Category Archives: ecclesiology

Older People’s Ministry: A Church or an Act of Service

Community was at the heart of NYNO’s original vision. That which is true spiritually should also be found, falteringly, in our daily human relationships. Our understanding was that the reality of our spiritual union with Christ, and therefore our union with each other, meant that the Church should seek to be a community of mutual service and dependence.

This general ideal for church community had particular consequences when we applied it to our work amongst older people. We had observed that ministry amongst older people followed the patterns of traditional ministry. While such ministry was widely accepted and appreciated, it presented a problem for a future where professional ministry resources will be scarce. In its place, NYNO wanted to encourage the agency and participation of older people in the life of their churches. We wanted to see church communities grow, located in places that were accessible to older people (practically speaking, this meant meeting in communal areas of sheltered accommodation) and whose participants had a diverse age range. At the outset of our project we were anxious to develop relationships between the generations where members of each generation would bring blessings and be served by all the other generations. Each individual would bring different giftings; each individual would have different needs.

We were therefore very aware whenever we heard a member of the younger generations speak about wanting to be involved with a NYNO group and ‘serve’ the older members. On the face of it, this was a noble request. For NYNO this was precisely what we didn’t want. We didn’t want older members to be viewed as primarily the recipients of the ministry of younger people. We wanted younger folk to recognize what they could receive from friendship with older folk before they began to serve. The alternative, it seemed to us, would be the patronization of older people as passive recipients of the good works of younger people. We were also very aware that people who came to us would generally be coming from another church community to which they would already have a loyalty and personal relationships. It is only natural for a NYNO group to have difficulty commanding such loyalty from people. Instead, it becomes a place for service. This is, its way, admirable, but is a genuine hurdle to be overcome if the aim is to develop a new worshipping community.

The result of all of this was that we asked folks wanting to join us to come and be part of the community first, before thinking about what they could do. In doing this, the intention was that folks would appreciate the position of our less physically able members and would develop the real peer relationships that would prevent any future service – which would be needed and natural – becoming one-sided. I’m not sure this worked.

I don’t think we understood how difficult it would be for folks to simply come and develop friendships. Nor, at the moment, do I know what that difficulty was. But, as it has turned out, folks who have come and been encouraged to not immediately serve, have not stuck with the group.

There could be any number of reasons for this happening, including the personal and the clarity with which this vision of church has been consistently explained. There may also be issues with the form of worship we offer not meeting people’s expectations. Even so, the question at least has to be asked whether we have to be more tolerant and patient of people’s expectations that they are engaging with NYNO in order to serve. What this means practically is inviting new folk to come and in offering them a role as a means of finding a foothold in the community.

When NYNO started, when we were a young and vulnerable project only just finding our feet and trying to insist on our alternative approach in the face of the universal expectations surrounding older people’s ministry, perhaps then we were justified on insisting on community first and service second. Perhaps now we can afford to let people find their way in their own time.

On Children in Church

Sometime after his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a child to him and “he put him in the midst of them.” Then Jesus said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1-4).

The disciples (church) continued to argue over greatness. Even after the Sermon on the Mount, in which all our categories are flipped on their heads and everything is turned upside down, they were arguing over greatness. Even after Jesus had blessed the poor, the hungry and the persecuted, the disciples were still fixated on greatness. Worldiness is a hard habit to break.

In response, Jesus called to himself a child – the essence of one who is powerless, dependent, needy, little, and poor. He placed the child “in the midst of them,” as a concrete visible sacrament of how the Kingdom looks. Jesus’ act with the child is interesting. In many of our modern, sophisticated congregations, children are often viewed as distractions. We tolerate children only to the extent that they become “adults” like us. Adult members sometimes complain that they cannot pay attention to the sermon, they cannot listen to the beautiful music, when fidgety children are beside them in the pews. “Send them away,” many adults say. Create “Children’s Church” so these distracting children can be removed in order that we adults can pay attention.

Interestingly, Jesus put a child in the center of his disciples, “in the midst of them,” in order to help them pay attention. The child, in Jesus’ mind, was not an annoying distraction. The child was a last-ditch effort by God to help the disciples pay attention to the odd nature of God’s kingdom. Few acts of Jesus are more countercultural, than his blessing of children.

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville, Abingdon: 1989), pp. 95-96.

