Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Communion Memorial Story

I had a chance to do the communion message today. I wasn’t sure what to talk about, though, since I hadn’t really thought about communion for some time. I’ve participated in it, sure, like I have nearly every week of my life as a baptized Christian, but I’ve struggled with its significance and its impact on my life (not the necessity for it, just how I need to approach it, because I feel I had not been taking it seriously for years).

Communion is very important in our particular “faith tribe”, and is performed every Sunday, but only Sundays. Evening services were created back during WWII so those who worked Sunday mornings could go to church in the evenings and take communion then. If you missed communion, it could be brought to you, or you could partake in a small group setting. I grew up with the impression that if you missed communion for any reason other than sickness, you’ve messed up somehow. You showed up on Sunday to take communion.

On one hand, this mindset is okay. It says, I take this new covenant very seriously, and I desire a weekly memorial of why Jesus came to earth for me and why I am a part of this congregation of believers. The early Christians desired this, too, and, according to Acts, came together weekly to break bread and pray together, Jew and Gentile alike.

On the other hand, if you’re not careful, it becomes just another church ritual that you check off every week. I’ve felt like this for a long time, and even though I was happy to be asked to bring a communion message (me, or my husband, or both of us — however we wanted to do it), I was a little terrified that my message would be fraudulent, spoken from the mouth of someone who’d merely been going through the motions for years.

But maybe I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. So, I figured, why not get down to the nuts and bolts of it? This little morsel of bread and sip of juice that we do every week is a tiny remnant from Jesus’ last Passover feast with his apostles. I’ve heard 1 Cor 11:23-32 repeated verbatim every week in one congregation we attended years ago. Don’t get me wrong; that’s an important passage. It makes you think. I also used to almost have my dad’s communion reading memorized. I know the story from years of hearing it read or repeated from memory over the plates before they were passed, but when was the last time I really thought about it?

So, I did what comes easiest to me: I wrote a story and read it aloud. Here it is:

Once upon a time, a certain Jewish man and twelve of his dearest students and friends sat down to eat a meal that they had participated in once a year, every year for most of their remembered lives. These twelve friends had been traveling with this man, their Teacher, for months, enduring hardships of all kinds. He taught them a new way to treat people, and a new way to view God and His Law. At first it was difficult to believe that this lowly man was more than another prophet sent from God to predict the Messiah, but hearing him speak and seeing his signs made the truth undeniable — this man was the Savior.

And he was going to die.

He had told them this, himself, several times leading up to this meal. They knew from the prophets. But they still had so much to learn! Surely the Father would let him stay around longer. He had said he was to be crucified. Surely he was speaking figuratively again. How could God allow his Son to die in such a cruel, humiliating way? Wouldn’t that just discredit everything he had taught? Crucifixion was for criminals.

As their Teacher spoke to them while they ate this ritual supper, he changed some things. He wouldn’t drink the wine, instead telling them to share it amongst themselves. He broke the bread, gave thanks as was customary, handed it to them, and said, “This is my body.”

Wait, hadn’t they heard him say this before? The Pharisees had fits over it. Those literal perfectionists weren’t used to his figurative speech.

“Broken for you.”

…Because he had a habit of speaking figuratively.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

For decades they had participated in this meal. It was a pinnacle of their religion. But their rabbi was asking them to change the focus of their ritual.

Do this, my friends, not to remember something God commanded your ancestors to do, but someone who is with you right now. Someone you will miss. Someone who loves you and who has been patient with your tempers and slow understanding, who has spent nearly every waking moment with you while we traveled all over and preached new, wonderful, dangerous things to a needy world. Listen up now, my dear friends. This is an important moment.

How silent might they have been at this point, waiting for what comes next? After their supper, Jesus picked up a cup and said in his familiar, figurative speech, “This cup represents a new covenant, established in my blood.” Not the blood of the sacrifice on Mt. Sinai, when Moses sprinkled the people standing before him, sealing the covenant making them God’s people. “It is shed for the forgiveness of sins. For many. For you.”

Not a week would pass before they would understand these words fully. They would see their friend die in the worst possible way. They would see his followers, even his dearest friends, betray him, desert him…deny him. Terrible signs would mark his passing, as if Creation, itself, were grieving. But they would not see him fly off that cross and make a show of forgiving the world. No angels came down to retrieve his body and take it up to heaven, to show these unbelievers how wrong they were to kill him. This was a disaster.

