Xposted: Lone Communing and Re-Egypting

From my Assembly/Worship blog on an apparent contradiction in terms:

Communing … alone?

From my Kingdom/Government blog on an intriguing insight:

To Egypt? Again?

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A unique meal

One of my grandmothers once taught that “unique” doesn’t take the modifier “very.”  A thing cannot be “very unique.”  It’s either unique (singular) or isn’t.  I doubt most Thanksgiving meals will be unique today, but one historic meal was truly, spiritually unique.  And I’m not talking about Pilgrims and Indians here.

Once, the Savior of the world took bread and wine—and gave both of those substances new, albeit historically connected, symbolisms.  I’ve come to understand that, in Hebrew tradition, one “blesses God” at mealtimes and other times, rather than asking for a blessing.  It seems likely that Jesus would have been acting in line with that tradition at His last meal with his closest associates.

Paul’s recounting of that unique meal goes something like this:

23 So, I obtained from the Lord’s hand the same thing I subsequently handed on to you—that our own Lord Jesus, on the night when he began to be turned over, 24 broke bread in his hands, giving thanks and commenting like this:

“Notice this bread.  See it as the representation of my body, given on your behalf.
Eat it, and in doing so, you’ll be calling me into remembrance .”

25 Similarly also he offered the cup after dining, and he expressed this message:

“Now, notice this cup.  Its contents are, in effect, the signature on my new, final ‘last will and testament.’
Drink it, and each and every time you do, you’ll be calling into remembrance my body and blood.”

26 The upshot is that, each and every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you will in effect be broadly declaring the symbolic meaning of the Lord’s death, in anticipation of his coming.

1Cor 11:23-26 paraphrase by Brian Casey, Fall 2015

Soon I’ll plan to share some detailed commentary and insights gained during the process of my wrestling with the above text.  There is so much here!  Mnemonic phrases, alliteration, emphatic forms, theologically significant metonymy, and thematic ties to other messages in 1Corinthians—all these and more help Paul to achieve his communicative aims.

For today, we might consider that a human can bless God.  This phrasing seems strange to us English-speakers, since the word “bless” has come to mean something that the greater does for the lesser.  Yet Jesus himself, in human form, blessed God:  in the more Jewish context of Matthew 26, the word at the final dinner is eulogeo (roughly, “good words,” from which later sprang our word “eulogy”).

In 1Corinthians, Paul’s word is eucharisteo (roughly “give thanks,” from which the transliteration “eucharist” was later derived, in what seems to me a linguistically unusual, but surely not unique, chain of events).  On the occasion depicted in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1Corinthians 11, the bread received in gratitude was coming to symbolize Jesus’ own striped, broken flesh.  That was and is something that merits lavish thankfulness.  To speak good words of thanks is to bless God.

On this day, it would not be inappropriate to remember Jesus’ offering of Himself as we both bless God and thank Him for blessings.

B. Casey, 11/26/15

Out of order (emphatically)

image

If you haven’t traveled in WY or SD or similar areas, you might not have seen signs like these.  They still make me do a double-take, even after having driven thousands of miles on these roads.  The words are out of order!

Why was the sign fashioned that way?  I figure the police and highway care crews got together and decided they needed to be extra-clear with the warnings. . . .  “Hey,” they must’ve agreed, “let’s put the word ‘Closed’ at the top so that no driver can argue he didn’t see the warning.”

Problem is, the sign is confusing because of word order.  It should read more like this:

When [lights are] flashing

I-90 closed ahead

Must exit now

Which brings up matters related to word order in the Greek New Testament.  Word order considerations are somewhat different when comparing Greek to English, but in certain instances, we find that Greek words have been “promoted” or moved toward the first of a clause or sentence.  Just such a case is found in 1Cor 11:24, where I have spent some time recently.

A typical word order might have been this:

τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα μού
(touto estin to soma mou)
this     is    the body my

But, in the actual text, the word “mou” (the personal pronoun “my”) has been “promoted”—moved to an earlier position in the word order.  Here is the phrase as it appears in 1Cor 11:24:

τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα
(touto mou estin to soma)
this   my     is    the  body

Compare any one of the lines of blue text to the corresponding line of brown text above.  See the difference?  One word (mou) moved toward the front means that the whole expression may reasonably be rendered in written English this way:

This is my body.

