Tag Archives: Lord’s Supper


table-fellowshipSeveral years I gave my Introduction to Theology class an assignment on the Lord’s Supper. They were to explore biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives and conclude with their own hopefully-now-informed view. One student wrote a fine paper on the topic and then appended to her essay a poem she had written while reflecting on the material she was studying. I was delighted with Nicki Bowles’ poem. I hope you enjoy it as I did.


Bread of the earth
I smell you and see your substance
I reach out my hand and touch you
I break you, smell you, taste you…

I close my eyes
You are before me
I see your broken body
And the light as it fades from your eyes
I smell fear, and blood
I hear jeers and cries of pain
I reach out my hand and touch you
Your bowed head, your mangled hands
You are there, broken, and I take you in

I turn and see you — there, again!
You sit at a table
A feast laid out before you
I smell incense, the aroma of food
I see the light dance in your eyes
And your dear face smiling
I reach out my hand and touch you
Your energy pulses through me
You are here, alive, and I am with you

The bread
The sacrifice
The life
All so real
I take them in
And I am changed…

© 2012 Nicola Bowles

Worship on Sunday

sunday-worshipA few weeks ago while preparing a talk for City Bible Forum, I read an essay by Oxford professor of philosophy Richard Swinburne, entitled “Evidence for the Resurrection.” Swinburne, who retired in 2002, is a major Christian apologist of the late twentieth-century, with substantial contributions in the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science. He attached an appendix to his essay simply entitled “Sunday.”

Swinburne notes that since the earliest days of the church there has been a universal Christian custom of celebrating the Eucharist on a Sunday. This practice, in turn, is grounded on the belief—deriving from the apostles themselves—that Christ had risen on a particular day (Swinburne, “Evidence for the Resurrection,” in Davis, Kendall & O’Collins (eds.), The Resurrection (Oxford: OUP, 1997), 208). Swinburne provides evidence for this claim from the New Testament, but also from the Didachē, from Justin’s First Apology, and significantly, from Eusebius’ record of two Ebionite groups who celebrated “the Lord’s day very much like us in commemoration of his resurrection” (209). That the Ebionites, a group deeply committed to Jewish discipline, practised Sunday worship in place of the Sabbath, is particularly noteworthy. Also noteworthy is the fact that there is no record in the early centuries of the church of the Eucharist being practised on any other day but Sunday.

There is no plausible origin of the sacredness of Sunday from outside Christianity. There is only one simple explanation: the Eucharist was celebrated on a Sunday from the first years of Christianity because Christians believed that the central Christian event of the resurrection occurred on a Sunday (209).

This, however, is only half the story; who, asks Swinburne, in those very early days decided that the Eucharist was to be celebrated on a Sunday? There is no hint in the New Testament that the apostles made this decision. Yet there are suggestions towards an answer to this ‘who decided’ question. First, Swinburne notes that the New Testament records a number of appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples on the first day of the week, including the day of the resurrection itself, and further, that a number of these appearances occurred in the context of a meal. Second, he notes that the descriptions of these appearances include the Eucharistic phrases Paul and Luke used in their last supper accounts (e.g. ‘breaking bread,’ ‘taking,’ giving’ and ‘in like manner’), and so suggests that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances included the Eucharist. Third, the synoptic tradition records the word of Jesus to the effect that he will not “drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when [he] drinks it anew” in the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 14:25). Yet Swinburne notes that in Acts 10:41 Peter testifies that the risen Jesus appeared to his witnesses, and that he used to eat and drink with them after his resurrection.Swinburne

All this suggests an explanation of the universality of the tradition of Sunday celebration—not merely in the belief that Jesus rose on a Sunday, but in the belief of the apostles that they had joined with Jesus in post-resurrection Eucharists which he commanded them to continue on Sundays (211).

Swinburne acknowledges that his argument faces the silence of an explicit New Testament record of such a Eucharistic meal, but does not find this absence especially troubling. He also suggests that Paul’s “for I passed onto you what I received from the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:23), can be understood in terms of what came from the mouth of the Lord himself, via an oral tradition.

Whether or not Swinburne is correct in his suggestion—and certainly there are alternative views—some account must be given for the universal custom of Sunday Eucharistic celebration, especially amongst those Jewish believers who comprised the very earliest church. Such an account must surely come to grips with early Christian belief that Jesus rose on that first Easter, or indeed, that some of the earliest witnesses believed they ate and drank with the risen Lord on or shortly after that day.