Bosch on Missio Dei

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980)

Missio Dei is an oft used phrase in popular missiology. It can be hard, though, to pin down its significance. The ‘mission of God’ is definitely repeatedly as an introductory justification that missiology should be an essential topic of conversation for the Church and that the practice of mission should be an essential action of the Church. Used in this manner, it is treated as a form of theological shorthand. The actual workings that lay out why these things are so are left unexplained. Such has been my experience, anyway.

Bosch offers a fairly compact ten pages, the conclusion to the book, on this topic. The context of his thoughts is a two pronged correction to both evangelical and ecumenical missiology. He argues first (Ch. 19) that evangelical missiology has risked using an unhelpful dualism where salvation history is divorced from world history. This has led to a passivity in the face of injustice meted out to others. In contrast, the Church must realize that Christ is the head of the Church and the cosmos, and following the example of her saviour must take up her cross in identification with the outcast. Against ‘ecumenical’ theology, he insists on the distinctiveness of the Church from the world (Ch. 20). The Church can only be apostolic if she is different in her being from the world. She must maintain that God’s judgement is not ours, that the cross remains at the heart of our life together and our proclamation, that our political actions will be fallible and that the kingdom will be made present to the world in signs and not in fullness until Christ returns. Mission is therefore an eschatological event (Ch. 21), seeking to see the kingdom come on earth now, aware that our actions can only provide signs of that kingdom. Communal church life in the present is a life filled by God’s presence (Ch. 22), waiting and witnessing, identifying with the hopeless while yet never losing hope.

Bosch’s explanation of missio dei is set out as an alternative to these two limited approaches. It is worth reflecting on this. Although Bosch’s presentation of missio dei ostensibly comes from first principles, so to speak, he is still offering his alternative to two failed approaches to missio dei. Given this, simply importing missio dei as presented here should be done with caution, until we’re convinced that we are not, in doing so, responding to a problem (evangelicals and ecumenical missiologies at loggerheads thirty-five years ago) that is not our pressing concern.

In outline then, Bosch offers missio Dei (God’s mission) because mission begins with God. The Word and Spirit are ‘missionaries’ of God in creation and redemption, being sent to the world.

Although Aquinas (?) may have used missio with respect to the sending of the Son by the Father and the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son, this is not obviously the basis for the modern use of the term. Only in the early to mid- twentieth century did mission become explicitly linked to trinitarian theology. Having said this, I should add, the precise link is rarely explicated.

Barth’s connection to all of this is important. He is frequently argued to be an advocate for this form of theology but, again, rarely with a description of what he said. Bosch here is not guilty of that. There is to be no ‘speculative interpretation of a foundation of mission on the Trinity’. Instead, Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection are events of particular historical involvement. It is in these events that we learn of the nature of the Trinity, and indeed that God is ‘a missionary God’. [A curious phrase, monotheistically speaking.]

In Christ’s actions we discover a new dimension to God’s concern for the world, and his actions are therefore to be definitive for ours. Here our saviour is revealed, and we are not to look elsewhere for alternative revelations of God’s will. The role of the Spirit does not diversify our missiology, providing an alternative mode of God’s concern for the world, but rather further specifies that the Church’s life, in the Spirit of Christ, is to be shaped by Christ: “As the Father sent me…” (Jn 20:21). The Spirit’s role is two-fold, inward and outward, setting us apart that we might then be witnesses to the world.

Bosch complains of a diluting of missio Dei. Mission does not now become a human responsibility to the degree that it ceases to be God’s work. The kingdom remains God’s work, wrought by him. Missionary ‘success’ is therefore never to be the criterion by which we judge mission. To the extent that we view the world as perfectible through our actions, we lose sight of the missio Dei. But equally, we cannot be passive. Because God’s kingdom has dawned, we cannot be resigned to the way things are. We are to pray, ‘thy kingdom come’, and therefore we are to act, believing we can make difference, knowing we must wait for the final day.

Bosch concludes by claiming that the Church owes the world faith, hope and love. She is to be herself, faithful to her head, and so she will worship, live and serve as Christ did for her.

As a brief postscript, I can see nothing dramatically wrong with Bosch’s presentation. At the same time, the basing of missiology in the Trinity and therefore in the revealed acts of God in Christ leads us directly to considering ecclesiology in direct connection with missiology. We are not at liberty to speculate about the life of the Trinity and to see analogy in political action, nor are we justified by this bare statement to claim to see God in the world and to pursue these things with scant regard to the Church. Instead we are directed to the ascending Christ, and the sending of the Spirit upon the Church. Missiology and ecclesiology can not, responsibly, be considered apart from one another. Both are to be derived from Christology and Pneumatology and therefore (and only therefore) from the Trinity. This is not presuppose a particular ecclesiology.  It is not to advocate for a reactionary attitude towards our institutions. What it is is many things, not the least of which is that the life of the kingdom in the Spirit of Christ is communal.