I trust that my bold italics (incidentally, a relatively new technique in written language) help to show the emphasis placed—by the change in word order—on the word “my.”

In the course of an effort to make sense in a different language, word order and other elements may sometimes be adjusted during the process of translating.  Why?  Well, if a driver speaks “literal” English, he would tend to move his foot toward the brake before reading the words “when flashing” in the sign below:

wpid-img_20150811_074717_926.jpg

And if a reader of 1Cor 11:24 didn’t know that “my” had been promoted in the word order to show emphasis, she might not be able to ascertain the import of the emphatic “my” . . . and she’d probably not be impelled into further consideration of the larger context of 1Corinthians, chapters 8 through 14 and beyond.  It is a context that deals not only with cup multiple times, but also with multiple senses of body.  Here, there is a special emphasis on its being the Lord Jesus’s body.  The Corinthians appear to have been in need of some pointed instruction about Whose body it was they were dealing with!

Intriguing comparisons may also be made with Luke’s (and Matthew’s and Mark’s) record of the same event, and also with the oral tradition that was surely part of early Christian practice.  In any version of this phrase, the essence is the same, but the emphasis is changed when the word order is changed.

B. Casey, Aug. 5-12, 2015

A chiastic communion prayer

Following an extended “confessional meditation” about my experience of communion/the Lord’s Supper, I offer now a meditational prayer I wrote for communion some years ago.

This prayer is in chiastic form; the structural feature was primarily a personal, spiritual exercise, but I did mention it to a couple others who were present that morning.  Possibly, the oral reading of the prayer wasn’t in vain for others’ sake:  I suspect that some of the repetition (part & parcel of rhetorically based, chiastic structure) is universally helpful—as people hear words aloud, that is.

As you read it, you could notice the conceptual and verbal connections between indented pairs (first and last, then move inward toward the center).  You could think particularly about the very center:  the participating.  Or, you could simply pray the prayer.


Now, Father, we come.
We come, in the stillness of this time, to do something You asked us to do often.

We come, according to the desire of Jesus, and because we believe He forever opened the door (and left it open!), for us to commune.

We Christians come not to “take communion,” as though it were a thing … a possession being offered and accepted in some sort of material transaction.

We come not even to “communion,” as though it were an event more than a familial union of spirits.

We come to commune with You, YHVH the gracious Father,
and with You, Jesus the Son.

We are needy and ready to experience Your grace …

to share in Your Nature …

to participate

with our whole selves

in the most stupendous of Your provisions:

Jesus, our Emmanuel,
the grace-gift of the Father.

We come to not to an event,

Or to some magical, grace-giving transaction, but to commune with You—
and with all these who call You “Father.”

We come in the name of Jesus.

We come, on this October morning, still now in Your presence, as You desire.
We approach You in spirit, Father God.

© Brian Casey, Fall 2006


I have presented this as copyrighted not because I wish to sell it but because I would like to know if someone finds this prayer useful somewhere else.  These are “my” words, but they are words intended for the Kingdom at large.  Please don’t hesitate to ask me — publicly here, or privately, at BLCasey14 {at} g mail – dot – com.  If you don’t feel like taking the time to ask, that’s OK — you hereby have advance permission anyway, but I’d love to hear from you after the fact.

LS Symbolisms

Here is a small collection of miscellaneous Lord’s Supper thoughts I’ve entertained in recent months.

As this little piece has developed, it reminds me of “Hook’s Points,” an erstwhile series written by Cecil Hook, now living non-physically eternally, who was a friend to many while inspiring and challenging them.  (Here is a sample selection of “Hook’s Points.”)  I don’t lay claim to Cecil’s perpetually beautiful attitude, but I like to challenge traditional thinking much as he liked to.

Lift Him up
Typically, pulpit furniture is elevated higher than the table used for communion.  In a church in Georgia about 25 years ago, one elder-shepherd convinced the others to reverse the furniture.  Then, the table was elevated, and the preacher praught from down low (although he wasn’t a low-down guy).  Problem was, the table was then more removed from the people who were said to be communing around it, and the preaching seemed even more emphasized.

By the way, the phrase “lift Him up” in John’s gospel has nothing to do with notions of worship that use “high” imagery.  And it certainly has nothing to do with furniture elevations.  It has to do with the cross.