Something happened which led to this new development in history. What happened? The most plausible explanation is simply that the earliest Christians truly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. What is the most plausible reason for the emergence of this belief? The belief that Jesus had appeared to a variety of individuals and groups, and the testimony of those who had seen him. Even the age-old tradition of Sunday worship is an evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

I must admit that I found Swinburne’s conclusion very attractive:

So there is some reason to suppose that the universal custom of Sunday Eucharist derives from the post-resurrection practice and command of Jesus himself… (212).

This morning in worship, the gathered community took the bread and drank the cup as we do each Sunday, and as God’s people regularly have done since the earliest days of the church, perhaps even, from that very first Easter when Jesus “took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 24:30). Just as Moses and the elders ate and drank a covenant meal in the presence of Yahweh (Exodus 24), so the apostles and other believers may have done the same in the presence of the risen Christ. And so we, when we gather in worship to eat the bread and drink the cup, do so in the presence of the risen and coming Jesus, for he has promised: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them…For I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 18:20; 28:20).

Scripture on Sunday – Proverbs 4:10-19

Wine__grape__bread_by_donnobruProverbs 4:14-19
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble

These few verses are taken from the slightly larger section of verses 10-19, which in turn are the central section of the fourth chapter of Proverbs. The chapter as a whole concerns the instruction given by a father to his children, the same instruction he received from parents who loved him (vv. 1-4, 10, 20). This is parenting, child-training, wisdom, guidance and instruction for life. And of course, its relevance is not limited to children. Or, alternatively, we might hear in these verses the exhortation of a heavenly Father, “My son, my daughter…”

Verses 10-19 contrast the two ways or the two paths, in a manner similar to Psalm 1. On the one hand is the way of wisdom, the path of the righteous. This is a broad and clear path, shining with light, and one in which a person may walk and even run without stumbling. On the other hand is the path of the wicked, a way filled with darkness and unseen hazards over which one will invariably stumble. The exhortation of the father is urgent; with respect to wisdom he says, “Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.” With respect to the path of the wicked he is equally as vigorous: “Do not enter…Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on.” There are two paths and two ways, but only one leads to life.

In our text today, the wicked eat, drink and sleep wickedness. They cannot sleep unless they do evil. They look for opportunities to make others stumble. Wickedness is their bread and butter, their livelihood and means of profit (cf. Proverbs 1:10-19). They drink the wine of violence. There is, at least for some, something intoxicating about violence. It dulls our sense of right and wrong, while at the same time giving us a sense of power, perhaps even invincibility. Wickedness and violence dominate and subjugate their victims, robbing them of their dignity, stripping them of their rights, and exploiting them for benefit, pleasure or profit. There is no righteousness along this path, nor truth, goodness or beauty. There is, however, a kind of wisdom along this path, but it is not the wisdom which is from above, but that which is earthly, sensual and demonic (James 3:13-18).

Part of the difficulty Christians face is that our imaginations have been fed and shaped by violence. The stories we tell and the movies we watch often rely on violence for the resolution of difficulties, much of it entirely unwarranted. The violence of internet pornography tears at the fabric of our most intimate relations. Video games allow us to become virtual participants in worlds of violence. Our cultural narratives demand that we insist on our rights even at the expense of others, that we use whatever power we have to get our own way. State-sanctioned violence is justified by reasoning attuned to the cultural narrative, and slowly, steadily, incidents of violence increase even in our own communities.

For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.

In the midst of a world of greed and violence, oppression, manipulation and abuse, Christians are called to envision and enact a different world. One of the primary tasks of discipleship involves the conversion of the imagination, and it for this that we gather week after week in worship, community, and instruction in the gospel. And central to this gathering is bread and wine of a different kind.

In his wonderful book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson argues that in a world of death, death and more death, God has given his people the practice of Eucharist. The way of God in the broken world of history is the way of broken bread and shared wine, the culture of the table where all are welcomed and find a place, where hospitality is practiced, where the community lives and laughs and works and serves, a place where love may be practised, where peace may be found, where a community of grace might arise, and where the path of the righteous may be like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

Lord God, we beseech you, so work in our midst
that we may become such a community
in our time and in our place.
Feed us with the body and blood of your Son
and so replicate his life within and among us.
Transform our vision,
renew our imaginations,
fill us with your Holy Spirit
so that we may become servants of your kingdom
for the glory and honour of your name.