New Leaven

Over the course of history, symbols change their meaning. How could they not? Just as languages morph and change because people use them, so do things that represent certain ideas, institutions, establishments etc. The swastika is an ancient symbol from India that means (meant) something like peace or well being. That is, until that goose-stepping, blot-mustached Nazi changed its meaning forever. If I place a swastika crocheted in sky-blue thread into a frame on the wall of my hallway with the inscription “Love All People” beneath it, anyone aware of what happened in the 20th century will see the irony and the misplacement of the symbol.

Symbols in the Bible work much the same way, changing over time as the Author develops the story. Not all symbols are apt to change into their opposites. For example, contra Shrek, the dragon remains that serpent of old from Genesis to Revelation. But other things take on new meanings, and in order to understand what the text means, we can’t confine a later meaning to an earlier one.

In the Passover, Israel had to get leaven out of their houses and eat unleavened bread for seven days (Ex. 12:15). The leaven is the leaven of Egypt, and get rid of it meant, among other things, leaving Egypt behind. Paul cites this when he tells the Corinthians to keep the New Covenant Passover by ridding their hearts of the leaven of malice and wickedness (1 Cor. 5:8). In this sense, leaven is still bad and always will be.

But Jesus also added a new layer to the symbol of leaven when he said the kingdom is like yeast, working through the lump. Those who see the world as going from bad to worse have to misconstrue this metaphor, somehow turning the meaning on its head and insist the leaven is evil when Jesus is plainly talking about the sure growth of his kingdom, slow though it is.

Few churches serve unleavened bread in communion, but perhaps even fewer serve a leavened lump knowing what it means. Even if they do on an abstract level, the routine practice of making the supper a time of sadness or overly-solemn reflection on sin flies in the face of the meaning of the new leaven. Communion is a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb, and as often as we eat and drink it, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes, a proclamation that is more about the death of sin than a lament over its remaining effects. We still rid our hearts of the leaven of sin, but we do this because the leaven of Christ’s kingdom has conquered and is conquering. Communion should feel more like a feast than a spiritual fast, like a celebratory meal with God of a gospel-leavened people.

“Every Sunday at least as a rule”

It’s John Calvin’s 500th birthday this year, so I’m working through his theological treatises. Love coming across  stuff like this:

It would be well to require that the Communion of the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ be held every Sunday at least as a rule. When the Church assembles together for the great consolation which the faithful receive and the profit which proceeds from it, in every respect according to the promises which are there presented to our faith, then we are really made participants of the body and blood of Jesus, of his death, of his life, of his Spirit and all his benefits. Continue reading

A New Table

It is in the midst of his teaching about idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10 that the apostle Paul teaches on the Lord’s Supper.

And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 1 Cor. 10:7-10

We are supposed to flee idols. What pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. We’re not so fond of talking about or believing in demons in our enlightenment culture, but we bear all the symptoms Paul describes—drunkenness, sexual immorality, crippling depression and complaining, addictions and self-destructive actions of every kind. As Christians you must leave these things, the table of demons, and you don’t leave it and therefore have no table. You leave the table of sin and come to a new table, one that will actually nourish you, the communion of the body and blood of Christ. This is a meal of nourishment where all believers in Jesus are required to partake in order to be strengthened to stand against idolatry, and it is also one of proclamation: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Here we declare, with the Palm Sunday crowds, that Jesus is King and the idols are nothing. So come and eat, and come and drink.