Church Write-Up: God Meets Us in the Physical, at Communion

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church activities:

A. The youth pastor contrasted the Old Testament system of access to God with what Christians have. The Old Testament had only one church building: the Tabernacle. Only the high priest had direct access to God, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. When Jesus died, however, the veil of the Temple was split in two, and now everyone can have access to God. This model raises a question in my mind. People could pray to God in Old Testament times, without being at the Temple, so what is the difference between what Christians have now and what Old Testament people had then? Perhaps, in the Old Testament, being at the Temple was a surer path of access to God.

B. The pastor talked about the importance of the physical. God meets us in the physical, through such rituals as communion and baptism. That was also the case with the Old Testament sacrificial system. People needed something physical to assure them that they were forgiven. That is true of humans, as well: an apology may not be enough, but a hug can reassure a person that you have forgiven him or her. The physical is also important because, if we overspiritualize things, we can say that our heart was right, even though our outward actions are damaging.

C. A lady gave her testimony. She talked about how she became a Christian at her confession of faith at her confirmation. She did not read the Bible that much, until she was older and had to teach Sunday school. But she felt that she was not growing. She could not attend adult Sunday school, since she was teaching Sunday school to kids at that time. She found a Bible study class, which went through the Bible slowly. They were in Genesis when she started, and, two decades later, they are in Proverbs. She also learned about Christian radio, and she has been fed by the same spiritual teachers for forty years.

D. The Sunday school class was about communion. There was some ambiguity about what exactly communion accomplishes. More than once, it was said that communion brings people forgiveness, but the teacher backtracked from that and said that it was about appropriating the benefits of the forgiveness that Christ brought through the cross. This is a Lutheran church, which believes that Christ is literally present in the elements of communion, and people there expressed their sentiment that Christians who see the elements merely as symbolic are missing out on something: not justification, but a help in sanctification, the path of growing in and building on the faith. Why communion? Well, I would say that, first of all, it is a memorial. Jesus at the first communion said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24-25). We are memorializing that Christ died for our sins, and perhaps, by eating the elements, we remind ourselves of the importance of being nourished by Christ’s sacrifice by placing our faith in it. Believers in the “real presence” may take this a step further by saying that Christians actually are ingesting Christ’s sacrifice at communion and being nourished by it, not merely symbolizing their act of faith. Second, in my opinion, the teacher did well to point out that communion is a place to fellowship with God, to eat a meal with him. Paul in I Corinthians 10:20-21 places the table of the Lord in the same category as the table of demons, the idolatrous sacrifices. Obviously, the first is good and the second is bad, but both are places where a worshiper fellowships with a deity.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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