Color me traditional, if possible
When some in my tradition are feeling threatened by change, they’ve been known to say, “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting chips and Coke for the Lord’s Supper!”  In my experience, those who want change are customarily more careful and intentional than those who are content with the status quo; neither side is characterized by the flippant carelessness.  However, I do assume that Jesus cares more that we remember Him than that we get the elements exactly right.  After all, who knows the exact chemical makeup of the wine served at the Last Supper, or how the unleavened bread felt or looked?  If we are sincerely bent on remembering Him and His atoning death, I suppose we will do things and use things that foster that remembering.

Still, I’m not going to buy white grape juice for the purpose of communion when red grape juice is available.  The blood-symbolism is the thing, isn’t it?

And while you’re at it, what is “eschatology” again?
“Transubstantiation” and “intinction” are big words associated with communion in some traditions.  (“Eschatology” is a more important word, and it’s only indirectly connected with communion.)

Sometimes I think words obscure  more than they reveal.  Ironically, “transubstantiation” refers to a supposed revealing of the Christ in the eating of the bread:  namely, that the substance of the bread is miraculously transformed into His actual body, and that the wine also becomes  His blood.  In the course of insisting such things occur, though, what ends up being revealed more than the Christ is the audacity of human superimpositions on scripture.

Oh, the lengths to which overzealous (and, in some cases, corrupt) “Christians” have historically gone in order to develop exclusive dogmas and denominations!  Frankly, the paranormal realities that may or may not occur when I slip a bit of cracker or matzah onto my tongue are not my concern.

I have only experienced “intinction” on isolated occasions.  It refers to the mingling of bread and juice/wine before ingesting either.  Intinction doesn’t appear to reflect the commemorative pattern of which we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1Corinthians (leaving alone Acts 2 and Acts 20, which I take as referring to something larger and related, but not identical).  This “method” does, however, bring into sharp relief the symbolism of the bloody flesh that was part of our Lord’s suffering.

I would have to say that on the half-dozen occasions I’ve observed the memorial using the intinction method, my spirit has meditated differently and newly, and quite possibly more deeply.  I suspect that, just as with any other habit, the newness of the intinction experience would tend to wear off after a while, but perhaps it could be a good method to use now and again . . . until He comes (he appended eschatologically, with reference to 1Cor 11:26).

~ ~ ~


At some point in the future, I plan to jot a few more notes on Lord’s Supper methodologies, including who does the walking/serving and the eating — in other words, who’s involved in which aspects and how it might all be accomplished.  If you have other ideas, thoughts, or ponderings related to communion, please share them in the meantime.

A common church lie

Now, all y’all atheists, don’t get all excited.   This is not what you think.

While I believe there are doctrinal and philosophical lies ushered around on the arm of Christianity, my concern for today is not particularly doctrinal.  In fact, the topic here is nearly a-scriptural and merely a function of church tradition.  It has little to no bearing on “salvation” in eternity.

I’m by no means the first to have noted this negatively.  I’m concerned here with a tradition peculiar to the Church of Christ (and, I think, the Christian Church — which I have much less first-hand experience with).

I’m speaking of habits in the ritual practice of communion and the collection.  It’s the joining at the hip — the both-and — that bothers me.  Far too often, it goes like this:

  1. Sermonette/”table talk” or scripture reading
  2. Prayer for the bread
  3. Passing around of the bread trays
  4. Prayer for the “cup,”¹ with or without additional comments
  5. Passing around of the juice trays
  6. The mumbled phrase, “And now, ‘separate and apart from the Lord’s supper,’ we’re going to take up an offering for the Lord’s work. . . .”
  7. Passing around of the collection trays

Of the Sunday morning church assemblies I’ve been in, the above items have occurred in this exact sequence about 98.6% of the time, and my temperature is rising because of the communicable disease that has been spread.

Aside:  it bears asserting that, while both communion and the collection have longstanding traditions associated with them, only communion has a real biblical rationale.  The presence of the collection in the liturgy is born of the traditional understanding that we must support religious systems.  While there are very good (some explicitly biblical) supports for charitable giving, no valid, scriptural rationale exists for a weekly, ritual collection.

It also bears mention that there are scads of other aspects of communion that are more important to consider, practice, and discuss.  But the theological underpinnings of either communion or charitable giving are way too deep for my simple purposes today.  Establishing that there is or is not a rationale for one or both of these is not my raison ecrire.

