Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/06/13 Sermon - Ed Wynne

 

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Amos 5:6-7,10-15

II Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

 

For the better part of half a century now, our Roman Catholic friends across the world have been hearing the mass in their own native languages. The days are gone when the mass was said in Latin, incomprehensible to all Protestants and even to a good many Catholics. In the old days when the priest elevated the host and said, "Hoc est Corpus," "This is my body," there was so much mystery surrounding the whole thing that it gave rise among early English-speaking Protestants to a phrase we still use today-- "hocus pocus." But it is safe to say that most of the "hocus pocus" is gone from the Catholic mass, and we Protestants have discovered how similar it is to our own service of Holy Communion.

Note Jesus' commanding verbs of action in the Lord's Supper-- Take this and share it. . . Do this in remembrance of me. . . Whatever else the sacrament may be, there is no doubt Jesus thought of it essentially as an action-- a thing done or enacted-- or if we like, a drama-- which is a Greek word meaning simply "something done." Let's keep this idea of the action in our minds, because it will help us avoid two errors into which experience has shown Christians easily fall.


The first error is to objectify the sacrament-- that is, to make it a thing out there, and to equate it with the elements of bread and wine. Then we find ourselves tied up in all the questions about the precise relationship between this thing or substance and the presence of Christ-- all those delightful theories of transubstantiation and consubstantiation, etc., over which people have spilled their blood and divided their churches. And the opposite error is to subjectify the sacrament as a personal religious experience-- that is, a thing felt inside of me. The presence of Christ is again localized, but this time inside the believing subject, and if there is no belief, then he is not there.

Now I wouldn't worry us with either of these views, which as theories now are fairly harmless, were it not for the fact they both lead so easily in practice to an attitude contrary to everything the early church had to say about this sacrament-- I mean a private approach to the service in which communion becomes a number of personal relations to a thing, or a number of private religious experiences. The result is that here of all places we get a nearness of one another without a closeness-- without community-- as each single person comes to make his or her communion, to establish contact with God on her or his own private line.

But if we think of communion in the first place as an action, we can get away from all of this back to the intention of Jesus and the early church. "Do this"-- the verb is a plural one-- it is nothing that can possibly be a private affair simply between oneself and God. The Apostle Paul introduces his teaching on communion with the simple words: "When you come together. . . ." Everyone would understand without being told what that meant. For this was the thing for which Christians must come together.


And because we come to do something together, that in itself answers the question why and when we should go. Most of us would say, I suppose, that the reason we go, and have been brought up to go, to Holy Communion, is to receive personal help and strength for living a Christian life-- and every one of us can testify that help does indeed come. But if that is our primary reason for going, then what has been caricatured as the gas-pump idea of communion is absolutely logical. The pastor becomes a sort of service station attendant whose job is to be open-- monthly, weekly, or daily, according to demand-- for any of his customers who require to fill up. Who comes and how often depends, quite naturally, on what individuals think they need and how much they feel they get from it.

But now let us try to see the Holy Communion as the New Testament saw it, as the corporate act for which the community must come together, and the matter cannot help looking rather different.

Let's go back to the beginning. By baptism we were, so to speak, signed on and put into the cast as actors in a great company, whose very reason for being is to present to the world-- or rather to let Christ present through it-- the drama, the finished act of its redemption-- by sharing who we are and what we have in love to all others.

And the way Jesus gave instructions for this was brutally simple. The church, as his body, was to reproduce in its own life his ministry-- by allowing itself like him to be taken, itself like him to be consecrated to God's purpose, itself like him to be broken in sacrifice, itself like him and through him to be released in triumph for the world's redemption. All Christians are to be the presentation in time, the moving picture, the body, of the suffering and victorious Christ. We come together to do this, together to have this done to us-- to let Christ take us, and sanctify us, and break us, and make us instruments of his world-wide conquest. Everything else-- the prayers we say, the words we use, the satisfaction of personal needs-- is secondary.


This is the action, the spring and the pattern of all other Christian action, for which Sunday exists, and by which it alone was for centuries distinguished from every other working day. This is the drama for which every Christian is cast, and for which all other prayer and all other worship is rehearsal. It is Christ's command performance. And it should be as unthinkable for any member or friend of the church simply to cut this corporate act as for someone in a Broadway cast to decide one evening to take the night off. Anyone responsible for amateur dramatics knows that nothing plays such havoc with a play as absenteeism from rehearsals, let alone from the night itself. Well, this is the night itself, the Church's moment, when on the Lord's Day the Body of Christ does for the world what its Lord commanded and places itself in his hands for death and for life. To ask the question, "How often should I go?" is like imagining the disciples asking that night in which he was betrayed, "Need I be here?" There was only one who could think of leaving that evening, and when he went out it was night indeed.