And then, a short time later, it wasn’t. He showed himself to few, and then to many — risen, resurrected, just as he and the prophets foretold.

Passover would never be the same again.

And then I read Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

I said a few more things, and left out some things I wanted to say, but overall I think it went well. It sure was harder to read than to write. My voice was already wavering in the first paragraph. But it helped me get back to basics, and remember why our teeny little version of the critical covenant ritual is so crucial to our religious lives. It’s a faint shadow of what it used to be, and possibly of things to come. It’s a moment of grief and rejoicing, not just rote doctrine, not just cerebral reflection. There are some “big feelings” attached to it that I can barely handle if I think about it too deeply — and that may be why I just never thought about it too deeply. I’m thankful I had the chance to dig into it and share it with others in my church family when we met together for that reason.

I didn’t know what I would feel like bringing an actual message to the congregation, up front, like someone with some form of authority on the subject. That opportunity had never been extended to me before in such a venue. I’d often wondered what it would be like to do such a thing, and whether I could remain humble. How I felt was similar to Paul’s feelings in 1 Cor 2:1-5. Not that I equate myself to Paul, or even think I wasn’t trying to be wise on the subject, but the only “eloquence” I managed was written beforehand. Anything I said outside of that fell out of my mouth in an understandable way only by the grace of God. 🙂 Fortunately, my husband was doing the praying and the offering thought. God blessed me with a great partner. 🙂

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Interesting Find

This Sunday, we visited my parents’ church. We actually made it for class — which is kind of a miracle for me — and it’s a good thing we did. I probably would have noticed it eventually, but the teacher of the adult class read a passage from Philippians, and as I was skimming around, my eyes lit upon 4:2-3, which reads:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3, NIV)

I read it over and over again, and the more I read it, the more it occurred to me that this language is about as unambiguous as you can get. Yet again, it’s another passage I’ve always just kind of skimmed over, like Roman’s 16. After all, it has no bearing on today’s church, and it’s talking about women, besides. Women didn’t do anything important in the epistles, right? Other than hold churches in their houses, that is. Just hosting, not leading… We’re supposed to believe Paul didn’t like women taking part in services.

Except that these two forgettable verses totally blow that belief out of the water.

Let’s break it down:

1. Paul pleads with two women to agree on spiritual matters. This is not a plea for them to agree over the children’s curriculum, how to conduct the women’s ministry, what flowers to place on the pulpit, or what food they would make for the love feasts. The disagreement of these two women — if, indeed, it even is a disagreement — appears to be making waves big enough for Paul to gently ask his fellow “companion” (unnamed in this particular verse, though some believe it is either Epaphroditus or someone named “Syzygos”, which literally means “companion”) to “help” them. We don’t know what their dispute is, and we don’t know what kind of help Paul asks of his friend, but we know the dispute must be making an impact on congregations in that area, and if so, those women must have some ministerial clout — otherwise, why would Paul waste time on it?

2. Paul does not tell the recipient of his letter to command them to be silent. Even women members of churches that do not allow female leadership can cause divisions and strife, but if they are to be subject to male authority, wouldn’t Paul be telling the men of Philippi to shut their women down, as he supposedly told Timothy to do in Ephesus? No, these women were special to Paul. It’s fairly clear they have a special place in the ministry. He is not asking them to sit down, shut up, and learn in silence and humility from the men — as we think he does for every woman, if 1 Tim 2:12 is to be taken literally for time and eternity. Why not? Did Paul change his mind by the time he wrote to Timothy, or…is it possible that the passage in Timothy might have been — dare I say it — cultural? No, he is asking his companion to help them — either mediate their dispute or just be there for them — but not silence them. Why? Because…

3. These women are “co-workers” with Paul, and have worked “by his side” for the cause of the gospel. (Quotes added to emphasize literal terms taken from the verses.) I suppose we could stretch that out, like some have stretched the reference to Philip’s four daughters, to say that they only taught the women and children. But Paul doesn’t say that here, and he mentions Clement — a male — in the same reference. He uses the same language (“in the cause of the Gospel” and “co-workers”) in the beginning of the book, referring to men we recognize readily as church ministers or deacons. It seems foolhardy to attribute any other occupation to these women than teaching the gospel as Paul taught it — to anyone and everyone who would listen.

