Summary: God gives the Lord’s Supper both to proclaim the reality of an alternative community and to produce it.
[Teri’s and Shelley’s stories from the chapter, “The Crisis of Loneliness,” in Anderson, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope.] Teri and Shelley are typical 30-something adults. Teri was surrounded by friends in high school and college, but her network of friends began to unravel when she entered the work force. She always imagined herself married, but as her career developed, the number of eligible men dwindled. Even more disconcerting was the loss of female friends. Some married and moved on; others were busy with their own careers; still others seemed to distance themselves from her, maybe because her beauty was seen as a threat to their chance of getting a man. One day Teri realized she was isolated and lonely.
One of Teri’s college roommates, Shelley, had married right after college and had kids. But after two moves for her husband’s job, staying home with the kids isolated her, though she was rarely by herself. Shelley and Teri had different circumstances, but when they ate lunch together one Friday, they both realized how terribly alone they felt.
Some sociologists call them “The Three D’s”: death, divorce, and deferred marriage. These three D’s mean that about one in every four households is a single person household. And the numbers are increasing because people today marry less, marry later, and stay married for a shorter period of time.
Some people have tried to overcome feelings of loneliness through co-habitation. But this only exacerbates the problem, leading those like psychologist Dan Kiley to describe LTL, “living-together loneliness.” Without the commitments and benefits of the marriage covenant, those who live together end up more disappointed, more isolated, more hurt — more lonely.
I find it interesting that the sense of loneliness is not limited to certain groups. Roberta Hestenes coined the phrase, “crowded loneliness,” to describe the fact that we are physically closer to more people than ever before, yet further away in our relationships. Ralph Keyes (We The Lonely People) notes that Americans value, above all else, mobility, privacy, and convenience. But that triad powerfully mitigates against community and closeness. And, when we add to these relationship damaging values, the fact that we move often, we have very different work schedules, and we are more likely to chose to be entertained than to develop a friendship, we have become isolated and (maybe) unable or unwilling to pursue intimacy with people.
Before we consider how the Lord’s Supper relates to the crisis of loneliness, let me remind you of the big picture in this study. It is the conviction of many that the church is becoming obsolete and irrelevant. I agree with that assessment, though not for the common reasons. We should not conform to the entertainment culture to draw a crowd. Our value to society is in creating an alternative culture, not a copied one.
At the same time, the answer is not to return to the good old days. Whether your fantasy of the glory days comes from 5 years ago, 50 years ago, or 500 years ago, those dreams never will materialize. We must seek God anew, by devotion to the Bible, in order to be the people God would have us be and to do the work which glorifies the Father in heaven.
In order to accomplish that, we are studying the beginning of the New Testament church when God the Holy Spirit came in power, so that we might see what it is to be a dynamic church. In Acts 2.42, we find four commitments flowing out of the life of vital believers: they were devoted:
* to the apostles’ teaching (to learning and teaching the Bible);
* to fellowship (to caring for one another in the multitude of ways God describes);
* to the breaking of bread (to intense relationships together characterized by both meals and the meal);
* to the prayers (kingdom-centered worship and intercession).
We are considering the third today, the Lord’s Supper. The meals early Christians shared, culminating in a reenactment of the last meal with Jesus, offers a profound antidote to the loneliness of our day. May God use his word and the breaking of bread to begin something new in our midst. We are studying the implications of the Lord’s Supper for intimacy and loneliness from 1Corinthians 10. [Read 1Corinthians 10.14-22. Pray.]
The Christians in the Corinthian church were, apparently, a rambunctious, even out of control, bunch. They had some folks getting drunk at the fellowship meals, they had some problems with immorality, and their worship services were filled with the babble of a multitude of strange tongues. They were (this is not meant to be offensive) a charismatic church, the “Pentecostals” of their day.
Their enthusiasm spilled over into their relationships with family and neighbors. Either because they enjoyed the parties, or because they sincerely sought evangelistic opportunities, many Corinthian Christians attended pagan worship services with friends. Now that they were converted, they knew that the idols in the Greek temples were not real — there is only one true and living God — the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. So they reasoned: “Why give up the feasts and fun when an idol is nothing, and the food sacrificed to idols has no sinful taint?”