Bosch on Dimension and Intention

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 199-201.

Bosch offers here a thought-provoking, if not immediately obvious discussion on the relation between mission and church and in particular on whether mission is an essential aspect of the church. He uses a pair of concepts from H.-W. Gensichen: ‘dimension’ and ‘intention’.

‘Intention’ refers to an explicitly missionary act, something that is primarily intended to be an expression of the love of God, and of the Church, to the outsider.

‘Dimension’, somewhat opaquely, refers to manner in which every aspect of the Church’s life must have a missionary element or, perhaps better, must have a character derived from that of God, who in Christ has shown himself to be ‘missionary’. The Church’s nature is missionary, taken as it is from Christ, the Son of God who who created and redeemed the world as an expression of the love of God.

Therefore, everything the church does must have a missionary dimension, not everything must have a missionary intention.

The church is missionary when she is welcoming to outsiders, open to change for the sake of others, when she upholds the and defends the truth the Gospel, even though there may be no explicitly missionary intention in any of these acts. She has to be this in order to perform mission at all. Intention can only exist on the basis of dimension.

Useful texts listed are:

Phil. 2:14-16. ‘Do everything … as you hold our the word of life.’

Col. 4:5. ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.’

1 The. 4:9-12. ‘Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters … so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.’

1 Pet. 2:12. ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’

1 Cor. 5:12-15. ‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”’

2 Cor. 3:2-3. ‘You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.’

More generally, I’m reminded of Barth’s discussion of Salt and Light in CD IV.3.2 par.72 and, unsurprisingly for us, the manner in which the Church’s nature is to be shaped by her source in 1 Corinthians: we are the body of Christ. If Christ is the Son of God, and we are the body of Christ, how can our nature be anything but self-giving for the world? Even when we prophesy to one another, our words will point to the one who sets the world free (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

More Bosch, this time on Missio Dei

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 179-80. My underlining.

The mooring of mission to the doctrine of the Trinity led to the introduction of the expression missio Dei (God’s mission) at Willingen. The term was in all probability coined by Hartenstein. He intended it to give expression to the conviction that God, and God alone was the subject of mission. The initiative for our mission lay with him alone (missio ecclesiae, the Church’s mission). Only in God’s hands our mission could be truly [sic] called mission. In the period after Willingen the concept missio Dei gradually changed its meaning. It came to signify God’s hidden activities in the world, independent of the Church, and our responsibility to discover and participate in these activities.

It’s interesting how the final idea is, at least in part, the basis of Roxburgh’s advice. Again, strange to see ideas from 1952, reported on in 1980, offered as the latest and greatest solution to the Church’s problems.

Just to repeat what was in the previous post, and speaking more generally of the use of missio Dei: the missionary focus on the world as we follow God’s initiative is right. The side-lining of the Church is a grave mistake.

The Church Inside Out

I discovered the following in Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 176-78.

The theology of the apostolate soon underwent a certain radicalisation due to Hoekendijk’s contribution. He polemicised against the church-centric mission that had been especially in vogue since Tambaran 1939. The Church was an illegitimate centre. Not the Church but the world, the oikoumene, stood in the centre of God’s concern. Van Ruler’s thesis that mission was a function of the Church, was inverted by Hoekendijk: the Church was a function of mission. There was no room for a ‘doctrine of the Church’. We should refer to the Church only in passing and without any emphasis. Ecclesiology should not be more than a single paragraph in Christology (the messianic involvement with the world) and a few sentences in eschatology (the messianic involvement with the world) … 

From the outset Hoekendijk could not accept a ‘theology of mission’. If he did so it would imply that mission would once again be an extra. There would then also conceivably be other ‘theologies of …’. He therefore pleaded not for ‘theology of mission’, but for ‘missionary theology’ as expression of all authentic theology. …

In this way Hoekendijk’s theology of the apostolate became a theology of the world. Theology is God inviting us to share the world with him. For precisely this reason it was a theology of the Kingdom. Mission was not the road from church to church: mission or Church was the interaction between Kingdom and world, involved in both … The form which this involvement took he called shalom, Hebrew for ‘peace’, which he described as a ‘social happening’, and which was an ethical rather than a soteriological concept. Reconciliation became a universal humanisation process. In his earlier writings he did characterise the task of the Church as kerygma, koinonia and diakonia – proclamation, community, and service. In the course of time, however, he increasingly moved towards the last of the three.

