19 Feb 2007

Communion with God & His Family

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Church, Grace, Lord's Supper, Worship

Communion With God and His Family
There are several themes that come together in my understanding of Communion or the Lord’s Supper. I believe the Hebrew Bible and the “New Testament” are vitally connected in its teachings regarding this meal. Thus I believe that the “NT” teaching regarding the Supper is to be interpreted against the background of the shalom (i.e. peace/fellowship) offerings and the meals of Jesus in the Gospels.
This meal has a vertical dimension tying us to God our Redeemer. This meal has a horizontal aspect that connects us to God’s Family. This meal has a backward feature linking us to God’s act at Golgotha. This meal has a forward outlook that pulls us into the eschaton and the promise of life in the Presence of our Lord. The word “communion” or “fellowship,” in my view, best ties all these phases of the Supper together. We experience none of these blessings alone rather they are “shared” in concert with the redeemed community. The common “mood” for all those threads in Scripture is one of abundant Joy. The Supper is not just one of these things rather it is all of them and we cannot ignore any of them. These four threads in the biblical teaching on the LS I believe need to be “restored” to our fellowship.

The Vertical Dimension
The Table is a moment of profound communion (i.e. fellowship) with God. This is precisely Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 10.16. The Table is holy because God is “there.” We share (have fellowship) the Table with God. This view makes no sense, though, if we do not accept the relation of the Supper with shalom meals of the Hebrew Bible.Yet these meals are the very basis of Paul’s reasoning (cf. 1 Cor. 10.18ff).
The great examples of these meals, as in Exodus 24.1-11, Leviticus 9 and 2 Chronicles 30 reveal what Paul has in mind. Because Sin, the barrier between man and God, has been removed through a Sacrifice (atonement) there can now be uninhibited fellowship. God’s Presence is real and not a simple trick of the mind or semantics. God’s Presence is as real as in Exodus 3 when God appeared to Moses. This is what we long for as redeemed people.

Having fellowship with God was a moment of great joy and celebration.Moses tells us, “when the people saw it [God’s glory appearing], they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (Lev. 9.24).We see Jesus continually acting out this principle in his life in the Gospels.

 

The Horizontal Aspect
God’s Table has never been solely about a private moment with the Lord.Even the “vertical” dimension of the Table was never experienced alone.God’s people can and do go for prayer walks, sit in trees, drive in cars and experience profound moments of communion with the God of grace.But these are not the Table. God has never intended the Table to be like this.Tables are meant for families.

As God set it up one could not offer a sacrifice without a group to fellowship with.The shalom sacrifice was eaten.Leviticus 7.16 tells us that 800 pounds of meat had to be eaten in two days!No human could do this alone.Thus friends and family gathered for a sacrifice and folks ate together.

The Passover is a good example of what I mean.This is truly a family meal.Jews did not, indeed could not, take the Passover alone.Jesus and his disciples were a family and celebrated this meal together.The meal bound a group of misfits together through an experience of God’s grace.They talked, ate, relaxed all in the context of the Table.
It is the failure of this horizontal aspect of the table that Paul reprimands the Corinthians for. In 1 Cor 11 the Corinthian church were importing pagan stratification into the society of the redeemed. Peter Lampe (in Interpretation) goes into these issues and sheds a flood of light onto this text and its context. The Corinthians did not realize that an experience of the Crucified Lord alters how we view and experience one another. As Lampe writes,

“The Corinthians, forgetting care for others, were interested solely in the vertical communion with the risen Lord. Paul, however says that one can only have a close relationship with the risen Lord . . . Christians are led to care for others, proclaiming Christ’s death in their existence”

The Corinthians thought the Table was only about their individual time with God. Paul says they are mistaken. One can only be at the Table with God if he or she came with a brother or a sister. It is precisely here where one’s understanding of 1 Cor 11. 29 comes in. I believe the entire context of chapter 11 makes it extremely unlikely that Paul is chastising these brethren and sisters for not being devotional enough. The problem was how they were treating their brothers and sisters. The phrase “of the Lord” (rather than simply “body”) was almost certainly not a part of the original. The phrase is missing from p46 (P stands for “papyri” and 46 stands for its number) which is the earliest witness we have to Greek text of 1 Corinthians (dates to about 200). The phrase is missing from the most important uncial manuscripts (Siniaticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus and a host of others). This evidence, which is weighty, makes it very unlikely that Paul wrote the phrase “of the Lord” in v. 29. The call to “recognize” the body refers to the Body of Christ that is assembled at the Table which makes perfect sense in light of the problem the Corinthians were having at the Table.

Thus at the Table we celebrate together the vertical dimension that has been established through the sacrifice of Jesus upon the altar. Communion is now available with our Father and our Brother in a way that has never been experienced before.

