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Latest Service Liturgies

The latest service liturgies can be found below and on our resources page.

Agape Meal

Communion and Agape – shortened – Debts (2)

The changes are are small and incremental. Over time, through repetition, you hear the flow of the language differently and have the chance to make adjustments.

The liturgies are include both the traditional and also, hopefully, the explain and express the particular emphases of a NYNO meal.

People are welcome to use these sheets. If you have alternative liturgies we’d be very interested to see them, or if you have thoughts about the inclusion of different material that would be great too.

A Maundy Thursday Communion Liturgy

You can find here a Maundy Thursday liturgy. This was put together by Ian Aitken last year. For once the service is not built around a common meal, although the words draw heavily on our liturgies that are.

This service has tended to operate as quite and solemn evening meeting for adults. Unlike our other meetings we haven’t gone out of away to make the meeting comfortable for the young.

You are welcome to use the sheet . It would certainly be interesting to hear from you if you do so (you can use the contact page on this website), whether you follow our practice or adapt things for your context.

Without eschatology …

… we are left with only a baffling residue of strange commands, which seem utterly impractical and ominous. We ignore the commands on divorce and lash out at our people on peace. The ethic of Jesus thus appears to be either utterly impractical or utterly burdensome unless it is set within its proper context – an eschatological, messianic community, which knows something the world does not and structures its life accordingly.

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville, Abingdon: 1989), p. 90.

There is much to be enthused about in chapter four, which is entitled ‘Life in the Colony: The Church as Basis for Christian Ethics’. The idea of a church as primarily a community whose worships and witnesses through their corporate Christian identity and character, offers both political relevance and an escape from party tribalism. Being faithful to Christ cannot effectively be reduced to a left or right position, but has its greatest significance to the world in its uniqueness.

At the same time, the treatment of the Sermon of the Mount is still not quite satisfying here. I agree with the eschatological context for the sermon that is emphasized. The kingdom is coming, and for this we still pray. Perhaps my frustration lies in the question of where and how that kingdom is being realized – made real – in the present. H & M seem to argue that an individualist approach to ethics and to the commands in the sermon is doomed to failure, but that a Church communitarian approach is actually what is being proposed in the text and, further, is able to (much as in yesterday’s quote) help us to live this kingdom life. Again, I think there are some really quite important things being expressed here. But, I don’t think this proposal manages to escape the accusations of being absurd and naive that they acknowledge can be levelled at the sermon when applied to individuals. On the one hand, I want to agree that the church is essential to our discipleship, worship and witness. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that Christ’s words defeat the best efforts of Christians living in community, just as easily as individualist Christians. This is acknowledged in the concluding remarks in the chapter about forgiveness. Perhaps my frustration might have been calmed if these concluding remarks were rather more central to the chapter. The quotation from Barth on p. 83 hints at a way forward as it speaks of the Church setting up a sign for the world but how this sign might come to be, how it might differ from the reality to which it points, is not spelt out.

From an exegetical point of view, it is not obvious from the text that the Church is able to or commanded to play this positive role in perfecting our discipleship. That Christ is commanding us is obvious. That life in Christian community enables us to obey and ‘be perfect’ is less clear. This last comment is perhaps a strange point to make, given that I do think that the Christian life is a churchly life at every point, given that I do think that life lived in the Church and can make a difference to how we live. I suppose my thoughts are that unless we have a realistic sense of the Church’s limitations and frailties, at the same time as a belief that God is working in us and in our dependence on his work, we will find ourselves disillusioned and doubting. The Church – of which am I part of course – is so bad at keeping these words, to propose that by being in community we could keep Christ’s words just isn’t plausible. This isn’t because I lack faith (!) but rather because central to the sermon is the demand for perfection. This demand allows us to imagine the impossible and unexpected but it also completely crushes us and our expectations of moral adequacy … if we are honest.

I suppose what needs to be fleshed out here is a discussion of the realization of the kingdom – its primary presence in the life of Christ – and so our individual and communal connection to him in life of the Spirit. This allows us to speak of the kingdom in absolute terms – not molding it into something ‘possible’ that we can imagine keeping – and allows us to expect and to try the humanly speaking absurd or impossible. It allows us to imagine that older people might be placed first in the kingdom, that the diversity of the church might make the sacrifice of moving to the most vulnerable and excluded. It does this while recognizing the difficulties involved, our fears and doubts – our need for faith.

