Going through the story of Joseph (of the Musical fame, not the musical Fame) in the book of beginnings – Genesis, a whole range of questions arise.
What is going on here? What kind of family does Joseph come from? Why does he bear no ill to those who caused him so much ill to bear? What was God up to in this most bizarre of stories?
I had heard of a series of sermons (which led to a book) that counters the many conclusions of what might be considered a traditional teaching of the Joseph story. Joseph the hero. The one who prospered at the hands of Egypt’s Pharaoh. God’s man – who found favour in enemy territory. What he did, perhaps we can do too (within reason). So I tracked it down.
Well it is a good series, very worthwhile and illuminating. warmly delivered by a big man. It has helped me understand the importance of trajectory identification when reading the books, lives, events of the Old Testament. As a former Roman Catholic, I was not schooled much in Old Testament characters – their lives, loves and losses. So while there is relatively little to unlearn, there are still so many things to learn about how to read the Old Testament.
So I commend this series to all and especially to the brethren and sistren (is that a word?) working through Joseph in Genesis at church at the mo.
The first sermon ‘How to read the story’ is particularly strong and similarly the second. Three and four are heavy on application and that is no bad thing. All can be found by clicking the correct question mark. See if you can guess which one!
This question comes out of a recent conversation with our best buds on Communion and when, if ever, one should hesitate to partake. It is something I have been thinking about for some time. A side question of who exactly can participate in communion arises and that will be my main focus in this post. I will be using the phrase ‘the table’ to describe the receiving of and participating in communion. For those wondering what is meant generally by communion within a christian context and what I am meaning by, it will become clear as we go along.
Thoughts and issues:
Anyone can physically go to the table and receive the bread and wine (often grape juice) – that is obvious. That anyone can physically walk into a church worship gathering and go forward to take at the table does not mean that they should. In fact they shouldn’t and they may actually be exposing themselves to trouble in doing this.
Firstly no one gets to the table in the true spiritual sense except by their being an adopted child of God. By this I mean that there are spiritual realities and benefits at the table that can only be accessed if the person is of the faith and is receiving said benefits by faith.
So by a kind of membership and by a kind of remembering coupled with believing in what is remembered, spiritual realities – blessings and graces, are available to them – the believing member who remembers.
And there is a right way for such a christian believer to approach the table. In faith, remembering what it symbolises and in fact is, and remembering what has made it possible. Firstly, what it symbolises and is. It is two things and the interplay between them is necessary to keep in mind and beautiful to behold. The first thing that it is – is drama – a double re-enactment. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he took a cup and took bread and spoke of them as being his body and blood. Body and blood being broken and being poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Spoken and broken.
Hours later he would be nailed to a cross where his body was broken and his blood poured out. Broken and bled. The table re-enacts and captures both these realities – the last supper and the last brutal hours of Jesus’ life.
But another thing the table is is a family gathering. Brothers and sisters together sharing the communion they have together before their heavenly Father who sent his eternal Son to bring others into this family relationship. Jesus is, in a very real sense, our elder brother. The Father and the Son have made family membership available to all – by invitation only. The invitation is the Gospel. See my posts on the Gospel for clarity on what this actually means.
If there are three components (and there are more) to the table this should help us answer the key question of who should participate in the table and what state this participation demands.
Recapping, there are three components to the table a) the re-enactment of the Last supper of Jesus b) the remembering of the last hours of Jesus c) and it is the family meal for those doing the first two and rembering and receiving the benefits of them both with gladness.
The answer to the question who can participate and receive is clear when we remember all three of these. The family members – the christian believers can and should enjoy the table and its benefits. They should approach the table in faith and in good conscience – being at peace with their God and his people. To approach otherwise is inviting trouble and the scripture speaks of physical implications of demeaning the table by a poor approach.
The non-believer however should not participate at the table at all. The believers should support the non believing visitor in understandiing what is open to them and what is not and why? Actually, something greater than the table is open to them and through it and after it, the table becomes open to them.
If the Gospel is the door to the house, the table is something enjoyed having entered the house by the door.
This is actually the place of great confusion, often emotional confusion for many christians – unnecessarily so. Many christians wish for the table to be accessible to all – christian believers and non christians. They are motivated wonderfully but mistaken woefully. The motivation comes from the true understanding that Jesus is for all, that on the cross as his arms were forcefully kept apart through the nails of execution, he was opening his arms to all mankind to come to him for forgiveness, for restoration, for love and for life.
All true. However they make the simple mistake of treating the table like it is an invitation to Christ. Christ turns away none who would come. Then none should be turned away from the table – Christ’s table. For such a person the wooden table and the wooden cross have become one and the same. No christian would turn away anyone from going close to the fountain of forgiveness – the cross and so it should be with the table. Such a conflation of two wonderful things is highly problematic and is in danger of leaving the seeking, wondering, searching non-christian with a sense of welcome but without reality.
An inappropriate understanding leads to inappropriate guidance. When I say the non christian does not have access to the table, I am not saying he does not have access to Christ and his salvation. I am in fact saying and shouting that he has. And having received Christ’s salvation through repentance and faith, he then has access to a great many things, one of which is the table. First things first. Faith first, then the fruits of the faith. If you invite someone to the fruits without first encountering the gardener whose fruit it is – you are at risk of demeaning the fruit, the gardener, the faith community and the seeker.
Communion is therefore exclusive. It is an insiders meal. Christ is exclusive. Exclusively for all.
All outsiders may come via the wooden cross to the wooden table. But none may come directly to the table. What sense would it make to them. See the scriptures below – see their obvious context and apllication.
Jesus said to his disciples – Do this in memory of me. The outsider, the non disciple is not asked to do this in memory of him. Of course I can hear the ‘proving’ testimony being advanced with haste. It goes something like this “My friend or I came to faith eventually in Christ after receiving or after a season of participation at the table, it is what drew me”.
I delight in and don’t doubt your wonderful arrival in Christ. But the vageries of your journey, like mine with all its quirks should not be seen as normative or necessary or recommendable. That we arrived in Christ, the one who said Come unto me, is the repeatable, necessary, recommendable step.
The table is exclusively for those who profess Christ (as Saviour and LORD). The table is a family meal. For the family of God in Christ – who have made this profession.
Look at the verses – the activiity of partaking, breaking bread, is among the believers. Not among the interested, the seeker, the one who physical can go to the table but the one who has a rightful, blood bought, family space at the table.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
Jesus is for Losers. Provocative title. Provokes me to gratitude. I’m one of Lifes greatest Losers. I cannot tell you how surprised I was and am to be a beneficiary of God’s kindness toward rebel sinners. And the Father chose to show his love for the world by sending the Son (the Incarnation) to die in the place of others (The Atonement) so that rebel sinners could be counted as righteous – perfect (Justification) and go on to lead a life ever seeking to honour God – growing in righteous living, empowered by the Holy Spirit (Sanctification). Theology matters. Losers matter.
Calling very serious christians – here is a quite academic series of talks from a very serious scholar. They are above my head but so what! I am indebted to and can confirm the advice of John Piper about reading above your level. Your level does lift over time. I can read stuff today that I couldn’t have imagined being able to engage with 5 and 10 years ago. Also while reading above your level – you do get some of the things and as you push ahead you begin to gets stuff your earlier had to gloss over.
So watching lectures is kinda’ the same deal and I encourage you to read, think and converse above your level. Big ideas under consideration are like muscles worked out in the gym. Under strain, there is growth. I certainly prefer books to running machines, though I need both.
They are all over 60 minutes so treat them like a study series and watch one a week and repeat it within the week of viewing to maximise opportunites for increased understanding.