The Backward Feature
The Lord’s Table also looks back and recalls the great works of God culminating in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.Jesus tells us to remember him.I do not believe this means only recalling six hours one Friday.We remember Jesus.But when we remember Jesus we also remember God’s work in Jesus.It is God’s victory in and through Jesus.
When we gather at his Table we recall the gift that brought us here. This backward glance is not a moment of despondency. It is not a moment of self-deprecation. The cross was not a moment of defeat for Jesus rather it was a moment of glorification. We recall this as his crowning moment in life (as John’s Gospel thinks of it). When we remember not only the cross but all of Jesus ministry . . . then we remember the depth of God’s love for us (even me!). The cross is the revelation of love (John 3.16; 1 John 3.16). At the Table I remember that, like the woman caught in adultery and the thief, I am not condemned! When we look backward we see reason to celebrate the victory of God.

Once again we need to remember the connection with the Hebrew Bible. The word “memorial” does not imply somber, solitude, sad, dour or anything of the sort. The Passover was a “memorial” as well and it was never a sad occasion or a private moment of introspection. The Passover was a mighty celebration held in honor of the Lord. The word “memorial” is associated with “rejoicing” in Scripture. Moses helps us understand this term,

Also at your times of rejoicing – your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals – you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God” (Num 10.10).

The Forward Outlook
By sitting at God’s Table we also look forward to the future. We truly experience the presence of the risen Christ at the Table but we also proclaim that his resurrection leads to a time when he will return. In the Supper we have a foretaste, a shadow if you will, of the gloriousness of what heaven will be like. At the Table all the saints of old are gathered in communion with us in anticipation of when we will literally sit at the great banquet in the eschaton. John gives us a glimpse of this “wedding supper of the Lamb” in Revelation 19.9.

There are many other things that tie the Table to the future as well but they are not at issue so I will leave them for the moment.

Summing Up:

I believe that God is always Present at his table. I believe the community of God is always present at the table. I believe that the Table is characterized by joy and gratitude. I do not believe the Table is an altar experience. I believe such a perspective is not rooted in Scripture but rather in doctrine that Christ is sacrificed again (medieval mass). The altar was and remains the cross. The cross allows us to sit at the Table with God … a table rich and varied in what God intends it to be for his Family.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

24 Responses to “Communion with God & His Family”

  1. Trey Morgan Says:

    Good post. Very thoughtfull. Ever looked at communion from those for angles … in that way. Thanks for making me think!

    Blessings

  2. Steve Puckett Says:

    I agree with your assessment.

    My take is the table does not do what it could because of the logistics of our Supper celebrations. We have made it mostly an individual, private event, but that’s not what I see in Scripture and in the early documents of Christian history. I’m not sure how we would change this, but I have gotten a couple of ideas while visiting other churches. In Baptist preacher friend’s church, once a year they set up the table in the center of their multipurpose room and have aisles with microphones. People come forward to the table to take communion. Anyone who wants to can give a testimony of what the table means to them or what God has done/is doing in his/her life.

    I visited a church in Birmingham, Christmas 2005, and they had tables set up all around their auditorium. During communion, families and individuals would go to the table of their choice to take communion.

    It seems to me that these options allow for more interaction between those in the family of God and demonstrate that communion is about our relationships in the body as much as it is about our individual relationships with God.

    Peace.

    Steve

  3. john dobbs Says:

    Superb, Bobby. Much more scholarly than my writings about communion a few days ago. I appreciate the great message … and I believe I will use that in a sermon or class sometime soon. It’s too good not to share. God bless you!

  4. Zack Says:

    Excellant thoughts there Bobby. I certainly believe we can learn a lot more about the Lord’s Supper by looking at the Old Testament fellowship meals and so on. The Old Testament is the backdrop to the New Testament. Great thoughts on this subject. God bless you and your family! Peace be with you!

  5. Josh Stump Says:

    Excellent thoughts. Thank you Bobby.

  6. Alan Says:

    Great thoughts, Bobby. Communion has much deeper and more profound meaning than we typically recognize.

    However, I’m not so sure about the phrase “of the Lord” in 1 Cor 11:29 not being from Paul’s pen. The rationale usually offered, that it is not original because it is not in the Alexandrian line of texts, has some problems. Other portions of the NT that are missing from those texts are quoted by the early church fathers at least 150 years prior to the time of the earliest surviving Alexandrian texts (fourth century). For example, the ending of Mark is quoted in the Diatessaron, dating from about 175 AD. The same passage is quoted by Irenaeus in Against Heresies, late 2nd century. That suggests that the ending of Mark existed in the original but was omitted later on in the Alexandrian line of texts. For that reason I don’t think it is a good idea to discount the passages that exist in the Byzantine manuscripts but not in the Alexandrian.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Thanks folks for the quick responses on this post.