These passages are vignettes into the early ministry of the church, but have been excluded from serious consideration by the adherence to the “pattern of the church”. It’s amazing to me how I could read the same book over and over, and not ever pick up on little important tidbits like this one until I start opening my heart to what the New Testament really says about the early church, and stop using it as a God’s New Law for Christians.

Here is an article providing a little more insight on the topic: http://newlife.id.au/bible-study-notes/philippians-4_2-5/

BONUS:

My parents’ church is one that doesn’t allow women in the pulpit or active ministry during the worship services — not even for scripture readings, song leading, or plate passing. However, with the exception of leading them, women can fully participate in adult classes before or after services, or during the week. They still can’t lead prayer or be a speaker with men present, but they can read aloud and take part in the discussion.

The adult class was pretty large this Sunday, but few were participating, even though the teacher asked for people to read passages aloud. I assume not as many were volunteering, because he was asking for them to read entire chapters from Ecclesiastes, and they had to be loud, but it was really odd to me just how quiet everyone was. No one jumped on the chance to read aloud by the third chapter he was asking for, and I hadn’t been participating fully because I was kind of a visitor and didn’t need to draw attention to myself when I hadn’t been there for most of the discussions — but I love reading aloud. I volunteered, and he called on me. I read Ecclesiastes 10 out loud, and no one batted an eye (that I know of).

1 Tim 2:11 says, “A woman (or “wife”, and I am both) should learn in quietness and full submission.” Those who have interpreted this to mean women (or wives) can’t even be allowed to stand in the pulpit on Sundays and read scripture upon pain of disapproval or condemnation have no trouble with this practice outside of the corporate worship service. But why? Paul isn’t specific about when or where. He does say learn, so wouldn’t that also apply to Bible classes? Couldn’t I, interpreting that verse as church law (which is what it has become), have “usurped” the “authority” of another man in the group to read the Bible aloud, even when no men were rising to the task? Shouldn’t the teacher have picked one of the able-voiced men to read, so the women wouldn’t get any ideas?

To be fair, this church is solidly centrist, all things considered, so there is a great deal more freedom there than in other churches I’ve been to. It just seems to me they (and other churches who still believe as they do) are working from a double standard. If they believe that God commanded through Paul for time and eternity that women cannot participate in services, even to read scripture or silently pass plates down the aisles (an activity which is even less scriptural than female participation in it), it would follow that women should be forced to keep to themselves in Bible classes, also.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to participate, because it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut on some topics, but it chafes that the same scriptural knowledge or talent for reading aloud that I’m allowed to show in class cannot be used for good in the worship service, as well.

Just a thought for today. God be with you!

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There is Still SO MUCH…

…But I’m going to leave you with some stuff I found, before I can update again:

So, how DID we get so anti-woman in our translations? Good ol’ Augustine, following trusty, dusty ol’ Plato! This post contains a great Power Point (and PDF of it, if you don’t have the requisite software) outlining just where some of this reasoning came from: https://godaslove.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/platos-spectacles-how-greek-philosophy-has-distorted-our-view-of-women-in-the-bible/

When Paul uses the form of authenteo in his writing in 1 Timothy 2:12, what is he referring to? Here is an eye-opening description of the temple worship in Ephesus, which the newborn church had to contend with, and it is NOT pretty (this is where the study of culture makes SUCH a huge difference in our interpretation of Paul’s letters): https://apostleswarning.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/idol-worship-in-the-old-testament-and-the-new-implications-for-biblical-equality/

And an interesting, mistranslated passage from Isaiah 3:12 that does not jive with the Old Testament scriptures the New Testament Greeks quoted from. This is cool!: https://godaslove.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/a-biblical-view-of-men-and-women/

(Along a similar vein, Joel 2:28, where “your sons AND DAUGHTERS will prophesy” has often been overlooked, because the next two lines don’t mention women at all (not that they mention anything the churches believe men are doing nowadays). But in the Septuagint, the word “men” isn’t even present. It’s essentially, “Your old will see visions and your young will dream dreams.” This passage is all-inclusive!)

I’ve been neglectful of my blogs, but I need to get back into it. In the meantime, check out those blogs I posted from above, and also The Junia Project, which I discovered while reading a couple of Facebook pages, where I got those other blog posts: What the Bible Really Says About Women and Let My People Go: A Call To End the Oppression of Women in the Church

I hope you enjoy those references as much as I have! 🙂

[CORR: I originally wrote “2 Tim 2:12” instead of “1 Tim”, so I’ve gone back and fixed that, and the tag.]

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