We will come at the conclusion of this service to the Lord’s Supper. Too often this Table has been made the occasion for disputes, but this has happened because one aspect of the Table has been neglected. We need to learn to think of this Table as a central arbiter of all disputes.
Too often we want to resolve (or perpetuate!) conflicts by arguments, wranglings, cold shouldering, or various forms of pressure. Not surprisingly, when we grab at our disputes (often with both hands), the result is usually just more jangling. But how can this Table arbitrate disputes? All of us instinctively know about this authority in the Supper, which explains our treatment of the Table in the midst of disputing. Just as an athlete committing a foul tries to have his back to the referee, to the arbiter, so many believers try to position themselves so that their back is to this Table.
In practical terms, if you are involved in disputes with husbands or wives, children or parents, brothers or sisters, hear this. The disputes may be personal, they may be doctrinal, or they may be practical. It does not matter. If you are involved in such a tangle, and the one with whom you are entangled is also here, and is also coming to the Table, and this makes you want to shrink back, or to turn your back, then know beyond any doubt that a certain part of the problem is within you.
Your turning may not be acted upon, but merely desired deep within your heart. You may refuse the bread and wine overtly. You may avoid church because of this. Whatever the manifestation, it is a sign that something has interfered with your communion with Christ—this is His Table, remember? It does not belong to the one with whom you have this dispute. It is the Lord’s Table.
You may be troubled by this and think it simplistic. You may believe that the one with whom you are disputing should be the one avoiding the Table, and because he does not, you must. But other servants answer to their own master. What are you doing? Whose fellowship are you really avoiding?
“. . . crudity is equated with sophistication, just as pornography made for immature minds is labeled ‘adult’ material” (Robert Knight, The Age of Consent, p. 91.).
“This means work on the part of the pupil. The entertainment model goes in the opposite direction. When the student is entertained rather than taught, he is in an oxymoronic way being aroused to passivity. Good teaching awakens in the student a desire to learn” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 193).
“One is that the ‘us versus them’ motif can be manipulated to revive a group’s esprit de corps and to ‘divert attention from internal problems.’ That is to say, communal violence is an antidote for internal strife and the ‘civil’ or domestic violence to which it might otherwise lead. Campaigns against outsiders or evildoers revive the camaraderie jeopardized by internal conflict” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 52).
The Christian Church is a commonwealth. One of the great things that we have in common is our access to this Table. It is a tremendous privilege, and we are not worthy of it in one sense.
But in another sense, we are commanded to walk in a manner that is worthy of it. This Supper is a sacrament of your fundamental allegiance. This wine and this bread mean that you belong, heart and soul, to Jesus Christ. You share this statement, this sacrament, with all who come to it.
There are those who are hypocritical in how they come, and this has been a source of great distress to those who love Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, it has also been a source of great confusion to them. In their zeal for the reputation of the Lord Jesus, seated at the head of this Table, they have undertaken to start managing the Table on His behalf—toddlers in high chairs rebuking the rowdy teen-agers.
But the Lord Jesus is Lord. He is the one who has said that His Word is true, though every man prove himself a liar. The sacrament is what God defines it as being; the sacrament is never defined by our sins or shortcomings. God has sent His kindness into a really messed-up world. What makes us think that we could learn to receive His grace without a hitch?
In this meal, just bow your heads and receive His kindness. Do not try to protect His kindness from the impudence of others. Just receive what He is giving to you. Do not become proud of what He offers here, for He is offering nothing other than grace. Grace is not the kind of fabric that can be fashioned into flags and banners.
This is the Eucharist, a name that comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. Receive this meal with thanksgiving—not with pride, not with disdain for others who receive it wrongly, not with morbidity, not with sorrow, and not with excessive precision of mind. Just be thankful. Keep it simple.
When the gospel breaks out, it always brings joy and gladness in its train. Sinful and tidy-minded men do not like the kind of disorder the gospel brings, and so they bustle around trying to pick up after it. After a time, God grants their request and sends leanness to their souls, and their museum piece churches slide back into their desired quiet. But the word speaks plainly: “Wake up O sleeper, and Christ will shine upon you.”
Now of course there is a disorder that comes from the devil and overheated brains of men. There is a chaos that dishonors God because it neglects the Word of God, and what God commands us to do. But this is not our temptation. There is also an ecclesistical order that comes from the devil, the order of a crypt or cemetery. This also neglects the Word of God. Death is an enemy of God, and yet I suppose the process of decomposing back to the dust of the ground can be called an orderly process.
When the living gospel is having its living way in our midst, the result is a strange combination—the order of glad-hearted obedience as well as the disorder of forgiveness, kindness, striving for like-mindedness, keeping priorities straight, and so on. The fact that we might recoil at the thought of calling these things disorderly illustrates the latent Pharisee in all of us. True life together in Christ is the right kind of messy, and cannot be reduced the deadly order of an exhibition under a glass case.
So go and learn what this means: forgiveness is improvisation and kindness is extemporaneous. Striving for like-mindedness is well-played jazz. The sacrifices and burnt offerings that God clearly required, God did not require.
“Many studies are flawed because they make little distinction between Elmer Fudd getting bopped on the head with a carrot and the Terminator graphically blowing away human beings” (Robert Knight, The Age of Consent, p. 82.).
“The teacher must stoop in order to teach. She has to step into the language known by the students in order to expand the power and extent of that language . . . Nothing is accomplished if big words whistle over the children’s heads” (The Case for Classical and Christian Education, p. 192).