Weekly we gather — seldom daily as they did in New Testament times, the era of ravenous lions and Nero’s flaming, pitch-dipped Christians, human torches to light his gardens. Lugging our three pound Bibles and a week’s worth of accumulated angst, we gather, having in common our hearts of flesh and likely the scar tissue where hearts of stone rubbed us raw in time past.
“Coming together” Paul calls it at least four times in his Corinthian communiqué, and he chides that congregation for coming together “for the worse.” By contrast, he launches into what amounts to a reenactment of Jesus’ last Passover celebration in the Upper Room with words that have worn grooves in the church’s collective memory. “This do in remembrance of Me.”
According to John MacArthur, Paul’s account of Jesus’ last Passover celebration in the Upper Room pre-dates the Gospels, making it the first written record of the event from which we pattern our modern day communion service. Paul received the story that the eye-witnesses would write about later. Let that sink in for a moment: post-crucifixion, post-resurrection, post-ascension, Paul was given the privilege of writing about an event he would never have been invited to at the time.
The bread and the cup had once been the centerpiece of the early church’s coming together. However, in keeping with human nature, it had become a hollow shell. Indifferent, ritualistic, unrepentant, and greedy, the Corinthians gobbled bread and slurped wine without a thought for Christ’s sacrifice. It was Paul’s intent to fill that tradition with meaning once again.
Can we say that what happens when we “come together” each week is “for the better” — for the enhancement, the building up of the Body? Oh, we will not do it perfectly. Not now. Not on this planet. But do we listen more than we speak? Do we ask questions like a bridge from heart to heart — and then really pay attention to the answers that travel back to us on that bridge? Can we bear in mind that the point of our gathering has very little to do with order of service or music style or whose turn it is to serve in the nursery?
Whatever our tradition — bread cubes and grape juice, matzo and wine, daily, weekly, or monthly — when we gather “for the better,” we receive the story anew. We lift up the Gospel of Truth and put the wonder of incarnation on display, demonstrating that we are committed to a Kingdom that is both already and not-yet.
Here in New England, church attendance is no longer a cultural norm. Unbelievers (and even some Christians) have accounted for the church in the column labeled “irrelevant,” but — whether by curiosity or by compulsion — if an unbeliever enters our fellowship, what would be his impression of our “coming together?” It’s no surprise that Paul had thoughts on this. His goal was that an “outsider” be convicted, called to account, and overcome by the reality of God’s presence.
If awe is a contagious condition, is anyone who wanders into my fellowship at risk?
Are the bread and the cup, the ministry of the Word, the lifting of voices, and the offering of gifts an empty tradition, a hollow shell — or does grace flow like wine?
Are hearts nourished with the Living Bread until the truth overflows and splashes, soaking believers and unbelievers alike with the glorious outcome of having come together “for the better.”
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