Summary: A Communion meditation warning us against substituting ritual for relationship.
A NEW COVENANT
“As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”
It is unusual when people recognise the full implication of transitional periods at the time they are occurring. After a transition, we may recognise the magnitude of the change that has occurred, and with the passage of time the differences will become obvious; but seldom do we realise what is occurring during the time of transition. It seems obvious that the disciples gathered with the Master around a table to observe the Passover did not understand the significance of all that was happening. I am confident that you and I would have been no more competent at discerning what was happening had we been there.
It is not as if the disciples had not been taught. Throughout the days the Master walked with them, He was constantly telling them of all that was to take place. However, they simply could not grasp the import of His words. Then, as He hosted the Pascal Meal on that final even He would be with them, He changed everything. Again, the disciples missed the implication of what He did. All their lives those first disciples had been trained to observe the rituals associated with the practise of the Jewish religion. It is probably correct to say that they performed the various rites required by each ceremony without thinking of what they were doing. In this, they were not terribly different from modern Christians attending almost any evangelical church.
Luther was distressed when, upon visiting Rome, he heard the Italian priests mocking the ritual of the Mass through reciting in Latin, “Bread you are and bread you will remain; wine you are and wine you will remain.” Evangelical Christians are rightly shocked at the thought that liturgical Christians could degenerate into such nonchalance before the rituals they hold dear. Frankly, it is easy for many evangelicals to believe that liturgical churches could slide into casual nonchalance when observing the rituals of the Faith. However, are we really that different from our liturgical brothers? Do we recall the significance of what we are doing as we participate in the ordinances of the Faith? Are we holding sacred the truths we profess? Do we realise the implications of what we profess and permit the confession to transform us as we worship?
Our meditations this morning are meant to confront us with our own error, calling us to pause to reflect on what we are doing through reviewing what Jesus did on the night He instituted the Meal we now call “The Lord’s Supper.” Join me by reviewing the familiar passage recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
WHAT THE DISCIPLES KNEW — The world of the first disciples was different from our world. I’m not referring to the technological differences, or even to the cultural differences. I’m asking us to focus on the religious observances with which they were familiar and to focus on the manner in which they worshipped. To be certain, there were aspects of worship that were identical, but many things differed greatly from what we would find familiar.
The religious world from which the first disciples were drawn was undoubtedly more restrictive than that with which most evangelicals are familiar. Though the Old Testament encourages honesty in those who approach to worship, religion for the disciples can best be described as rigid. Before the Babylonian captivity, the people of God had begun to treat religion as a necessary evil. The rites and rituals of the Faith they had received were treated as talismans—a means of private protection or of personal blessing. Consequently, God, through His prophets, condemned the religious practise without underlying faith, and sent the nation into captivity. Following the Babylonian captivity, the Jews embraced the religion of the fathers. They carefully observed the law, but with the addition of the synagogue system and the institution of rabbis to interpret the Law of Moses. With time, however, the rituals became increasingly codified and deviation from community norms was severely censured. At last, maintaining the interpretation of the rabbis was more important than worshipping God.
By the time the Master arrived on the scene, religion in Israel was mainly a series of prescribed acts with severe censure from any deviation. Let me demonstrate what I mean by referring you to several incidents when the Master clashed with religious leaders in Judea.