When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm …

Christian ethics depends upon the Christian story. Christian ethics makes no sense apart from the recognition that we are also on an adventuresome journey which requires a peculiar set of virtues. For example, when Christians discuss sex, it often sounds as if we are somehow “against sex.” What we fail to make clear is that sexual passion (the good gifts of God’s creation) is now subservient to the demanding business of maintaining a revolutionary community in a world that often uses sex as a means of momentarily anesthetizing or distracting people from the basic vacuity of their lives. When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they were not promiscuous. … We believe that it is only when our attentions are directed toward a demanding and exciting account of life that we have any way of handling something so powerful, so distracting, so creative, and so deadly as sex.

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville, Abingdon: 1989) pp. 63-64.

Comment: What has this to do with NYNO?

NYNO aims to help people envisage and embark on building new church communities in unconventional places that just happen to be particularly accessible to older people. One of the challenges we face is changing the assumptions (often fearful) that younger generations will often have about what such churches might be like. What we are trying to say is that there is far more freedom for you in such a church, far more possibilities, far more joy and satisfaction than you probably imagine. Being part of such a witnessing community is not meant to be a chore, but an exploration, a discovery of who you are in fact – a discovery that can only be made in the context of God’s community. Strange to say, but being involved with a NYNO community with others of a variety of ages (according to H and W ) can help us deal with lots of desires that pull us one way or another and that we struggle to know how to deal with. Put simply, it may be that our faith and Church community provides us with a vision for the whole of life (a larger story into which ours fits) that allows our desires to be a affirmed and ordered sensibly, rather than to float without anchor, forever vying for supremacy with our good intentions.

Planning for the Future, Factoring in the Present

A NYNO service, as we’ve been developing and practising them in Stockethill, Aberdeen doesn’t look like your average contemporary church service, in the Church of Scotland or elsewhere.

If you were looking for family friendly, modern innovation, perhaps you might expect charismatic leadership, contemporary worship music and plenty of audio-visual elements. Instead, in our services, you’d just see people, apparently repeating words and occasionally stopping to sing a hymn from yesteryear.

There is a lot of scope for NYNO services to look differently to the way they do for us at the moment. We don’t claim to have the best way of doing things. What we do have though, is a commitment to finding solutions that are reproducible and sustainable, that do not require the contributions of a minister (but which leave space for them if they are available), and that go out of their way to make worship multi-generational at its heart.

There is a problem, though, in developing solutions to very real problems when those problems are not recognized by others. It’s like asking someone who doesn’t believe in man-made climate change to walk to work rather than take the car. Why would you deny yourself the company of your peers (if you are in the first half of your life, the chances are that most of your peers won’t be joining you in a NYNO congregation), why would you fore-go modern music (there’s no innate reason why a NYNO congregation shouldn’t enjoy great music, but practically speaking we haven’t been able to develop that here yet), why might you use a liturgy to guide your worship (wouldn’t a charismatic preacher/teacher be so much more inspiring)?

There is an innate challenge to working in a NYNO congregation, especially a young undeveloped one.  Many of our guiding principles do not readily produce an accessible, immediate and emotional payoff. Developing a NYNO congregation can be immensely rewarding, but you will be required to see possibilities and opportunities where others might see outdated or irrelevant spiritual practices. The challenge is constantly to keep our principles in place and to be creative.

It doesn’t seem easy to convince people to make a sacrifice unless the reward is just round the corner. Convincing people to come to a NYNO congregation rather seems like asking them to become a Christian. But, perhaps that is how it should be.

 

 

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 State of Play, Autumn 2014

I thought I’d provide an update as to what NYNO has been up to and what we hope to be doing in the near future.

We continue to run our two groups in a sheltered accommodation complex. The first group meets monthly and has moved from being a familiar minister led service to one based around a communal meal structured by set prayers and actions in which all participate together. The second group is smaller and meets most weeks, and would have been recognisable to most as a Bible study. That two has moved to so as to have a worshipful meal format in which young children and be kept at the heart of the meeting, rather than kept quiet during the adult talking time.

Over the summer Julie and I have really begin to give our attention to the practical questions of an every age meeting, particularly accessible to older people. The change in our worship to a format based around a meal was done with the idea in the back of our minds of finding a format in which young and old and can worship together. But it was, if you like, only a first step. There remains the question of how to invite the younger people to worship with us!

As with everything we’ve done, we’re not rushing to answer this question. One step at a time! That has, so to speak, been our mantra: take one step, reflect, listen, take the next step. You have to have some plans, but you need to hold them lightly, letting everyone be involved as you take the next one step.

