Monday, December 26, 2011

Communion & The Kingdom of God (part 1 and 2)

The communion table can be and has been looked upon in a variety of ways, many of which have value, and are practical and helpful as those who participate at the table seek to live out their faith.  The communion should not be primarily looked upon as a personal experience with God or as a place where individual needs are met, but rather, as a proclamation of His kingdom, recognizing its inauguration through Jesus.  This can be achieved by keeping it within the context of the practice of Jesus, the messianic feast, and the Passover, along with what is signaled by said practice, the messianic feast and the Passover, upon which the communion as given to us by Jesus has been founded. 

The communion table that Jesus instituted looked back to the grand vision of Isaiah’s all inclusive end-time feast.  This looking back also involved a looking forward, but the fact that it looked back, and the fact that it had a context within Israel’s history and its feasts, means that any and all interpretations of the communion that do not involve historical and eschatological considerations in relation to conceptions regarding the kingdom of God and the expectations of God’s people (past, present, and future) are going to be dangerously flawed.  Thoughts concerning the communion must take into consideration the fact that the God of Israel had made a promise to Abraham, and the final fulfillment of that promise was intended to be celebrated by all nations within God’s new world. 

The new world is that which was brought into existence at the Resurrection of Jesus---the world in which Jesus is king.  At the same time, that new world is something for which we still wait and for which the whole of the creation groans.  Jesus was and is the primary agent of that kingdom.  Jesus inaugurated and is inaugurating Isaiah’s vision in the past and in the present through miniature kingdom banquets.  This is what we see at His meals and in His parables, this is what we see taking place at the “last supper,” and this is what is taking place whenever those that claim Him as Lord take up the elements of bread and wine.  The tables that we see in the life of Jesus are enactments of the kingdom of heaven, in which all are invited to participate, and so too is the communion.  In addition, those who participate in the communion are promising to embody the kingdom principles as demonstrated by Jesus, as seen at His meals, while acknowledging that there is to be a future, earthly consummation of the kingdom of heaven to be expected. 

The communion table is an ambassadorial function, designed to prepare the world for the arrival of the King.  The Caesar would place statues and busts of himself, while also encouraging honorific ceremonies within far-flung communities that were under his dominion, as a reminder of his lordship, and so too has Jesus.  By the power of the Resurrection and through the operation of the Spirit, He has placed new creations within this old creation, along with ceremonies such as communion and baptism, to serve as vessels for the remembrance of His Lordship.  In this way, just as was the case in the days of the Caesars, the community will be suitably prepared to receive their ruler when the time for an appearance has been determined.  Yes, the communion, like so many other things associated with the message of Jesus, is subversive of the present order, and among other things, is designed to inform the world that it has a true ruler, whose name is Jesus. 

In these miniature kingdom banquets in which Jesus either participated or presided, or of which He spoke in His parables, we can see that those who had been ostracized from society and marginalized in some way are sought out and compelled to attend.  It is clear that the keepers of the covenant boundaries in His day (Pharisees, scribes, etc…) were aware that the inclusiveness that was put on display by Jesus was a critique that was directed towards them, as the long and contentious history of Israel’s dealings with the nations of the world had left them weary and wary of open relationships with Gentiles that might jeopardize either individual or corporate standing within the covenant.  The attitude of “better safe than sorry,” when it came to what it meant to be a light to the nations, which, according to what we see with Jesus and can extrapolate from His words and deeds, was not altogether pleasing to God. 

So when we consider Jesus’ table fellowship in connection with our modern communion tables, we see that all are invited to attend, with this invitation including the marginalized alongside those who might be marginalizing them; but Jesus’ repeated emphasis on the first being last and the last being first, draws our attention to the fact that there is not going to be (or at least there should not be) any discernible hierarchies or societal constructs on display at the meal that is designed to tell and to educate the world about the kingdom of heaven.  It is, most definitely, not going to be a time or a place for reprisals or counter-oppression, nor a celebration of exclusivity.  The communion, like the feasts of Israel, is a celebration of God’s rule, God’s deliverance, and human responsibility to rightly bear the divine image so as to be a light that draws praise and worship to the Creator. 

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