Worship was awkward where I went to church as a child. Whether the Sunday morning worship was acceptable depended on a very strict rite, from which we could not deviate. A set number of songs followed by a prayer and another song and the Lord’s Supper. If anyone deviated and sang too many or too few songs the ground would open up and swallow us all. Of special note was the Lord’s Supper which was a memorized script that all men knew by heart. It never included anything reflective, nor did it attempt to talk about what the implications of the weekly meal were. No one was ever told, “You have to memorize this,” but that was the only model available, thus what every man said.
It was very easy to miss the importance of the Lord’s Supper. I was taught that I had to be utterly quiet during the Lord’s Supper, and I had to immerse myself in thoughts of the crucifixion of Jesus. Isaiah 53 was my favorite passage to dwell on. “….he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,” Isaiah 53:2. It was terribly hard to keep a teenaged mind focused on the cross. It felt like I was flexing the gray matter of my mind, keeping it taut and at attention. A sort of mental six-pack of focus on the cross.
Now, as an adult, one of the things that I love about the Lord’s Supper is the way that it focuses and reminds us. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. Paul considered it so important that he wrote, “I handed on to you as of first importance what I, in turn, had received: that Christ died for our sins….that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day….Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers and sisters at one time.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.
It’s was Paul’s way of saying, “I can’t think of anything more important that I could tell you.”
Maybe it’s hard for us Americans to get lost in the suffering of the cross. We’re so health and wealth in our faith. We pray for God to give us stuff. We are selfish with our money. We think about ourselves only. Even our religious music is often only about us. “He walks with ME and he talks with ME and he tells ME I am his own….” kind of melodies. Our commercials also tell us to buy this or that because of the way that it will affirm us and make us feel important.
I had a newspaper journalist friend who used to critique my writing. On one occasion he asked me to strip the first-person pronouns out of a newspaper article I was writing for the Merced Sun-Star. It was the hardest bit of writing that I had ever done – to remove all traces of the voice that I used to write. I think the Lord’s Supper should be that way too. Less first-person references and more attention given to Jesus. It’s hard to do.
The Lord’s Supper is curative to the excesses of the world. Paul reminds us that Jesus “…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…And…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross,” Philippians 2:7,8. Isaiah reminds us that the Messiah was, “Oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth, like a lamb about to be slaughtered…” Isaiah 53:7. And the writer of Hebrews said this of Jesus. “Although Jesus was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered,” Hebrews 5:7-10.
We need to be reminded of this every week.