Perhaps strangely, taking your time such a big change and allowing people to contribute can mean you have time on your hands, so in the meantime, I’m planning to put together a small booklet. This would together our reflections to date, and more easily allow people to follow what we’ve been doing date and amongst other things, get to grips with our notion of ‘first class church’, put into practice a reflective and participative cycle of leadership, pick up and use our liturgies and – if you like! – follow our bread recipes …

In addition we’ve been compiling some notes on Barth’s Church Dogmatics, IV.3.2 par.72 on ‘The Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Christian Community’: very helpful for clarifying the relationship between Church and mission. Hopefully they will be posted before too long.

Of course, once again, if you’d like to know more about NYNO, or have a conversation about starting your own church in Sheltered Accommodation (or indeed in a care or nursing home) we’d be more than happy to talk to you.

Matthew

Liturgy for a Meal

Background and Introduction

Our first meal together was a breakfast. It came after a number of months of preparation. The gathering into which we were introducing this innovation met once a month, and so it was important to make the most of each opportunity to meet and discuss, taking one step at a time and trying to allow space for people to respond to that step. Change too much too quickly, and it risks being too much for people to process and give considered thought to.

So, having on one month introduced our feedback forms and insisted that people’s opinions really do matter, we then embarked on a series of four sermons on texts in 1 Corinthians 10, 11 and 12. Each of these sermons explored the notion of the body of Christ, in the context of a small gathering of older people. You can read these sermons here.

The sermons describe the nature of the church as a community constituted by Christ. In him there is a unity that is not based on common interest, social status or age. All are to be welcomed and can participate most fundamentally through their presence, rather than their service or public performance. These words are fine words but, like much of preaching can seem, they risk being abstract, describing a coherent theological worldview that is yet disconnected from a discipleship of faith, let alone the questions of curious observer, looking in from outside. The embodiment of these ideas, indeed of the spiritual reality of Christ amongst us, is found in our practice of communion. In communion, we come to the table at the invitation of Christ. In communion, we bring no justifying abilities or status, but merely receive. In communion, we find ourselves one because we all share in the one loaf. Here, all of NYNO’s concerns over the exclusion of older people and the benefits if a diversely aged community are founded in the central communal act of the church. With the loaf and wine before us, questions and solution are heard in a new way.

Our next steps, then, were to change the way we sat together. Instead of, largely speaking, sitting in rows facing a pulpit we sat in the round, facing one another across a table laid with the elements of bread and wine. The sermon was about community and participation in Christ and so in the community of his body was being illustrated physically by the way we sat together. It is true that disputes over pews and internal arrangements of churches can exemplify our ability as churches to lose direction and sense of proportion, and yet here such matters seemed imbued with spiritual resonance.

Having taken these steps, the most obvious way forward for us, to encourage the valuing and participation of older people and to enable to a truly diversely aged community to worship together as the body of Christ, was to build our worship, quite literally, around the table. If God has mandated a meal at the heart of our worship, why do we not make more of it? By placing this central to our worship there is the possibility that we will enable young and old to worship together in a way that sidesteps the issues that have frequently driven them apart. If we say, to put it simplistically, that sitting round a table can be worship then a nine year old and a ninety year old can enjoy tea and cake together in God’s presence without the inevitable stress of keeping folk together during age specific teaching or entertainment.

The Spiritual Dynamics of Worship

As we suggested way back here, if you’re going to innovate in worship it will be important to have an appreciation of what is meant to happen, spiritually, in worship. If in describing worship we find ourselves using effectively secular terms (such as communicate, engage, atmosphere) it may be that we’re not thinking as faithfully or deeply as we could be.

The reformed approach to Word and Sacrament offers an important perspective. Here, divine communication of the promises of the Gospel found in Scripture is most important. Both preaching and the sacraments offer the Gospel in word and symbol and, by the enabling work of the Spirit, our response is to grasp hold of those promises in faith. The whole service then is to be oriented around the presentation of these promises by the minister of the Gospel. The people may be active in singing and praying, but in this most important matter they are passive and rightly so because of the one way nature of grace.

In Calvin, the communal nature of the Lord’s Supper is touched upon (e.g. Inst. IV 17.44), but – given that his context is significantly different – it is hardly surprising that this is not given the emphasis that we have found helpful.

Our own feeling is that, through a loss of confidence in the spiritual reality and power of the word and sacrament, we have come to offer psychological explanations for their effectiveness or significance, effectively making ministers primarily educators and our churches primarily classrooms. Perhaps one consequence of this is that, with our educational outcomes as a goal, we prepare age specific teaching and struggle to retain old and young together. NYNO is not wishing to say that education is unimportant, but rather to argue that if we place it central to our worship, young and old will struggle to worship together.

