Sunday, 18 January 2015

Breathing Deep

"The Sacraments...are 'big medicine and strong magic'; objective efficacy, which cannot be further analyzed".  C S Lewis: Letters to Malcolm.

In his seeking to clarify aspects of the nature of God's work of grace amongst us, Paul reaches a point where he says that the Lord's ways - His wisdom and knowledge - are realms which truly prove to be unsearchable and inscrutable to us (Romans 11:33). When it comes to such riches as our redemption, we are left truly staggered when we properly comprehend its heights and depths - the one who made all things and who holds them together becoming flesh to hang in crucifixion upon the tree to deliver us from sin and death, it is indeed, as the hymn says 'mystery all'.

There are other 'mysteries' which issue from this same treasury of the Godhead's grace.
Recently, I was attending a study group where the topic of discussion was the Lord's Supper, and the usual Evangelical approach to the matter (the table being a symbolic commemoration of Christ's death) was expressed. I quickly found myself thinking "and...", because whilst I see that as part of what it's about, I don't think it tells the whole story of what goes on.

As the evening progressed, we were invited to discuss the matter in groups, and I found myself somewhat uncomfortable, because the "and' in my head wasn't going away or being addressed. I turned to 1 Corinthians 10 and read verses 1-4, and asked how that slotted into a purely commemorative approach to the supper. Paul tells us here we eat of 'the same spiritual food and drink' as they did in the wilderness - Christ, who was present in their midst as a rock. It's not an easy passage to unpack, but it's clear from the incidents recorded for us in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 that this 'rock' (which, according to Paul, followed them and would become a name for God) was struck to give them water (something which only needed to be done once - when Moses did this a second time, He was told as a result of doing so that he would not enter the promised land) - so the people were fed by heavenly bread (manna) and waters.

Whilst the essential nature of these gifts to the children of Israel was, as Paul notes, spiritual, their material nature was also quite real - something they could touch, taste and handle - not only in the tabernacle, but in their common life (which, I suspect, says a great deal about the actual value and realm of true holiness), and it was amidst their daily needs that they were to eat and drink of these heavenly gifts.

The question, then, is when it comes to the Lord's Supper (which is where Paul goes in his discussion in 1 Corinthians 10 (- see 16-18), why would we only look upon it as a memorial or  symbolic, or something generally external to our deepest needs - to feed upon the life which comes from the living throne of the Lamb?

God's intention in Eden was not only for us to eat of any tree of the garden, but to surely eat of the fruit of the tree of life, which is why we find this tree and its waters thriving at the very heart of the throne city of the new creation (Revelation 22). Christ invites us to come and drink of these waters to partake of His life (22:17), to invite Him to come and fellowship with us, not only in heavenly places, but here, on earth, in this present world. Surely, as Paul is showing us, this is where we evidence the shocking yet true significance of God with us - that in this world, at this moment, God is amongst us, meeting us through the life given to the world in His incarnation and death, and that truly changes everything.