Sunday, April 6, 2008

No Ordinary Table

Pastor Brad Shannon opened the service by saying how much he appreciated each of us… “just for who you are.”

This was followed by a heartfelt rendition of “Wonderful Words of Life” by the quartet who also performed a rousing “Heaven On My Mind” this morning. What a great gift we have here. Their music never fails to lift spirits and minister life.

The message this Communion Sunday was titled, “No Ordinary Table.” Pastor Brad began by noting how often in life physical objects serve as symbols of greater truths or realities. Wedding rings, statues, monuments, memorials were all cited as examples.

The USS Arizona Memorial serves as a good illustration of this truth. Designed to commemorate the final resting place of the 1,177 crew members who lost their lives on that Day of Infamy, December 7, 1941, the memorial commemorates the site where World War II began for our country. The memorial physically marks a place which makes tangible a moment in time.

In the Old Testament, God initiated Covenant ceremonies with Abraham, David and the people of Israel. And in the New Testament, baptism and communion serve as physical expressions of inward, spiritual realities.

Most significant of all these physical acts is the sacrament of communion. Not a theory, but an act involving two tangible elements, bread and wine, designed to draw us into His life and mission.

Through the communion table we participate and remember our Lord’s work on the cross in which He physically proclaimed our freedom from sin.

Pastor Brad compared to interactive theater, in which we not only watch but participate. “Take and eat,” the Lord invites, implores.

Our faith, he said, is a verb. It is an action we take, not something we simply passively receive.

After feeding the five thousand in John 6, Jesus explains the meaning of the bread.
35Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus offers His life that we may be liberated.

The Jewish Passover involved an external act of painting the blood of a lamb on the doorposts, an external action. At the Last Supper, Jesus makes it an internal action. “Ingest My life,” He seems to say.

By participation in communion, we are making a proclamation of the Gospel. His death is our death, and is emblematic of the end of all death. (I Cor. 15:55-56) Pastor Brad explained that our monthly celebration of communion is a rhythm that perpetually speaks of the Gospel.

Cheryl Borndal then proceeded to read from John 21:1-19, a story about the disciples after the resurrection, having gone fishing, away from it all, culminating in Peter’s restoration to the fold after failing his Lord and friend.

Pastor then read a story by Ken Gire, retelling this account in an insightful, literary fashion. Pointedly he asks, “What do you do when you have failed a friend? You try to hold back that pain. Maybe go fishing or some other mindless diversion.”

While fishing Peter was undoubtedly remembering his life the past three or four years, all that transpired, culminating in his betrayal of Jesus on the night He was betrayed. Peter even cursed while denying Him.

But then, a voice cut through to Peter, resonating with the first time the fisherman encountered the Lord. At that time Jesus, who was clearly not a fisherman, told them to put out into deeper water and try one more time, even though they’d failed to catch a thing all night. Peter knows the voice and immediately leaps from the boat, swimming to shore, whereupon he finds a fire burning to prepare breakfast.

Jesus does not condemn, does not put Peter down for having denied Him. Instead He asks simply, “Do you love me?” Three times He asks, once for each denial, and each time Jesus says to Peter, “Feed My sheep,” as if to say, “I still believe in you.”

The invitation holds true to each of us today. When He draws near to us, we often have memories of our failures, our unworthiness. But Jesus does not draw near to accuse or condemn. Rather, He draws near to heal.

Seven weeks later Peter preached a sermon in which 3,000 became believers and were saved. He went on to be a leader of the early church.

What kind of friend is this who so loves us, so forgives, that when we fail he says, “I still believe in you.”

With these words we proceeded to participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

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