Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Laodicea & The Church's Meal Table (part 1 of 5)

If anyone hears My voice an opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with Me. – Revelation 3:20b  (NET)

When we consider the Revelation, it should be more than abundantly clear that we can in no way be satisfied with spiritual interpretations that forget that this was a real church full of real people, dealing with real issues that were of grave importance to the church in the decades following the life and ministry of Jesus.  Understanding this will also allow us to come to the conclusion that Revelation is not to be taken as a guidebook to events of the future, but as a writing of the apocalyptic genre that was designed to provide a critique to the present, which also provides it with its universal and unquestioned value to the people of God. 

It is as we understand the letters to the churches of Revelation as specifically applicable to those churches that we find those same letters, and Revelation as a whole, applicable to the church for all time and highly useful when it comes to matters of faith and practice.  For too long, Revelation has been distorted and pulled out of shape through fantastic interpretations that look at it as prophecy of what is to come at some time in the distant future.  This has, to our detriment, diminished its value for the people of God.  It is as we put Revelation back in its right context, seeing it in a critique of the church and an unmasking of the nature of worldly power and problematic social conformity amongst the citizens of the heavenly kingdom, that we find an eminently useful book that allows us to better serve our God and His kingdom-oriented purposes.  That effort might very well begin with a right understanding of the powerful communication to Laodicea.    

Our examination will allow us to cast off any notions that the churches of Revelation somehow represent seven “church ages.”  However, it is not the case that, simply because we are able to identify the issues at hand for the Laodicean church, that Jesus’ words to this church, as reported by the author, have no bearing on or relevance for the church today.  As we have seen, the issues that we see being dealt with in the New Testament letters, and which influenced the construction of the Gospels as they related the facts of the ministry of Jesus, once properly situated, can be seen as more than relevant for the church then, the church now, and indeed, the church for all time.  A greater purpose is served, in that the centrality of the meal table, which comes undeniably to the forefront of concern and practice for the Christian community, along with call to a sacrificial love in the midst of a world shaped by matters of honor and shame, serves to sweep away so much of the clutter of thoroughly subjective and anachronistic interpretations of the Gospel that are completely lacking in social, historical, political, geographical, and cultural context. 

Once we have taken the step of recognizing the preponderance of what can almost be taken as the controlling meal table motif in the New Testament letters, doing so in conjunction with the observation that the meal table takes up a significant amount of space in the multiple tellings of the story of Jesus that we see in the Gospel accounts, what seems difficult is simplified.  Indeed, it is the meal table, that which would eventually be transmitted in Christian tradition as the communion (though its fullness would be better comprehended if it was a banquet rather than simply the two elements), with its heavily and inescapably Jewish underpinnings of the messianic banquet and its being forever linked to the Passover and the exodus, that also shows us so much of the foolish and strained interpretations that have been attached to Jesus’ words to the church at Laodicea. 

Never let us forget that the Christian meal table, in following the example of Jesus, was and is designed to be a witness that Jesus rules as Lord of all (the Gospel), that the kingdom of God is in existence (inaugurated with the Resurrection), that it is present in the here and now whenever two or three are gathered and confessing that Jesus is Lord (thus creating a Temple---the place where heaven and earth come together), that it is a kingdom established and marked and extended by willful and loving suffering and sacrifice (thus the natural references to the body and blood of Jesus and His crucifixion), and it is a kingdom to which all are ultimately accountable.  This is where the church at Laodicea was falling short.    

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