Our little church, Lake Baldwin, celebrates communion on the first Sunday of each month. There is much variety in how churches do this: in many liturgical churches (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, etc.) the Eucharist (meaning "good gift") is served each week, usually with each congregant walking to the altar to sip from the goblet and take the bread from the plate. Luci Shaw, an Episcopalian writes:
"At the altar for Eucharist, no matter our political leanings or past history, we meet in the presence of the one who draws us together as parts of one body -- those who have died, those with whom we live and work, and those yet to be born -- we're all part of the family -- the communion of saints. Christ's body and blood become the food and drink of life and growth. And in turn we become his fingers and his feet." (Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit, p. 145)
In most of the churches I have ever attended, platters are passed around the pews with pieces of matzoh (or other communion cracker) and small plastic cups of juice. At Lake Baldwin, a PCA church, there are three lines at the front of the church, two with juice and one with wine. We pull off a piece of bread from the loaf and dip it in the cup as the pastor or elder reminds us, "The body of Christ broken for you, the blood of Christ poured out for you." The bread, the wine, the words: we see, smell, touch, taste, and hear these potent sensory reminders of the sacrifice of our Savior and the community of loving believers. I am grateful for that this weekend. Lake Baldwin has been a healing refuge for me, and the people there -- my brothers and sisters in Christ -- so kind.
I found it interesting this morning that this week's sermon from Genesis 14:17-24 was about Melchizedek offering Abram a feast of bread and wine and then blessing him in the name of God. Who was Melchizedek? He was the king of Salem. Salem is a variant of the word shalom which is peace, and was probably in the vicinity of the city of Jerusalem. Besides being king of Salem, he was "a priest of the Most High God." His own name means "King of Righteousness." So, in a sense, you could say he was a priest and king of righteousness and peace. Does that sound like someone else in the Bible? Yes, and not by accident! Melchizedek was a foreshadowing of the messiah Yeshua (whom most English speakers know as Jesus), our high priest and our king of righteousness (flowing from God's justice) and peace (flowing from God's mercy). God's justice demanded penalty for sin and his mercy paid that same penalty for us. Where? At the cross of Christ! In the New Testament, Hebrews 7 makes a clear connection between Melchizedek and Jesus. It gets even more fascinating, especially if you know anything about the Jewish priesthood and sacrificial system!
1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.
~~~ and ~~~
15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’” 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
I have always loved the entire book of Hebrews for how it lays out the story of Jesus as not only our high priest, but also as the sacrifice lamb.
As I wrote in my Advent poem "The Paradox" many years ago,Come, see where He lays,
Good Shepherd and Little Lamb
King of Kings and Servant of All
Prophet and Prophecy Fulfilled
Physician and Wounded One
High Priest and Atoning Sacrifice
Counselor and Rejected One
Builder and Foundation Stone
Righteous Judge and Condemned Prisoner
Ancient of Days and Newly-born Babe
God and Man
Our pastor Mike Tilley drew a contrast between Melchizedek, king of Salem, and an unnamed king of Sodom who tried to bargain with Abram over the bounty of a recent battle. Abram refused this other king, saying, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’" He knew that when you take "stuff" you give away power over your own life. Mike asked us to think about what we want to shape our life stories: the blessing of God or the bargaining power of what this world has to offer. If we want true righteousness and peace, we must recenter our lives around Jesus and not things.
"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ... Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God... Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation... How much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." Romans 3:22a; 5:1-2, 7-11, 17b
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ... And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.... And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:2, 9-11; 4:7
I guess that's been quite the mix of Old Testament and New Testament theology today! When I get going with the Bible, one thing just leads to another...
And it started with a picture. The communion cup photograph at the top of this post will be my entry this coming Friday for the P52 photo project. The theme this week is "Drink It Up!" and I seriously couldn't think of anything more fitting than Communion! In case you are wondering, the bread is under the red cloth on the plate. I would have liked to have taken a good photo of that, but it was covered up until communion time and I couldn't get a clear picture then without interfering. I took the cup photo when they released the children to go to Sunday School. My previous P52 entries, some on this blog and some at www.ComeWearyMoms.blogspot.com:
Besides P52, this blog post will also be linked to Ann Kroeker's meme, Food on Fridays.