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Author: Bill McChesney Author URL: https://www.flickr.com/people/bsabarnowl/ Title: 24230 Communion and Extended Communion First Presbyterian Church Charlottesville April 3, 2011 Year: 2011 Source: Flickr Source URL: https://www.flickr.com License: Creative Commons Attribution License License Url: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ License Shorthand: CC-BY Download Image

 
Church culture fascinates me. For instance, who decided that in the order of service communion should follow the greeting? You know what I’m talking about. There’s that time, every Sunday, when pastor announces that we should “extend the right hand of fellowship” to those around us? He means shake hands and say “Hi” to make folks feel welcome.

Well and good. People should feel welcome in our churches. I don’t have an issue with greeting folks (except that I mostly want to sit down and keep to myself). My problem is that when Communion Sunday rolls around it always comes after the greeting and not before.

My problem is that I don’t know where all those hands have been, you know? Who’s been scratching their head, nose, etc.? Who’s gone to the restroom (and not washed)? Who’s been changing diapers? Who’s (maybe) picked their nose, sneezed, coughed, whatever? (I’m sure you’ve seen that one guy who, when he thought no one was looking, scratched his posterior).

The answers are:

Don’t know

Don’t know

Don’t know

Don’t wanna know

Don’t know

And Ew!

And yet it never fails that I’m supposed to take communion, by placing that flavorless wafer in my mouth using the very hand I’ve just used to greet my brothers and sisters. They should have hand sanitizer dispensers as on the backs of pews so we can all freshen our hands before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

It’s just a thought. 

I mean the juice comes in a little cup, right? Why not put that little, flavorless, moisture-sucking pellet in a cup, too–instead of in a receptacle where we all have to fish it out by hand? That’s just a thought, too, you know.

Then again, what if, say, the church implements a two-cup system (two cups, one… never mind), with the wafer in the bottom, and the wine substitute in the upper cup. What happens, say, if that juice sloshes around, or if the volunteers were a little too enthusiastic jamming those communion cups together? I’d say that the situation is ripe for that one perfect storm you never want to have happen when partaking of the Lord’s Supper:

Spilling Jesus.

What is spilling Jesus? It’s when the little cups either get stuck in the tray, and you can’t get them out, or the cups themselves are wedged so tightly together, that you end up spilling the juice all over yourself, your wife, her new dress, and the pew.

Not that that’s ever happened to me, mind you. It’s just a good thing I’m not Catholic (speaking of, can you imagine taking communion from the same cup? Many people, one cup? Yuck!).

I’m not sure what (if any) the lesson in all this is. Maybe we just need to be careful about how and where we spill Jesus?

thomascovenant1-6

These days, there’s one name which readily comes to the tongue with regards to adult fantasy: George R.R. Martin. It’s no wonder. First, his book series–A Song of Ice and Fire–took the nineties by storm; then came the HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is a cultural juggernaut. Fantasy as a genre goes back much further, of course. Just how far do we go back? Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Beowulf? Certainly not children’s stories. For brevity’s sake, let’s here confine ourselves to select works of the past sixty (or so) years.

Now in a sense all fiction is fantasy, as it’s all made up. But we shall here confine ourselves to what is contemporaneously termed adult fantasy. As I said above, George R.R. Martin is the name du jour in adult fantasy (there are others: Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, the late Terry Pratchett), but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (though it evolved from a children’s work, The Hobbit) certainly qualifies. As does Stephen R. Donaldson’s excellent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

And it is about Thomas Covenant that I wish to talk today. Coming on the heels of the release of Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s book ushered in a era of renewed interest in, and popularity of, adult fantasy. We’re talking 1977 here, folks–the year of Star Wars–and Donaldson wrote about about dyspeptic former writer turned leper who awakes in a mysterious world known as the Land. Unlike, for instance, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Covenant is no hero. He is a deeply conflicted man at odds with both himself and the world around him. At one time, he knew his place (knew who he was in relation to himself, others, and the world around him): he was a husband, successful writer, and father to an infant son.

Then he contracted leprosy, and his world imploded. Taught at the leprosarium in Louisiana to do a V.S.E. (“Visual Surveillance of Extremities”), Covenant built a new reality. Then the bottom dropped out again when his wife, Joan, left him citing contagion. Cut off from life, from those he loves, from others on his farm outside a small New Mexico town, he becomes embittered. V.S.E. becomes his life.

Leprosy is his only reality. And so little do others want him to be around that someone has paid his utility bills in advance. No one wants any contact with Thomas Covenant. Then it happens: he deliberately heads into town to pay his phone bill, only to find that it, too, has been paid. Enraged, he leaves the Bell office only to swoon in front of an advancing car.

The he awakes in the Land. He of course disbelieves all that he sees around him, chalking it up to a fever dream.

Reality, as it so often does to us, has gobsmacked him. He is in denial. All of his carefully constructed realities have gone whoosh! with the wind. With a name like Thomas Covenant, he is contractually obligated to doubt! And doubt he does–forcefully and actively. To the point where he, and bear in this is well before it became de rigueur to pen tales about antiheroes, does despicable things because “none of this is real.” His only reality, as stated above, is his sickly flesh. As he says, “dead nerves don’t regenerate.”

But in the Land, they do.

I don’t want to allegorize, but instead make an application to our real world: the Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins until Christ makes us alive. And are we not like Thomas Covenant, holding onto our unreality–because there’s no such thing as a free lunch? It seems to good to be true. Dead things can’t live again. So we hold onto our sin, because it’s all we know. Moreover, even after coming to Christ, how long and hard do we work to hold onto our carefully crafted selves, and our comfortable lives? God comes in, has a work for us, and we like Covenant figuratively put our heads in the sand, saying “La, la, la can’t hear you, God.”