Please refer to #6 above.

The main point here is this:  it is a stupidity, really, to perpetuate the illusion that the two are “separate” when they are completely conjoined in actual practice.  We say they are “separate and apart” while, in reality, they are not at all separate.  In an ironic turn of the tables, so to speak, many men who are designated “table talkers” even make a point of connecting the two through their comments.  Communion and the collection may thereby become joined not only in terms of sequence and time, but also in theological concept.

Falling over ourselves to claim the two practices are separate surely warrants the adjective “disingenuous,” at least.  I would go so far as to say we have frequently borne false witness.

We ought either to stop doing it the way we do it, or stop telling the lie.

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¹ We say “cup” since we’re chicken to say “juice” and chicken to use wine, as some of the songs have it.

Chiastic meditation (#1200)

Prelude (composed after the main material below)

This is post #1200 on this blog, which has been up and running for more than six years.

There have been periods of “fasting” from writing for almost a month or so.  Other times, I wrote nearly every day.  I’m pretty sure that I spend too much time tending this site, in the grand scheme of my little life.  On the other hand, I feel spiritually and emotionally energized by thinking and writing about significant matters, so I hardly think it would be a good idea for me to stop just yet.  So, onward. . . .  If you only have time to read a little, read the actual meditation (Part B).

I had noticed I was approaching #1200 a couple weeks ago.  Then, without thinking about the number anymore, I finished up 3-4 posts, including this one, and scheduled them all to be published on future dates.

Thinking back a year and a half  . . . as a bibliophile (not a numerologist), this is a significant number — more so than #1000, which I had specifically orchestrated in April 2013 to end up in that position, and I’d also noticed #777.  It’s kinda cool that this one ended up being #1200 without any specific, advance thought about the milestone.

Why is it appropriate that this one is #1200?  Because it combines some of my areas of great interest and effort:  1) rhetorical and exegetical studies in ancient scripture and 2) worship, teaching, and leadership among Christians.  I suppose it’s appropriate, too, that I publish this one early on a Sunday morning.  If you’re a) feeling rushed and b) are responsible for some aspect of worship leadership this morning, please skip to the middle of this post — the actual meditation — and feel free to use it somehow.

Part A

Sometimes I type in essay titles that simply describe or summarize the content.  Sometimes the titles foreshadow a line or thought or wording to come later in the essay.  Sometimes, the slugs or titles are designed to attract interest because they’re different.  This title is mostly the last type, although I suppose it attains to the other motivations, too.

I was about to offer a wager that no other blog this month — or this year, for that matter — would have this title.  I decided to Google it, and got five results:  three bits about some Mormon malarkey, and two more interesting documents related to chiasm and secular poetry.  Basically, I think I’ve proven my point, not finding any blogs with this title and only five marginally related results, so the bet is off.

Aside:  if you don’t use quotation marks (guaranteeing that the results will be exact replications) around the expression, you get 381,000 results, and it’s worth noting that chiasms appear in Psalms and other meditative literature.

All the above was just so much prefatory hot air.  Here is the actual chiastic meditation:

Part B

My Lord, You lived so that You could ultimately die.
Now, You ask us to believe
in Your awful, wonderful cross –
that astounding, yet terrible instrument
that we accept as necessary and grace-filled …
so we can die in order to live eternally with the Lord of all.

– bc, from communion meditation for Sheridan church, 11/9/14

Part C

The “chiasm”² is so named because it may be diagrammed in thε shapε of the Greek letter Χ  (chi).  You may be able to imagine this X superimposed over the green words above.  That X would almost “connect the dots” of the related concepts, in this case, although it doesn’t always work out that visually neatly.

In this form, the references tie together from the outside, moving inward:

“Lord of all” is related to “My Lord.”
“Live” and “die” relate to one another.
“Believe” is tied to “accept,” so this use of “believe” might be seen more as mental assent than trust of the heart.

In the center — and the center of a chiasm constitutes the emphasis — are paradoxical descriptors of the cross.  Even this post, taken as a whole, might be seen chiastically:  1) the prelude and postlude are material about  the material — its “whys”¹ or motivations, and thoughts about its uses/functions; 2) the explanatory words in Parts A and C are somewhat related; and 3) the center, Part B, is the emphasis.

