The Eucharist: God’s loving invitation to grace

eucharistPeople were asking questions. Their pastor was new and – so far – had celebrated communion every Sunday, something they’d never done before, so they decided to ask him about it. “Don’t you think it will become routine if we do this together every week?” The pastor was quiet for a minute, then posed a question of his own. “Do you think God is in heaven looking down at us and saying, ‘Stop it, people! Don’t do that so much!’ ” His listeners laughed; they took his point. The next Sunday, they gladly went forward during communion time.

Sacraments are dramatic rites/ceremonies – or to use Augustine’s term, “visible words” – modeled by Jesus and instituted by him that he intended the people of God to practice as well. In the last chapter, we spoke about one such sacrament, baptism. Baptism is the initiation that marks off individuals as belonging to the people of God, the church. Another sacrament regularly observed by the church is the Eucharist, sometimes called “Holy Communion,” “communion,” or “the Lord’s Supper.”

The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek verb, eucharisto, meaning to “give thanks.”  The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took bread and wine and gave thanks for them before giving them to his disciples (Matt. 26:27, Luke 22:19; see also 1 Cor 11:24). Luke 22:14-23 picks up the story:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”  They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. 

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Nazarene or “Baptarene”? When traditions collide

Phineas F. Bresee served for 38 years as a Methodist minister before beginning the fledgling “Church of the Nazarene” at the turn of the 20th century. Other non-Methodist groups fused with his in 1907 and 1908.

My dad grew up Nazarene, but my mom was raised independent Baptist. So, if ever there was a “Baptarene,” it was me. But I suspect I’m not the only former Baptarene who has rediscovered what being a Nazarene is, and now, I refuse to look back.

Don’t get me wrong. I harbor no animus against Baptists. I’ve always admired their fervor in evangelism, their giving for world missions and their emphasis upon the importance of Scripture. All three of those characterized John Wesley (1703-91) as well, the 18th century Anglican evangelist  who is the ecclesiastical ancestor of Nazarenes. But Wesley wasn’t a Baptist; he was an Anglican/Methodist, and I’ve come to treasure that heritage as something valuable and worth protecting.

Take the issue of women in ministry. From our official beginning in 1908, Nazarenes have formally acknowledged in our Manual that God calls both men and women to all roles of ordained ministry. Among other passages, we’ve always taken Acts 2:17-18 seriously, that in the “last days” God will pour out the Holy Spirit on everyone. The evidence of this outpouring will be (in part) that “servants” who are “both men and women” will “prophesy.” Prophecy is preaching, the telling forth of the message of salvation through Christ. This message is so important that you just can’t keep half of your team planted on the bench. Everyone – male and female – must get into the game.

Another legacy from our Methodist roots is infant baptism for the children of church-going parents, practiced alongside believer baptism for older converts. In the same message on Pentecost, Peter assured his Jewish listeners – the Covenant people of God – that God has done something new in Jesus Christ. After a scathing message where he accused them of having crucified Jesus, he ended with a word of hope: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The promise of the Holy Spirit – as symbolized in baptism – was for all, regardless of age: “The promise is for you and your children, for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (v. 39, italics added). And so on that Day of Pentecost, whole families were baptized — dads, moms, and kids. That set a pattern that was repeated at key junctures in the book of Acts, where entire “households” (Gk. oikos) were baptized. It’s inconceivable that this did not include babes in arms. This was a New Covenant, and the sign of the New Covenant people of God was baptism.

A third heritage from our Methodist roots is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist) as a means of grace. John Wesley himself celebrated communion frequently, as a way to fortify his faith. Today in Methodist churches and a growing number of Nazarene congregations, Eucharist is the high moment of worship, following a meaty sermon. It is the culmination of the moments spent together as the adoring community of faith.

But what about the Church of the Nazarene?

Have we kept these strands of our heritage from Methodism, or have we been squeezed into a Baptist mold, becoming “Baptarenes”?

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Five questions about the Second Coming, answered

Note to the reader

This is a sermon I’ve preached recently in Kenya, Rwanda, and the DRC. It has been well-received, and I hope it will be  helpful to you as well.

All Scripture citations are from the New International Version.

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Text: Acts 1:1-11

INTRODUCTION

It’s a famous line that’s been used in countless book titles. Just fill in the blank:

“Everything you always wanted to know about ______ but were afraid to ask.”

What would you put in that blank? Today, here’s how I’d like to fill it:

“Everything you always wanted to know about the Second Coming, but were afraid to ask.”

In some ways, this is a hard topic to preach since there’s no single “classic passage” that we can turn to. Rather, what we can determine about Christ’s return is scattered in various passages of the New Testament. So even though we’ve chosen one passage (Acts 1:1-11) as our official sermon text, today is really more of a topical sermon. I hope you have your Bible open, since we’ll be looking at a variety of Scripture portions. Together, let’s consider five questions about the Second Coming.

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Hungry and thirsty for Holy Communion

How often  should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Kyle Tau, in his “A Wesleyan Analysis of the Nazarene Doctrinal Stance on the Lord’s Supper” (Wesleyan Theological Journal, Fall, 2008, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 101-22) addresses this question as well as other subtle but important shifts that have occurred across the years in the wording of the Nazarene Manual. These shifts, he argues, have moved us toward a purely “memorialist” view, and away from the more robust “real presence” view of John and Charles Wesley and Phineas Bresee.

Leaving aside the more technical aspects of Kyle Tau’s treatment of Ulrich Zwingli’s, John Calvin’s and John and Charles Wesley’s views of the Lord Supper, this brief essay will focus specifically on the question of how often we as Nazarenes celebrate Holy Communion. Since he was writing in 2008, Tau was unaware of additional language to the Manual that would be added by the action of the General Assembly in the summer of 2009.  The 2009 Manual (paragraph 413.9), under the heading “the core duties of the pastor” now reads:

“413.9. To administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter. Pastors are encouraged to move toward a more frequent celebration of this means of grace…”

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