Allow me to circle back around here; what I believe The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to be about is simply calling. And he gets himself into the most trouble by stubbornly denying that calling.

How very much like us. “There’s no way God could use me,” we often say. Like Thomas Covenant himself, God doesn’t call the equipped–He equips the called. In Covenant’s world, he has the wild magic, bound up as it is in his white gold ring (symbolic of commitment, purity, purpose); we in ours have the Holy Spirit–the very mind of Christ available to us. “We are more than conquerors,” as the Bible says. Yet why is it that we don’t live in that place? Because, like Covenant, doubt.

Friends, it’s time stop denying, and embrace the calling placed upon you. If it feels too large–good! Because it is.

But you’re not on this journey alone.

The very Creator walks with you. Lean into Him today.

And read The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I guarantee the books, with the questions of life, faith, calling it poses, will hit you where you live.

My ecclesiasial experience began in my youth by attending services with my maternal grandmother. This only happened in her company, and then only in summer. The rest of the year, my family was so very protestant we didn’t darken the doors of any church with our presence. Not at Christmas, nor even at Easter.

God was simply a paradigm with nob practical relevance for me. Yet interestingly, most of my reading consisted of works within the genres of horror and fantasy. Even then, there was a hunger in me for something more, something numinous, supernatural. In a way, those books became my church, a way of joining a world greater, darker, lighter, more mysterious than the one in which I lived.

Like Emeth, in Lewis’s The Last Battle, my allegiance may have been to Tash, but heart (perhaps even unbeknownst to me) was seeking. Seeking something more, something other: a new, a different, life.

That search was to have its fruition when I met a girl, right around Easter time, 1988. The girl, of course, invited me to church. And in May of that year, like Lewis before me, I admitted that God was God, and that it was He Whom I had been seeking. Casting off the books, I embraced my Savior.

To honor that journey, this Lenten season, I am returning to some of those books I loved as a child, the ones which first awakened in me that desire for a different life. In looking back I am taking stock of whence I’ve come to more clearly see the signposts of where God was at work when I didn’t know Him. My hope is that in so doing is to thereby kindle the fires of faith for the road ahead.

What are you doing for Lent?

I suppose the word I’ve been dancing around is disappointment. We know that Jesus came not to make our lives better, but rather to give us better lives. Lives with purpose, meaning, depth, fulfillment. Yet we so often find ourselves frustrated, and dare I say disappointed. Because somewhere along the way we’ve heard that “God loves us, and has a wonderful plan for our lives.” While this is, in a certain sense, true, it also comes far short of the reality of walking with a God Who didn’t spare His own Son.

I mean we’re not stupid, right? We don’t like pain. And the message of the church, by and large, has been come to Christ, and He’ll solve all of your problems. As if. He came to solve the problem of sin, but this being a fallen world sin however is still very much with us.

Because we don’t embrace suffering as a path to enlightenment, because we buy into the lie that we can have it, we can have it now, there’s a great disconnect between our expectations and our experience. We should be farther along with the Lord, we shouldn’t still be struggling with _______.

Thus it is that we become discouraged, feeling like that Jesus hasn’t kept up His end. “I came that they might have life, and that more abundantly.” Where? Where is this abundant life He promised?

Could it be this is it? I sure hope the hell not. Where everyday is a struggle just to arise from bed, where there’s never enough rest, nor enough hours in the day to accomplish the things we want, and need, to do.

Why is everything a struggle?

Our best life now? Um, excuse me, but screw you Joel Osteen. Right in your lying mouth (metaphorically speaking). If your answer is that we don’t have faith, what of David, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus? Who were maltreated, abused, suffered, and died? And yet were most definitely approved of God.

What of the hall of faith in Hebrews 11? “Of whom the world was not worthy” is what is says there.

It seems to me that we’ve got it backwards. Jesus never lied, never pulled any punches, never truckled. If we’re disappointed in Him, we’re projecting, having believed lies.

We should be disappointed in ourselves for falling for it. Again.

For His is the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering. We don’t like to hear that, but it’s indisputably, undeniably true.

What lies have you believed? What agreements–consciously, or otherwise–have you made with the other team?

What walls need to fall down in your life today?


Chad Jones
gandalf239@gmail.com
http://randomlychad.com
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@randomlychad on Twitter

If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you would have seen a recurring motif: that coming to Christ doesn’t necessarily make our lives better. Or that he even came to make this life better.

There is a prevailing wind of teaching–call it TBNinanity, BestLifeNowianity,  blab-it-grab-it-name-it-claim-it the 1st Church of the Bank of Heaven God’s blank checkianity–which has mass consumer appeal (especially) here in the United States. Point is, people like it when they’re told what they want to hear.

Or that they can tell God what they want, and He has to do it.

I don’t know about you, but my faith walk has never quite worked that way. I make my requests, but Father knows best. Plus a careful reading of scripture seems to bear out the notion that God’s favorites (if we may term them such) were the ones who suffered the most. Nobody likes pain, right? I don’t. Thus it is that a Christianity promising wealth and a life of health has great mass appeal.

The problem is that it’s just not true. I mean if God didn’t spare his own son, what should we reasonably expect? Look at Abraham: being called out, burying his father, burying Sarah, receiving a promise–but not its fulfillment. The Bible is replete with such stories. What I want is your story: how the world, the flesh, the devil, the prevailing wind of doctrine sold you a bill of goods–promised you a better life… When in reality God instead gave you a new life. How he didn’t in fact come make your life better, but rather to give you a better life. I want the honest account of how the rubber of your expecations met the road of life.

Please send your story to:

Chad Jones

My purpsoe here is to counteract the myth that coming to Christ makes everyhting better.