The theme I am exploring in the coming months is “getting in tune.” I was mindful of this the other day, when I heard a stunning violin concerto on the radio. I wondered, what would all the intricate technical skill or emotional intensity amount to if the instrument was out of tune, or played flat? Maybe just noise. Think of St Paul: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.”(1 Corinthians 13) If you’re not in tune – if your G is an F#, it’s just noise; if you’re not in tune with love – not as a sentiment but the love shown by God in Christ (see Romans 5) – your witness and worship is just so much clamor. Getting in tune is ongoing work. Martin Luther said that the “basic” material in his children’s catechism – Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and so on – requires constant study, even for himself. You never just “get it” and move on, any more than you “get it” when it comes to a spouse with whom you spend your life. You are ever surprised and refreshed.
So what would it mean to get in tune with Christ? What’s the center, the heart of what he said and did? What would you say if someone were to ask you? You might think of his first recorded words. Remember that Paul’s writings are thought to be the earliest in the New Testament. I can only think of one place where Paul quotes Jesus:
“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (from 1st Corinthians 11)
Paul seems to be referring to a common tradition (attested to also in Matthew, Mark and Luke) that these words were entrusted by Jesus himself to his followers. What if we were to think of Jesus’ self-giving words with the bread and wine as the heart of his self-explanation and message?
A couple of thoughts: If this is his core message, you wouldn’t tell a friend about Jesus by reciting his words at the table, you would invite them to the Holy Communion on Sunday to hear these words for themselves. People are maybe too willing to talk about Jesus – as if he wasn’t around (Risen!). I was asked to demonstrate my evangelism ability in an interview once by being asked: “tell me about Jesus.” It was OK but seemed odd – as it does in every sermon, maybe for a good reason: to talk about him is such a convenient way to promote our own views and agendas, morals and platitudes. “Jesus said ‘I am the way,’ you need to believe or perish.” At the Holy Communion, Jesus speaks for himself, saying about himself what we most need to know: “for you.” He’s “gift” first, example or teacher second. Maybe the best way we can talk about him is to say “come and see.” When St Luke was talking about becoming more welcoming, it wasn’t just about “doing as Jesus did,” but rather remembering the welcome that Jesus himself always gives not just to us but all people from the table, with the bread and wine. Whether or not we are welcoming, he is.
His welcome puts us in our place. Would the word “Christian” mean having a status above others, if we lived from Christ’s table? There, week after week, we find that we’re not upstanding Christian citizens and loyal followers who can look down on the non-Christian masses. We are like Peter and Judas and the others: the way we know Jesus is that we have betrayed and denied him – we know ourselves as ever reliant on his mercy, praying weekly or daily as Jesus taught us: “Forgive us our sin, as we forgive those who sin against us.” When Christians seem aloof or even mean and not joyful and full of gratitude, maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten our place at the table? “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” God make it so for us.
We will be getting in tune with Jesus’ words and the rite of Holy Communion during worship and education beginning in October and on into November. The Biblical texts we hear at worship will be the same ones used in Sunday School both for adults and for children, all around the theme of Holy Communion. Join us as we “get in tune” with Christ through a new look at how he is there for us!