in the faith? It’s one of the things that I don’t think most of the people I’ve grown up with would ever really get.

          • Maybe not so weird. One of the main impetuses to my father-in-law coming to Christain faith was his reading of LOTR some 50 years ago. A far cry from the 4 spiritual laws, but God was in it and spoke to his heart.

  12. Thanks Paul,

    I like that.

  13. As a fairly new Christian (just over 2 yrs), I was taught that the body and blood were symbolic. My husband, raised Catholic, said the Lord was truly present. I was unsure; yes, I believe He “could” be present, but wasn’t sure that was what “do this in remembrance of me” really meant. And then I read the first entry in this Journey into New Life series. As I read the passage, I broke into tears at “It was in the breaking of the bread that they saw it was Jesus.” And I knew. Thank you, Chaplain Mike.

  14. Tom Wright describes it as the “telescoping” of time and space so that we are once more at the table with the Lord, being served by him. It’s a participation in the same meal that the disciples ate with him on the night when he was betrayed, despite the separations of 2000+ years and thousands of miles. It leaves me hungering to take communion far more often than my church does it, in truth.

    • I agree with Nate, there’s something about being limited by space-time that leaves the word “remembrance” as unsatisfactory reference to the past, as opposed to a present reality.
      Having said that, it is equally possible that the Emmaus story can be taken at face value, i.e. they finally recognized Jesus by simply by recalling his actions at the supper in the upper room. I don’t think the Emmaus bread-breaking either proves or disproves a more sacramental view, though it is interesting to speculate.

  15. Final Anonymous says:

    CM, this may seem like a strange question, but does Jesus meet people the same way if they can’t partake in the elements?

    I’ve known people intolerant to gluten, or alcohol, or fructose, or even fruit, who cannot fully participate. If accommodations are made (and sometimes, sadly, they are not) we see a sad little platter of wafers or a small cup of water off to the side, while the rest of the members do “real” Communion.

    Does Jesus still meet people if these changes are made, if they have to commune away from others? Do you think you would still feel the same connection? IS it really the same?

    As someone who doesn’t place a lot of importance on Communion (partly for this reason I think, now that I articulate it), I have no predetermined conclusion here, just curious about the answers.

    • My understanding of Jesus is that he is more than gracious enough to take all extraordinary factors into account. As a hospice chaplain I meet people in all kinds of weakness and incapacitation, and there is no doubt in my mind that Christ is able to minister his grace and presence to them. The sacraments are the “ordinary” means of grace, but there is always allowance for extraordinary circumstances.

      • +1. I’ve gotten this objection myself in conversation with Baptist friends, but never heard it answered so well.

  16. Yes, Communion is appreciated too little, even right within my own family. This reminds and motivates me to encourage my children as well. Very meaningful mediation. Thank you.

  17. Christine McDaniel says:

    Thank you Internet Monk. Always knew when I missed out on communing that I leave empty. This is one of those passages I’ve probably read a lot of times and it never sunk in. Thanks again!

  18. “Thin place” is a good way to describe the Emmaus experience (“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”).

    When he was made known to them, Luke’s gospel reports Jesus doing the same four things in chapter 24 (Emmaus) as in chapter 22 (Lord’s Supper): He took the bread; he blessed it; he broke it; he gave it to them.

    And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

  19. Baptists seriously read that verse and claim that “breaking of bread” refers to a potluck or something. The end result of the “memorial” view of the Lord’s Supper is the neglect of its practice. I would say that conversely, the result of regular celebration is a deeper understanding of it.

    Not sure if these links are allowed, so delete if necessary. In the little writing I’ve had time to do, I’ve compiled a list of 20 reasons/benefits for the weekly celebration of communion, which I believe are valid regardless of eucharistic theology:
    http://www.thegiftoffaith.blogspot.com/2011/11/benefits-of-weekly-communion-reasons-1.html
    http://www.thegiftoffaith.blogspot.com/2011/11/benefits-of-weekly-communion-reasons-9.html

    • I really appreciate my E-Free church. But one of my few complaints is that Communion is only partaken monthly (except during Lent when we do so weekly). Your links make for good reading. Thanks!

      • Glad you liked it. I should mention, though, that if your E-Free church partakes monthly, they are miles ahead of the majority who hold their theology. At least monthly is consistent. I’ve tried to talk several Baptist churches into at least considering that, but the same old dumb arguments always surface. Then they actually recognize Lent and celebrate weekly durring? If I was gonna go with E-Free, I’d hope to find one like yours.

        • The E-Free denom is relatively hands-off and so things vary from church to church. I guess that is the meaning of the “Free” in the name. Our particular pastor received his PhD in Theology at Cambridge University and was very influenced by the Anglican tradition of the country and so is more liturgically inclined than most.