I find it curious that the following theology derives from the 1960. Theological language along these lines is, I find, being used with plenty of enthusiasm today. Not having read Hoekendijk’s theology at first hand I should be cautious speaking directly about him. An English translation of some of his shorter works was published in 1966 with the title ‘The Church Inside Out’ (SCM). It’s another one to add to the list …

I am all the more interested having just read Barth on the Church as witness (CD IV.3), and also John Flett’s head spinning The Witness of God. When I hear this language used today, it is in my experience without reflection on Bosch’s concluding analysis (from 1980!): you get rid of the Church  and something essential is lost.

It’s not as though I don’t have sympathy for Hoekendijk’s frustration with the Church. It is only because of faith that I stay loyal to the church structures and institutions. Yes, I have enough self-knowledge to know that I am no less fallen than the next church member, but that doesn’t make identifying with and living with and in the Church any more comfortable.

As an attempt to flesh out something more positive, here follows a brief summary of something I was going to provide more detail of later … some Barth inspired thoughts.

The move from missio dei to church-less service (identified by Bosch above) seems to stem from an absence of Christology. The language of mission and kingdom seems to have been abstracted from Christ himself. One often hears today this language used in connection with discipleship. On the face of it, this sounds quite Christocentric! With it, though is a closely connected assumption that the discipleship of the gospels has no direct relationship with the Church. As Barth points out, this is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. The ‘absence’ of Church from the gospels is because it is everywhere assumed! Of course it is, the gospels themselves were written from within ecclesial community, often addressing the concerns of that community (the assumptions of form and canonical criticism spring to mind).

This being so, the Church’s existence is determined (skirting over a discussion of actualistic ontology) by her saviour, by whom the covenant between God and humanity is concluded. Christ is about his Father’s work. Humanity is called to witness to that, to echo Christ’s words and actions as the covenant partner and so point others to him. The Church follows the attitude of Christ, who is about his Father’s business. God’s concern firstly is for the world and in Christ the world is justified. We come to faith and join the Church as members of the world. The Church is composed of those brought to the knowledge of this salvation found in Christ and so are called to participate in their own proper way in the loving work of God. The Church therefore cannot be and must not be firstly concerned with its own life, or see itself as an end in itself. To do so would be to be radically incoherent. The Church is called, and therefore the Church must follow Christ and do the Father’s work. But because it is called it is the Church and it is as a community that the Church can witness in a manner no individual can (Stringfellow springs to mind for the ability of the Church to witness politically today). Think of the roles of forgiveness and accountability. The Church here is not somehow establishing a perfect society on earth, it is pointing in a faltering manner to the one who has already forgiven them. Of course, I can forgive people outside of the Church and this can be a witness, but in the Church I don’t just forgive. In the Church I can be forgiven too.

The future of popular missionary theology is not the removal of ecclesiology. It is rather having a good ecclesiology by which the Church can understand her very nature is to be outward focussed, in which even her most private worship in word and form, can be a witness to the world of the coming kingdom.

Consumerist Church Leaves People Behind

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), p. 35-36

Consumerism appears to affect the church and society equally.

The author talks about the Church being made from an ‘impossible combination’ of varied styles and churchmanship, within which there are diverse personalities, cultures and interests. The argument is given that diversity and accessibility to this wide range of people cannot be sustained through one single style as modelled by a single minister, or congregation, or parish. Diversity within the Church and outside of the Church means that there is an infinite number of combinations – as many as there are people – and that therefore different churches can meet the needs of different people. Fresh Expressions of Church that locate themselves in networks of people are therefore well positioned to provide appropriate discipleship for ‘their’ people.

We are worried, though. It seems as though the state of affairs described above, inside the Church and outside of it, is well suited to a consumerist attitude of the Christian towards Church. By this we mean that the Christian can choose the church that suits, whether it be high, low, conservative or progressive. Similarly, church planters seek to create churches that are easily accessible to particular networks of people – as opposed to a geographically defined group of people – in society. For example, church for shoppers, pub or gym users, or even remote control enthusiasts (Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), pp. 42-43). In both cases, church risks losing its catholicity and we fear that this has unintended consequences.

