No more blood needed
Hebrews 9: He brought together God and his people in this new way.
It was a bloody religion. Even the giving of the Law was accompanied by the sheading of the blood of innocent animals. Through the centuries the blood continues to flow and on one day each year, in particular, the blood is taken behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the High Priest and all the people. Then, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to make the ultimate blood sacrifice: his own. This High Priest gives himself, and in so doing, finishes the old bloody system once and for good. No more blood and no more curtain. These things that stood as a barrier between God and man are abolished for good, belonging in history books and museums rather than in real life. Jesus creates a new connection between God and man, the curtain removed and no more blood necessary. Today, we follow the Lord’s command to “remember” by receiving the Lord’s Supper. In the cup though, we don’t need blood. The absence of blood is, in itself, a lesson. Because Christ’s blood was shed long ago, just a bit of wine (in my church tradition, its “new wine”) is all that’s needed.
Take Away: Christ’s sacrifice was what was needed all along and it never needs to be made again.
1Corinthians 11: I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you.
I’m not sure that the questions sent to Paul by the Corinthian church are legitimate or just a seeking of more ammunition for their church squabbles. The Apostle answers a few of their questions and then defers the remainder until he can meet with them in person. When he deals with the chain of authority from God to man to woman he bases this approach on how other churches see it. He also warns them that chain of authority or not, that there’s not a lot of value in “who’s first” debates anyway. Church dinners are a concern. He’s not really against them meeting together for a meal but he’s greatly concerned that the “haves” are meeting early so they can eat their fill before the “have-nots” arrive. On the topic of communion, Paul brings out the big guns. What he’s about to say doesn’t come from the practices of the other churches as is the case with the chain of authority. Rather, this comes from the Lord, himself. They must always receive the communion meal in reverence and in remembrance. They’re to be very careful that they “never let familiarity breed contempt” and they’re to handle the meal as a spiritual activity and not as a way to satisfy their hunger. For a person to do otherwise is to bring judgment on his or her life. As I read this passage I can’t help but compare the “that’s how all the churches do it” to “these instructions come from the Master himself.” “How the churches do it” ought to carry weight with us. God’s people have carefully thought out how to best operate as Christians, applying their faith to current concerns. As a part of the Church I’m to take those traditions and practices quite seriously. However, beyond that is the “instructions of the Master.” Sometimes God wants things done in a particular way. I might sometimes (rarely) look at “how the churches do it” and think times have changed and a different approach might better reflect my faith in today’s culture. At the same time, I’d better be very careful here. Some things come from the Master himself. I have absolutely no authority to make adjustments in those areas.
Take Away: On occasion, with the passage of decades, the traditions of the Church might change, but the Church never has the authority to ignore the specific commands of the Master.
Broken body, shed blood
Mark 14: Take, this is my body.
They’ve eaten the Passover all their lives so they know the ritual well. Now, as they gather in the upper room Jesus takes his place as “father” and the meal begins. To their surprise, he doesn’t follow the well-known script and, instead, comes up with his own version, the now familiar words of the Communion ritual Christians have used for 2000 years now. The bread and wine become, in this new ritual, symbols of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. These things, in turn, represent the New Covenant God has made with the human race. Under this covenant, salvation is dependent on faith in the Son of God who willingly gives himself for us. The Gospel of Mark moves quickly through the Last Supper and I immediately find myself at Gethsemane where Jesus wrestles with the reality of “broken body and shed blood.” Every time I receive Communion I’m taken back to the New Covenant and the sacrifice that seals it with blood. This ritual is rich with meaning but it all starts with broken body, shed blood.
Take Away: My hope of salvation is bound in what is remembered each time I receive communion.