For ourselves, what we understand to be the spiritual dynamic behind NYNO worship is the presentation and sacramental enjoyment of the Gospel in a worshipful meal. Education is, for the moment, understood as a secondary task. When we gather together, we remember and repeat the story of God’s salvation, we read from the scriptures, we pray, we eat and drink of Christ and so are one with each other and we expand that participation into fellowship of a meal, foreshadowing the final banquet of the Lamb.

Participation and Performance

This is a generalisation, but it seems to be true in our context: many older folk – perhaps used to the imposing liturgical performances of ministers of Word and Sacrament – find the notion of public participation in a worship service unappealing. At the heart of NYNO’s ethos, however, is the importance of the active participation of the laity in Christ and in community. We do not simply visit older people, give them a spiritual blessing (for instance, a monthly service of preaching and hymns) and then depart, but instead we build our church community together, living with one another, bearing with one another, disciples old and young together. We both want to build a spiritually nurturing community, and yet avoid making intimidating public charismatic performance an essential membership requirement. These issues are part of the reason why we turned to written liturgy to shape and guide our worship together. Well written words, allow us to repeat the Gospel to one another and to pray without demanding any individual be in the pressured situation of speaking aloud. Further, and this is no small point, they also potentially allow a congregation to develop without requiring the expense of a professional minister. In the Church of Scotland ministers are in short supply, and there is hardly the finances available to place them in experimental church plants for the time necessary for such communities to flourish and for lessons to be learned.

Does all of this guarantee a lively, diverse Christian community committed to mission, seeing others come to faith? Hardly, but it may be putting in place a framework that allows God’s people to worship faithfully in a particular context. We hope that it might be something by which God would continue to work through his church.

The Liturgy

So, finally, let’s describe and comment on the first liturgy that we used. Please note, that this is our first attempt, warts and all, so to speak. NYNO continues to be experimental. We’re not trying to present a perfect solution, but instead think that there’s more to be learnt by honestly going through the cycle of experiment and reflection. In that spirit, future posts will describe the continued development of the liturgy.

The sheet we used can be found here.

In broad outline, the service is one in which we speak to God and to one another. The congregation enters and sits around the one table (or our best approximation of this). Food is already set out before us on the table. Communion is brought towards the front of the service, and the opening section prepares us for that. Our agape meal is placed after communion so that it is understood to be dependent on our prior participation in Christ. Once the meal begins there is an opportunity to offer subjects for prayer, and we interrupt the meal for intercessions and a concluding hymn. The fellowship and eating can continue but we put a limit on the formal aspects so that people feel free to leave.

The opening prayer describes what will come.

We don’t have too many comments to make about the hymn. Music is an area in which we’d like to have something more constructive to say, but it’s hard to get away from the necessity of technical expertise! The words are written in the liturgy for simplicity. We do have someone who can play a keyboard, but we often use simple MIDI hymn tracks (either with a MIDI keyboard or converted to MP3). The emphasis – as below with our prayers – should always be on the human voice, on corporate singing. Part of the thinking here is an unease about a psychological model of communion with God, where the powerful performance of a worship leader is used to bring the worshipper to the appropriate devotional attitude. Not only are we doubtful about this psychological model, but would suggest that this can also tend towards a clericalism, where the worshippers are again made passive. Instead, we feel on safer ground emphasizing the singing voices of the congregation. We are ministering to one another.

We read from the Old and New Testament, and we would want this to retain its identity as a worthwhile activity independent of the sermon.

The sermon was kept as short as we’ve ever had it, again seeking to set out the Gospel on the basis of the texts, and being cautious about being distracted by the task of education. This is important, but possibly needs to find an alternative setting.

The confession beings to the fore the work of Christ, hopefully explained in the sermon, and our appropriate response and attitude to it.

The Thanksgiving is the catholic traditional prayer. The assertion that this was the privilege of the bishop or presbyter as the authorised mouthpiece for church doctrine seems unnecessary given there is no restriction on the laity saying the creed. Of course, reserving this for the bishop would make more sense if the prayer was made extemporarily. Even so, we realize that some discussion with those in your church with responsibility for guarding these things may be advisable. Back to the matter in hand: before the beginning of the service, the congregation is split into two groups (A and B) and we say the thanksgiving together.

The Words of Institution are reserved for the minister to keep us legal in the Church of Scotland. The congregation continues to interject their praises.

