Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - What's So Important About Church Meals?

(Here are some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

Last week, we briefly considered the purpose of the Lord's Supper.  By faith, we see the glory of Jesus through the bread and wine, symbols of his death that takes away our sins and promises the undying love of God.

At Welshpool Community Church, we have the Lord's supper as part of a simple, informal meal at the end of our formal  Sunday service.  This is a little different to the way many churches practice the Lord's supper, and so this week we will consider how to answer this question: What's so important about church meals?

1. Meals are a part of our corporate worship (Romans 12).  A few weeks ago, we considered the apostle Paul's description of worship in Romans 12.  He calls the whole church to corporately present their bodies as a single living sacrifice (12v1).  Corporate worship is the whole-of-life response of a church community to the mercy of God revealed in the gospel.

So Paul's description in Romans 12 of a worshipping community includes serving, loving and honouring others; spending time together; showing hospitality and caring for the weak and disadvantaged. Corporate worship is not meant to be building-centric - it does not begin and end at the church building's doors.

So, for example, Paul writes that God is glorified by us simply living in harmony with one another (Rom. 15v5).  The way we behave towards each other as a church is one element of our corporate worship.

When we have meals together as believers, we see corporate worship taking place.  We serve one another (Rom.12v7); we give to others and contribute to their needs (12v8, 13); we behave like a family (12v10); we practice hospitality (12v13); we challenge prejudices and demonstrate harmony (12v16); and we enjoy peace with each other (12v18).

If we accept this view of corporate worship, then meals really make sense, and we can understand why they were part of New Testament church culture (e.g. Acts 2v42, 46).  Meals are informal opportunities for us to serve and love one another, and to learn about serving and loving.  They are part of our corporate worship.

2. Meals give us a taste of sitting at the table with Jesus (Matthew 9v9-13).  In this passage in Matthew's gospel, we find one of several accounts of Jesus eating a meal with tax collectors.  This was unusual - tax collectors were unpopular because most of them were unscrupulous.  They often collected more money than they should have, and so, when they wanted a meal, they either ate with other tax collectors, or they ate on their own!

But here, they sit at the table with Jesus.  What would you have paid to be a tax collector at that moment?  To have sat at the table with Jesus?

But there's a sense in which we can sit at the table with him.  In the Bible, we're told that when someone becomes a believer, Jesus comes to live in them.  For example, Paul describes Christ as living in him (Gal. 2v20) and prays that Christ would make his home in the hearts of the Christians at Ephesus (Eph. 3v17).

I should be excited about seeing Jesus in other believers in my church.  Although it takes time to see the influence of Christ in the character and lifestyle of another person, it's time well spent.  It's rewarding to see people developing their gifts and learning to serve others.  

When you start to notice the character of Christ developing within a person, then you get a taste of being a tax collector sat at that table with Jesus.  You get a small taste of what it was like to be in the physical presence of Jesus.

Probably the most profound examples of these experiences are discovered when time is spent with godly, mature Christians.  I'm sure we can all think of older saints who are a privilege to be around, because they demonstrate such a holy, Christlike character.  

Meals are an opportunity to enjoy being in the presence of the people Christ lives within.

3.  Meals can prompt us to remember the Lord (Matthew 26v17-29).  Using meals as an aid to remember God's saving acts is nothing new.  At Christ's last supper, our attention is first drawn to the Passover feast.  This was a meal that reminded Jews of how God had freed them from slavery in Egypt.

The angel of death was to travel across Egypt, and kill every first born son.  The son would only be spared if a lamb was killed in his place, and the blood painted onto the doorpost - then the angel would pass over the house without taking the life of the son.  So the Passover meal reminded Jews of the freedom God provided through the sacrifice of an innocent lamb.

Now Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5v7).  He is the Lamb that gives us freedom from sin by sacrificing his own life, and by sharing bread and grape juice as part of a meal, we're helped to remember that.  But during his final supper, he also directs our attention to a meal that is yet to come, and a cup he will drink with his people in the kingdom of God (Matt. 26v29).  

In Revelation, we are told that "blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!".  As the bride of Christ, the church will enjoy a great banquet when Jesus returns.  But this meal will be the marriage supper of "the lamb" - in other words, it will be a meal that reminds us of the death of Christ for his people.

So, when we have a meal that begins with shared bread, and ends with a shared drink, we are using a meal to remember and celebrate all that we have received through the death of Christ.  It's not a new idea - we see examples of remembrance meals in the Old Testament, and Jesus institutes the Lord's supper during a meal.  It's not a practice that Jesus will stop - instead, he'll lead his people to a marriage banquet that will remind them that he is the Lamb that was slain.

However, about once a month we will also share bread and grape juice (without a meal) as part of our Sunday afternoon service.  The reason for this is found in Romans 14v13-15, where Paul talks about food and conflicts of conscience.

Paul makes it clear that food does not make us unclean (14v14).  So having a meal as part of the Lord's supper does not make the recipients or the supper unclean.  

But we recognise that some Christians will struggle to see an informal meal as an appropriate opportunity for the sacrament of the Lord's supper.  Paul writes that we should not grieve our brethren (14v15) and so, once a month, we will have communion during the formal part of our Sunday service, and have a meal afterwards without sharing bread and wine.

So what's so important about church meals?

1.  Meals are a part of our corporate worship.
2.  Meals give us a taste of sitting at the table with Jesus.
3.  Meals can prompt us to remember the Lord.

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