    Alan, I think the textual evidence against “of the Lord” in 1 C 11.29 is overwhelming. Mark 16 is a completely different issue … though I do not believe vv.9-20 are Markan either.

    The NIV is the only major contemporary English translation that reads “of the Lord” in v.29. The RSV, NRSV, ESV, NAB, NASB, even the old ASV does not have the reading.

    On another day we can talk about the merits and demerits of the Byzantine tradition. I shall enjoy such a stimulating conversation.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  8. Alan Says:

    Hi Bobby,

    Sorry for the temporary derailment of the thread. I agree that is a complex discussion for another time.

    I don’t think the points in your post hang on this textual question.

  9. Messianic Gentile Says:

    Bobby,

    Ever read the small book by Tom Wright called The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion? It is a super simple book to read, in fact, it is irritatingly simple in some parts. But he masterfully connects the past and future in the meal.

    Your post reminds me of that book.

    Many blessings…

  10. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    Thanks, Bobby!

    Dee

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Bobby,

    An addition to the vertical is that when we are observing the communion time we are also eating and drinking with Jesus in the kingdom as He stated that we would.

    In fact, each Sunday our songs, prayers, and praise go up to join together with the 144,000 around the throne.

    David D.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Bobby,

    An additional comment that I forgot to make before sending.

    Why do we fail, during communion, to thank Jesus for being willing to be the sacrifice? When offering prayer at this time that is a important part of the prayer.

    It would also be great for us to take as much time with Communion as we set aside for the preacher.

    Holding the bread and everyone partake together. Also the same with the cup is meaningful.

    Using 1 Peter 1:3–Do with connect with the anticipation of Heaven and worship around the throne?

    Blessings,

    David D.

  13. Paula Harrington Says:

    Glad I stopped by, too 🙂

  14. Darin Says:

    Bobby,

    I’m not sure about great minds, at least yours that is,haha, but I did enjoy reading your thoughts.

    An excellent read at this point in my journey.

    Thanks.

  15. JP Manzi Says:

    Yes!! Great thoughts Bobby, I may print this out and read it again.

    JP

  16. benoverby Says:

    Bobby,

    Superb reminders. I also like the way some of the early writers thought of the meal. It really was sacramental. They believed they were receiving a special grace from God as they were present with the community and the Christ; a grace they needed in order to live to God’s glory. His presence is dynamic and powerful!

  17. preacherman Says:

    Bobby,
    Excellent post.
    I communion is something I look forward to every week. It definately hasn’t become something in our church that is dull and boring. We have made it very meaningful and central focus of the service. You definately can feel God’s presence.

  18. Bobby Cohoon Says:

    Great Post Bobby.

  19. Wade Tannehill Says:

    Excellent post. Between this and John Dobbs’ February 15th post we have a good summary of communion theology.

    I especially like what you said about the horizontal dimensions of communion, which is our movement’s weakness. As you say, “God’s Table has never been solely about a private moment with the Lord.” Realizing this could radically change the way we do communion–especially in regard to how it is served to those “providentially hindered from an earlier service–a point John covered in his February 15th post.

    Good job, Bobby.

  20. Stoogelover Says:

    Good thoughts. I learned much about this from a couple of John Mark Hicks’ classes at a Zoe conference a couple of years ago. We’ve tried several approaches to communion so as to better capture the deeper essense of the event. One Sunday we had people gather around tables in the fellowship hall (adjacent to the sanctuary) and the communion bread was made in large loaves. We had full glasses of juice and as we communed, we had each person at each table share the meaning of communion. It was the best moment of communion / fellowship I’ve ever experienced.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Bobby.

  21. Jim Frost Says:

    Great thoughts, I will save this material for future reference.

  22. Niki Says:

    Our church family practices communion sort of like Steve mentioned. We have two tables set up on either side of the room. There is a thought shared about the reason we practice communion and each of us is invited to go to the tables when were ready. There is no passing of plates, raising of hands to make sure noone has been missed, or anything like the traditions we observed when I was growing up. It is intimate without being done in a solitary manner. It has brought a whole new meaning to me. Everyone can eat together, not in a line as the tray is passed to you.

    You shared some great thoughts here Bobby. You always make me think! I like that.

  23. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Niki sounds like a great place to worship. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Shalom,
    Bobby V

  24. Wiley Says:

    Bobby,

    I spent the better part of an hour digging through archives a couple of days ago looking for this study you di. I finally found it for my keepers after having lost a hard drive (rebuilding a collection of what I lost!). I then decided to check in on you to see how things were going. Found your post on your daughter, and right below it, the very thing I had spent the last hour looking for!

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