Archive for March, 2013

Reflections on the Supper

I encourage my students to consider doing something special this week to reflect on the Passion of Christ. I realized at about age 19 as an evangelical in a small town in MS that Baptists knew little about how to commemorate Passion week. It’s strangely funny to me how we sometimes as Evangelicals try so hard to not be liturgical that we miss some of the great blessings of worship that have historically proven to be the most treasured by the church. I say this as one firmly committed to free church worship practices, pointing to the most recent scholarship in the Oxford History of Worship, which reveals foundational practices that would suggest greater rather than less freedom.

As a college student, observing Passion week included an opportunity to go to a Maundy Thursday Service for the first time/I had never experienced anything like it–incredibly powerful as the elements were draped in black. At other points in College I began experimenting with fasting, probably with the guidance or model of my father.

Since then I have come to understand much more profoundly that Passion Week can be a powerful time of personal, family, and corporate worship. Our immediate family began doing Passover almost 10 years ago, and now our kids look forward to the event each year. Additionally, I have sought to do some things personally that would make the week of worship special. However, sometimes the Lord has plans that are beyond our capacity to implement.

As most of my friends and students know, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer about a year ago. This was devastating news for our family. Dad was a healthy 65 at that time, committed to responsible eating and exercise. And in a matter of months we saw him go from healthy to the look of death. We prayed and sought the best of medical help. Praise God for the folks at MD Anderson; by the end of summer Dad was free of cancer, had returned to work, and was fervently researching worship for a series of classes that are now being presented across MS in conjunction with the MS Baptist Convention. As dad walked through the valley of the shadow of death, worship had taken on a renewed and deeper meaning .

Then, just a few weeks ago, we found out Dad’s cancer had returned. Within days we were scrambling to get things in place for me to be with dad and mom at MD Anderson. It was there as I was beginning to read and listen to various portions of the gospels that the Spirit reminded me of a profound truth. One particular night we decided to eat in the same room, even if Dad had to eat the overdone steak and other stuff that was on the approved list (we did sneak him a couple of pieces of fajitas steak from Pappasitos). That night I suddenly sensed the Spirit uniting us and realized that what we were experiencing was not all that different from the Love Feasts in the early church. According to scholars the Love Feasts are actually hard to distinguish from the Supper in the early Church. There was a deep sense of an eternal bond, and reflections on that moment continue to remind me of His promise that “He would be with us to the end of the world.”

The Supper is such a powerful and expansive event we fail to see it in many aspects of our fellowship and worship as the church! Critically important things are happening theologically during the Supper; it is an act of obedience as we remember a real historical event; there is a present, that is, an existential power in the supper even with a view of the event as symbol; there is a future hope in the Supper as we look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  But the Supper is also just a powerful, powerful, powerful act of fellowship with Christ. His presence does make all the difference and when we break bread with others, even if in a hospital as your dad is receiving cancer treatment, even there the presence of Christ can be so real it’s overwhelming. Remember, one of the primary role’s of the Spirit is to remind us of Christ’s presence.

With these thoughts in mind, perhaps you can better understand why I was so looking forward to celebrating Christ in the Passover with Dad this weekend. Dad has been doing the event with family and friends in Brandon, MS, for several years now. In fact we’ve had fun comparing notes regarding who presents the more authentic service. Dad had me topped when he let me know a few years ago that he had a converted Jewish person who speaks Hebrew attend his event. Nothing could possibly go wrong . . . except no one could be sick because Dad’s blood count is at a point now that we can’t take any chances with him being around sick folks. Well, my precious Elizabeth got sick on the way last night. My wise and patient wife finally helped me realize this morning that none of us needed to go to Dad’s tonight. So once again tonight we will have competing Passovers, this time just a few miles apart as my ever gracious cousin Bill Trolio will host us. Thankfully my wife made enough Charoset to feed an army and 4 boxes of Matzo ball soup, perhaps my favorite Passover food. To say I am disappointed would be a vast understatement. However, the Lord always seeks to heal and teach us truth when we undergo emotional and psychological warfare. Here’s the truth I sense He is sharing with me today. Just as I long for my earthly father’s presence, deeply longing to hear his voice in person tonight, to be led by him in worship, to receive the look of pride that he offers to me in a unique way, knowing that he knows my weaknesses like few on earth, so the disciples deeply missed Jesus by Good Friday. They were at a point of incredible emotional and psychological trauma, wondering what they would do without Him. I believe that’s one of the reasons why Jesus offered so many promises of presence in the upper room discourse, John 13-17. And as I am reminded painfully this weekend of the emptiness of lack of personal presence, I am also reminded of the greater truth, the earth shattering reality of Resurrection Truth. Because He has risen, Christ is present with us through the Spirit. And we will be made to be even more present with Him for all of eternity, and to be comforted by this thought is to be comforted by the presence of the Heavenly Father. In fact, Jesus said that to know Him is to know me. So thankful for an earthly father who has truly given me a picture of the Heavenly Father by seeking to define his life by the Word. We show our Father to our children to the extent that we abide in Christ and His Word. Ultimately I am thankful to God for His beautiful plan to break bread with even me and my family for all of eternity.