As an illustration, consider this familiar and unpleasant scenario from most of our school days. It’s a P.E. lesson and the class is lined up in the gym. Two captains are elected by the teacher. One pupil at a time is chosen by the captains to form their team. We all know who gets chosen first. Unfortunately, we also know who would be chosen last, or, even worse, not chosen at all and by default left to make up the numbers on the other team.

A consumerist approach to church, whereby we choose the church that suits, or create churches that fit into self-selected networks of people, almost inevitably means that someone gets left behind.

In choosing our church we divide from others we don’t like. We see other Christians and churches as less than desirable. Rather than facing up to our differences and loving those who are different from us, consumerist church allows us to separate ourselves.

In creating churches based in self-selecting networks of people, we risk giving up on the call of God to identify with the ‘least’ of His children. We risk building churches with people who feel comfortable with one another, but which have nothing to do with those outside the network.

From NYNO’s perspective, there seemed to be little mission, few church plants that thought there was any hope for the Church to be found amongst older people. No one was ‘picking’ them; they were left behind. Once we started to think hard about what form of church was best suited to them, we quickly realised that a church for older people would just be compounding the problem. What this part of society needed was not their own church, but rather a church, diverse in age and experience, to embrace them as essential members of God’s society.

Julie and Matthew

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (1)

The following is the first of a series of posts, consisting of our thoughts and reflections as we read Mission-Shaped Church (Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004)). This isn’t an attempt to offer a thorough-going review, but rather a chance for us to order our own thoughts for NYNO.

A question about our changing society and culture (pp. 6-7)

The report suggests that our society has changed, so that whereas we formerly found our community within a geographically defined area, now we look for our community to a greater extent within ‘networks’ – relationships found with others who share aspects of our lifestyle (leisure, work, friendships). Is it possible that these networks have always to some extent existed? Is what we are experiencing not a transference of our community allegiance from the local to the lifestyle, but instead a reduction of it?

Further, are these networks the basis of lifelong commitments, or rather temporary arrangements? What happens if our we attempt to build churches in a community that is inherently unstable?

The report advocates that the church prioritise the poor (p. 7). The report also notes that the poor are more likely to retain relationships that are locally geographically bounded. This is because of the influence of tertiary education and the cost of transport (pp. 2-3). If so, is it the case the fresh-expressions based on ‘networks’ are predominantly middle-class. Further, is this a reason to question whether ‘networks’ are a good place to look to build church? The report advocates ‘engagement’ with networks as ‘a change in the structure of community’ (p. 7). Could this be just as ‘corrosive’ to the church as the lack of commitment in society that it also diagnoses?

In the questions for discussion, the report speaks about people being “‘consumers’ of faith and religion” and urges that the church challenge such attitudes. Is it not possible that churches built upon or within ‘network’ communities based on shared aspects of our lifestyles will be inherently consumerist?

Concluding Thought

Basing a church on any pre-existing community risks building on shifting sands. ‘Networks’ may be ephemeral, but local familial relationships do not necessarily provide a solid basis for a church community. Christ calls us to leave father and mother, and so the church will have to call people to – and falteringly be a model of – Christ’s commitment to us. This looks more incongruous in a community based essentially on the similar consumerist choices of its members, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as that commitment to Christ and each other transcends our ‘natural’ preferences.

Julie & Matthew

A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17 – 12:1 (Meeting Posts 4)

A Sermon Given in 2014

You may have noticed we’ve included thought forms with your notice sheets this morning, and we hope to always have these available when we meet. The purpose of these is to encourage a conversation amongst us all about our life and worship together. You can use to them to note down anything you feel is of particular significance that strikes you as we worship. Occasionally, if Julie or myself have introduced some innovation in the form of our service, as we did last time with the chair layout, then we’re likely to invite you to comment on your responses to these things: is it helpful, thought-provoking, how?

I don’t have a specific question for you to reflect on this morning, although you’d be more than welcome to reflect on the chair arrangement, but just wanted to explain again what the forms were for and to invite your contributions.

1 Corinthians 11:17 – 12:1 17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement. And when I come I will give further directions.

The church is the body of Christ. That is, in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘a profound mystery’ (Eph. 5:32).

The force of that word, ‘mystery’, is of something long hidden, now made known. What has been hidden and is now revealed is, of course, the great work of God in Jesus Christ, in which humanity is redeemed from its slavery to the worship of any- and everything except God.