Postlude

Why¹ would I bother to compose a communion meditation in chiastic form?  For two reasons, in no particular order:

  1. Because it helps me to structure the thoughts and meditate in my own spirit, and I need all the help I can get.
  2. Because I think forms that use repetition (and quite possibly the chiasm/inclusio/”sandwich structure” is the granddaddy of ’em all) are more likely to result in meaningful retention in the human soul.

Please, feel free to use the meditation above in your own communion time.  These words are not protected by copyright law!  Rearrange, change, add to them at will, for Kingdom purposes.

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¹ Sometimes, form can be a little messy in a biblical chiasm.  It doesn’t seem as though biblical authors were always interested in perfect form; rather, primarily, they seem to have been impelled to communicate persuasively, using any rhetorical aids they had at their disposal.  In my essay above, the form isn’t perfect, either:  there’s a brown Why in the prelude, and a brown “why” in Part C, and a brown why in the postlude, which is probably the only place the word “why” should appear if the form were “perfect.”  Like I said, the form can be messy sometimes.

² An interesting site that displays some biblical chiasms may be found here.

 

Demonstratives

This post will be about a little of this-n-that.

Back East in the 70s, a capable man (who nonetheless struggled inwardly) once started a Bible class for college students.  He hung a green street sign above the door to the classroom, and the sign said “This Place.”  I have no idea what went on inside that room, but the younger me envied the situation.  It seemed as if there was something important going on in “this place.”

A new church that wanted a catchy name called itself “That Church.”  They even use those words “that church” in their web presence.  People may well remember them because of their use of the demonstrative pronoun.

An impressive man named Wes once graced the church I was part of.  He was asked — more often than most — to “head the table.”  (By that I mean “speak the devotional words that kicked off the communion ritual.”)  Wes began every communion table talk with the words “This is the Lord’s Supper.”  Although his enunciation didn’t particularly emphasize the demonstrative pronoun this, his overall emphasis was demonstrative.  It didn’t hurt that he quoted a long passage of scripture, in the anachronistic, less familiar, yet striking, King James, each time.

When Jesus was at the so-called “last supper” with his closest friends, He said, “Do this to remember Me.”  (Luke 22:19)  That was a very demonstrative pronoun that referred to an even more demonstrative event.

In Greek grammar¹ studies, I’ve learned labels for some demonstrative pronouns:  “this” and “these” are called the near demonstratives, while “that” and “those” are sometimes referred to as remote.  So, for instance, the classroom called “This Place” was in a sense near to those within.  From my vantage point, however, it was remote.  Functionally, for me, “this place” was that place.

And when Wes intoned “This is the Lord’s Supper,” he was, whether he knew it grammatically or not, conceptually drawing the experience near to the congregation.  In the same vein, I think Jesus was drawing things near when He said, “Do this” and “this is my body.”

I wish He and it didn’t seem so remote.

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¹ Yes, it is Greek grammar that has most notably informed my understanding of such aspects as tenses and conjugations, moods, and cases.  I am one of those weirdos who likes grammar and usage.  I credit my parents for speaking well around me, so that I grew up pretty much knowing how to speak and write English.  I also credit one Sharon Spingler, my 8th grade English teacher, for teaching some real grammar.

I thought it was supposed to be serving

Let’s say a man is called on to “serve communion.”  (That’s about as apt an expression as “take communion.”  You can’t take communion.  You can share it or engage in it, but you can’t take it or serve it.  I digress.)

Let’s say the man is assigned to a side aisle, working with one of two center-aisle guys to pass trays back and forth.

Let’s say there are 7 people on a pew he is about to “serve,” with very little space between them, and the man hands the tray to the person on his end.

Wouldn’t the man expect the tray to be passed all the way down to the other end instead of its being passed back to him on his end?

Let’s say the man is currently irritated over some other church issues; let’s further say that he has recently allowed some scapegoat frustration to creep in.  (OK, we can give him that, because we need people to give us that sometimes.)

Still, wouldn’t he be able to recognize that he is there to facilitate the communion-serving process — to serve the people, and not to have his own way?  Why would he get huffy when the tray doesn’t come back to him so he can hand it to the next row?  I mean, what difference does it make how the tray gets where it’s going?

I thought it was supposed to be serving, not commanding those you’re serving.

When you’re serving, it’s not about you or your ideas or methods.  It’s about the meaning of what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it for.