Thursday, February 28, 2019

A World that is Just There

On Sunday, someone asked if I had written down my “table meditation” before taking the Lord’s Supper. I hadn’t, but I said that I would try to write something down that tried to capture my “off the cuff” remarks.

One thing that characterizes the “modern world,” is the sense that we live in a world that is simply there or what has been called “the given.” In other words, our world is just this empty space that is filled with things and events – whatever meaning they may have, is a meaning that we create on our own. Since most things and events are simply there, they are simply neutral. So, for example, taking a drink of water is neither good nor bad; it is just something one does. It is viewed as a neutral act with no higher purpose or moral value. Moral actions (or an immoral actions) then, simply consists of various discrete acts that we call “good” or “bad.”

To be a good person in this world means that your good acts outweigh your bad acts (or you hope that a few really good ones will get you over the hump!); but most acts are neutral acts. We recognize a good person as someone who has done a great thing (e.g., like a philanthropist) and likewise, we call out a person as a bad person by some bad action (e.g. like a burglar).

Christians too can easily be drawn in to thinking that this is how the world really is. So as Christians we learn to think in terms of trying to punctuate our day of neutral acts with more “good” acts than “bad” ones. When a Christian is taught about maturity and sanctification, he or she will focus on trying to move the needle from “bad” to “good” by what acts we might do. So, we focus on how often I read my Bible or how many times a day (or week!) I pray. Of course, the calculus is stacked against us. We will face discouragement from our continual failure.

In the middle of all this, the Lord does something that the modern world sees as pretty strange. He gives us a simple meal of bread and wine. He tells us to eat and to drink. From the modern perspective, these “neutral” actions should be meaningless. But there it is.

The Lord’s Supper challenges our perception of the world in a radical and profound way. In giving us a simple meal of bread and wine, God is urging us to see that this world we inhabit is purposeful, meaningful, and is directed toward a certain end. Rather than counting up “good” actions and subtracting “bad” actions in life’s ledger, all of life is lived with purpose and meaning. At the heart of the Lord’s Supper is the grace of Jesus Christ and our thanksgiving (the Greek word “Eucharist”) for it. Thanksgiving orders and directs the all that we do toward a moral and purposeful good. Paul told the Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17)

Looked at this way, we can also see that there is a connectedness to all that we do and a goal we are moving toward. Instead of asking, “Am I a good person or a bad person?” we should see goodness (i.e. Christ-likeness) as the goal toward which we are striving through faith and thanksgiving. The life of Christian discipleship consists of the habits and practices that move us in a particular direction – moving toward Jesus.

When we see that the world – all of creation – is ordered and meaningfully connected by its Creator, neutrality is removed. Whatever there is to do in this world is a gift from God to be received with thanks and with faith. Take and eat. Take and drink.