In Jesus, humanity is invited to participate in new life, eternal life. We realise that we cannot escape our broken selves and see that that which we cannot achieve, God has done for us.

But again, what is the significance of this phrase, the body of Christ, and how does it relate to this mystery now made known? Well, of course, the term draws us back to the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine set before us this morning and the passage that we read earlier that describes the supper’s institution.

Followers of Christ are invited to take the bread and wine, called Christ’s body and blood, and consume them. We may be inclined to shy away from the unpalatable aspects of this act: it was not without reason – even if it was mistaken – that the early Christians were accused of cannibalism. And yet the body and the blood are significant. This act signals to us that a change in who we are has taken place. No matter who we were before, no matter what we have done, now we are identified with Jesus Christ. All that has gone before finds its redemption and fulfilment in him. We lack the everyday language to describe this, and that perhaps is why we are left this sacrament, this physical act to perform, rather than mere words. But even so, by taking Christ’s body into us, we are declaring – proclaiming – that we belong to him and he to us.

But more than this, as the context of the Last Supper implies – which is that of the the passover feast and the consumption of the slaughtered animal by which the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, and more importantly, Christ’s crucifixion – as all this implies, we are consuming a body that has died. We are finding ourselves identified with Christ and particularly with his death: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

And this death is for us: “This is my body, which is for you.”

In this supper we identify with and participate in the death of Christ, so that it becomes our death. So that what we were, is laid to rest in the grave, and what we are is now to be bound up with the life our Lord, the risen Christ. Paul’s words about Baptism point us to the same thing: this from Rom. 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

And so there we have it. The promise of God of physical resurrection, of sharing in Christ’s eternal life, is given to us in physical elements. A bodily promise – of flesh and blood – that indicates to us that our old bodies that we still carry around with us and in which we are contribute to the brokenness of the world, is laid to rest with Christ, and a new hope of bodily redemption, of resurrection is set before us. This promise is no mere aspiration: the Son of God did not taken on flesh, die and be resurrected merely to offer hope, but to achieve it. This promise is a commitment from God, sealed in the blood of the divine Son. We are to take it and eat it, to drink, with enthusiasm, awe and gratitude.

But there is more, one further aspect not yet explained that I want to conclude with. In our reading, Paul expresses frustration at the manner in which some in the Corinthian church are conducting themselves at their celebration of the Supper.

The Supper is taking place within the context of a wider shared community meal: something I would be eager to try here incidentally. However, some bring their own choice food and wine and share and consume it among their friends. Others, likely poorer and not able to arrive earlier or to bring much food, come to the gathering and find themselves ostracised, humiliated and hungry. And then note what Paul says: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.”

I don’t have time to address the question of the judgement falling on that Church this morning, but the force of Paul’s words remains enlightening. The Corinthians are excluding their fellow Christians, and Paul accuses them of eating and drinking the bread and wine without recognising the body of the Lord.

Body here refers to the community of the church, but not only so. There is a logical connection of course: we eat the bread and wine, given to us as the body and blood of Christ and we ourselves join the body of Christ: we become the Church, we become the body of Christ in which no human accolade or achievement or privilege can have significance or value before one another: because all must die with Christ, because all are dependent on him to know eternal life now and at the resurrection.

And so the church is the body of Christ. It is so in a global sense: Christ creates within himself a new humanity. The scope of Christ’s work is not to contribute to human life and culture, to be one aspect of many, but, universally to found once again who and what humanity is as God’s creation, to direct and inspire us to live in humility and compassion now, with the hope of the renewal of all things at his return.

But this term, the body of Christ, has significance on a local level as well, it has significance for us. Remember what Paul says about the rich and the poor, the privileged and the dispossessed. This applies to us. We often describe gatherings like ours, this morning, as a service. We come, we listen (or speak), we sing and we depart. Our religious duty is performed, we return to life. But perhaps our language could be different. We are part of the body of Christ. In this place, we are the body of Christ. God’s Spirit resides in us no less than in others. Have we not died in Christ, like all other Christians? Is our hope any different?

Therefore, without arrogance or rancour, we have justification to think more of ourselves as a group, as a church in this place. As we gather in this place around the table we are reminded again of all that Christ has done and all that that means for us: that we have died with him and that now we live in the Spirit, as his body, in the hope of everlasting life: and that as we do so we proclaim to the world that there is hope and meaning and peace.