Yesterday was an interesting day. My first destination was interesting: the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. A Jewish man who is a follower of Jesus and a member of our church invited me to a luncheon with an introduction to the Passover Seder meal. I felt extremely welcome as perhaps the only Gentile in the place. They were all interested in my ministry and family. It was a very meaningful presentation on the events of Passover and a sacred meal which remembers God’s mighty acts in delivering His people from slavery. Then we shared a lunch together loosely based on the elements of a full Seder meal. Nice. God’s theme of redemption did not begin in the New Testament and I gained a richer appreciation of God’s early redemptive work as recorded in the Old Testament. Everything in the New Testament builds on this foundation.
I got up from my chair and drove 4 hours to watch Iowa defeat Indiana State in the first round of the NIT. All the while, I was sitting next to one of my best friends. Lon is a Christian Counselor with ministry training who has a keen interest in theology and happens to be married to a girl my wife and I grew up with. It’s endless what we have to talk about. Our discussion turned to Rob Bell and the controversy surrounding his new book. If you know theology, my opinion is that Rob Bell is trying to be like Paul Tillich, a theologian from the 1950′s. He wore big plastic glasses and started writing a series of popular theology books. The most famous was The Courage to Be, which, in my opinion was very similar in topic and impact to the new What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Bell. Tillich’s book was not really aimed at academics. It wasn’t full of long footnotes because it was trying to have a conversation with the thinking public. He went on tours, gave lectures and became a pop culture icon. When he visited the campus of the University of Chicago it was pretty big news. TCtB focused on the sense of God that all of us have in common. It became part of a larger conversation. Frustrated many, encouraged others. So I think Tillich is Bell’s template. He’s talking past the academics, trying to speak to a different audience. Now that would be fine, but here’s the problem.
Since Bell left the pastorate he never mentions being part of a community of faith. A lot of Bell’s recent public comments seem to be based on how the church needs to keep up with the world “just because.” In talking about gay marriage he said “that ship has sailed” and the church needs to affirm people where they are. No biblical justification offered. So, while I’m not one of these alarmist people who freaks out every time Bell does something new, I am a bit more concerned about the foundation of his ideas lately. I would like to hear some public comments about how he’s attending a church and serving others and in conversation about the stuff in his books somewhere besides book signings. I’m not actually going to purchase and read this book until I know more about Bell’s context. But the man does know how to come up with fresh language for talking about what he believes. Preachers should take note of that.
This brought me to reaffirm a couple things I’ve always believed. First, what Christians believe has to be grounded in what we understand the Bible to be saying. We need to give the Bible authority to speak into our lives no matter what year it is, or we’re just making up our own religion. Second, what we believe has to be continually lived out with others in the church. We are called by Jesus to be a community. I’m naturally held a accountable knowing I’ll have to see my friends there who may ask me how it’s going. If I fail to attend, someone will notice and check on me. We all need that encouragement to be faithful. By being present and caring, I do the same for others. And when we have disagreements we can talk about it based on the Bible until we get it right.
You can’t really get Jesus in a package that doesn’t include the church. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about God with my faith community.
Today is called Maundy Thursday in the Christian tradition. It commemorates Jesus’ last meal with his closest followers before his death. From this meal we have the Eucharist (thanksgiving) or Communion as the way to both commemorate Jesus’ sacrificial death and to experience the power of it in the present. It is considered by all or nearly all Christians to be a sacrament, a way that we intersect directly with the grace of God in our time. In our tradition (Church of the Nazarene) we call it a means of grace. So it’s not just an outward ritual. It’s a way to commune with God. We don’t emphasize anything magical happening with the elements of communion (bread & cup), but rather the act of obedience to Jesus’ command (do this…) puts us in a position where God can bless us in a special way. God uses the bread and the cup to draw us near to the center of our faith and Christian experience. It reminds us that it’s a relationship with God (expressed here in a meal) and not just a set of beliefs.
But in John’s Gospel the Last Supper commemorates the act of love where Jesus washed the feet of his followers. (John covers the Eucharist mainly in John 6). He wanted his community to understand that Jesus’ community was to be a community of servant-leaders who love and serve. You can read about it in John 13. Peter demonstrates that for some, the hardest part is being served. And so this keeps our communities of faith communities of Grace. Salvation is a gift and a calling. If we don’t keep these in balance, we lose our way.
So both traditions have been a part of celebrating Maundy Thursday. (The name probably comes from the Latin , Mandatum, which is the first word in John 13:34 “A new COMMAND I give you…, that you love one another.”) Celebrating the Eucharist/Communion and foot washing.
This year, our church is not having a Maundy Thursday service. But one could spend some time today reflecting on the meaning and significance of both of these traditions. Perhaps you’ll commemorate the powerful love of Jesus on Good Friday and receive communion on Easter Sunday. Spend time today preparing yourself for these events. Then think about how you live in community with others. If you’re not part of a worshipping community, consider connecting with one this weekend. We can’t really love one another if we’re isolated on our journey of faith. It’s in serving others that we really find fulfillment. And once we drop our guard, it feels great to be served. Let love not take advantage of others-those who are served are empowered to return the gift of life. It not only feels good, it feels right.
So there it is- Maundy Thursday. A chance in the middle of Holy Week to consider the awesome gift of love that we can share with others, if we would.
Good Friday service 7pm
NewHope Community Church