The Grace is, slightly confusingly, not the scriptural mutual benediction but the opening prayer for the meal. It attempts to set the kingdom banquet, of which our meal is a foretaste, within the context of the work of the Trinity.

The Meal itself is described in another post. It takes some planning and effort, but we attempt to keep it simple and special.

The Prayers emphasize the prayers of the saints, rather than a representative prayer. To this end, what we pray for is guided primarily by what is suggested by the congregation during the meal. And when we pray, again to highlight the laity’s participation, we pray in silence together. Of course a representative prayer can be a good thing, and can help us pray when we don’t have the words. However, for us we want people to realise that their prayers are important.

We concluded with the Lord’s prayer and a hymn. Perhaps a little more work needing to be done there to give the meeting a sense of ending!

Once again, I just want to add that this was our first attempt at putting a liturgy together. Subsequent posts will cover how we developed things over subsequent months.

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.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 – Symbolic Seating (Meeting Posts 3)

Introduction

The following sermon was given at a Sunday service, at which we had changed our changed our seating arrangements. Before we had a familiar arrangement of speaker and lectern at the front and congregation facing the speaker. Our new format had us gathering in a circle, around a table laid with the communion elements. We wanted to emphasise that in the church there is no position of power; nobody is higher or lower than anyone else. On our little table we laid a loaf of bread, a cup of wine, a cross and the open Bible. All of us sit facing each other across these symbols. The changes in our meeting space were a physical representation of the symbolism which is at our core – that we gather around the communion table, Christ is at the centre, and we are united one with another.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

We read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 together in both the ESV and The Message.

Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

15-18 I assume I’m addressing believers now who are mature. Draw your own conclusions: When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. That’s basically what happened even in old Israel—those who ate the sacrifices offered on God’s altar entered into God’s action at the altar.

Why Chairs Matter

Firstly, we feel it was important to mention what the sacraments are for in order to give some context. They are all signs of covenant, that is, of God’s promises and his will for humanity. Augustine called the sacraments ‘visible words’. They are visible and tangible signs which bolster our weak faith. God imparts spiritual things through visible ones. We want to emphasise two things in particular – our participation in Christ when we take communion, and how we are joined with one another as we partake.

The signs – the cup and the bread – are symbolic, but they are also, mysteriously, far more than just symbols. A symbol that is nothing more than a symbol is dead. But when the symbol points us to something larger than ourselves, something eternal, the symbol has life.

We don’t know how, but by the holy spirit, we feed on Christ when we participate in the cup and loaf. Our minds can’t grasp how, but by faith we believe that something profound and beautiful and significant takes place when we take the cup. This seems to me so characteristic of biblical spirituality- the ordinary, the humdrum and the miraculous, supernatural are on a single continuum.

We want to emphasise that it is, of course, possible to participate in Christ without the sacrament, but that it is impoverished. The sacrament is central to all of our gatherings even when we don’t partake because the act makes Christ central. Communion is a moment of personal encounter with Jesus. John 6:56 say this: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.’ Our participation in the cup and loaf, our communion, is an intimate moment when each of us meets with Jesus and is wholly centred on Him. The reference to idolatry in first verse is a warning to keep God at the centre of our worship – at the centre of our individual lives, and common life.

When we participate in the cup, we are not only participating in Christ in the here and now, but we are on the cusp of eternity as ‘we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes’ as it says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Communion is a taster of the redemption to come. It helps us to see what lies ahead and helps us to already participate in it in a limited way. As it was a Sunday in advent, we began our service by singing O come, O come Emmanuel. We expressed our longing for Jesus to come. We talked about being ‘hallelujah people’, living after Christ’s resurrection, but that we are also ‘advent people’, waiting and longing for Christ’s return in glory and victory. We live in that sure hope.

Having talked about what it means to participate in Christ, we move on to talk about what it means to participate with one another. Again, our new way of sitting together has symbolic significance. We want to emphasise that our participation in Christ is a communal activity. The various meanings of the key word, koinonia, are communion, fellowship, participation, sharing in, contribution/gift, and presence. All these facets of that one word express our joining with one another as we participate in Christ together.

Some traditions end their Eucharist service with these words: ‘Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his holy spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ There we touch the heart of the mystery of community.

In some mysterious way, when we participate in Christ’s cup, and have communion with Him, we are joined together as brothers and sisters. We participate in the feast together. It is joint participation. Thus, as Jean Vanier would say, community and family become closely intertwined, because aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with God.

So, as we are participating in Christ, communally, being somehow joined with one another, we are being built by the Holy Spirit into community, into the body.