Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Reflection 4)

 3.     LOOK FORWARD   1 Cor 11 has that striking verse 26: Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Its as though, at this point, these worship instructions answer the question: 'How often and how long do we keep doing this?'. And the instructions say' Keep on doing this (it doesn’t say how often) but keep on remembering until you meet Jesus.  

The little picture, for you and me, concerns the end of our lives when Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life receives us into that inheritance, that will never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven.  You never stop needing Jesus. 

But its also for the big picture, for the end of the end of old creation and initiation of the new creation when Jesus comes again.  And the pictures like Rev 19,21 of the roar of judgement and Hallelujah at the wedding feast of the Lamb and the new heaven and new earth where no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  Oh, it’s a great stretch to see that lonely figure on the cross as the Alpha and Omega of everything that is.  The one before whom, at the end,  every knee will bow.  But this is the Lord over our future. A Lord whose eternal promises sound out again as we do this to remember him. We belong with him. He promises: I shall never leave you.

And I love the word proclaim in that verse. Because it is a kind of preaching, making impact word. Not just remembering how our story began with Jesus, but how the very act of  remembering in his presence means things happen. Forgiveness, Faith, Hope, Guidance. When I was training to be a minister we had a very strong personality for Principal. And his strongest passion was taking communion seriously. In college chapel nobody was allowed to be absent.  He always spoke about its importance.  And I later discovered that he had been a schoolboy at the Perse School in Cambridge, and it was at the communion service at St. Andrew’s St. Baptist church that Jesus Christ encountered him  for real.  His life was changed.  Let proclaim with expectation as we take communion.

Christ has died.. Humbly we look back and give thanks for Jesus who died for us.

Christ is risen  Joyfully, we look around and give thanks for Jesus who is alive for us and made us his people.

Christ will come again, we look forward and give thanks to Jesus who holds the future - ours and the world's - in his hands. 


Sunday, September 24, 2023

Reflection 3)


      Vital though it is to look back, it is not enough. For remembering at communion is not just a personal moment - though it has to be that.  Jesus rose from the dead, He is alive with us. Not just for me but for us.  The second direction is:

2   LOOK AROUND    Some churches leave a central chair behind the table empty as a symbol that Jesus is here in Spirit. And he is here with his people, a new people, a family of brothers and sisters, living and loving differently because of his life and love.   Communion is seriously personal but it is also seriously corporate. Who we are together really matters.  Jesus says when you come to the altar if you remember a brother has something against you, first go and be reconciled. Matt 5:23  In 1 Cor 11, with the words of institution for use in the church it says you need to examine yourself whether you have sinned against the body of the Lord….his body is the church.  How we are together really matters.  In our tradition we take the bread in a personal relationship, but when the cup comes around we drink together in a corporate relationship.  We are bound together by the death, rising, new life giving Lord like no other community. 

Some liturgical traditions as they prepare for holy communion, or eucharist ,have their prayers of penitence and then the minister says words like this: We are the body of Christ, In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and build up our common life. Then come the words The peace of the Lord be always with you.  And the people say: And also with you.  And then the minister says: Let us offer one another a sign of peace.  Many of you will have shared in services with these words.  Once or twice when visiting churches the person sitting next to me has muttered Peace be with you without even looking at me. And when the service is over they rush off without a glance.

Let's offer one another a sign of peace. Look the people around you in the eye.  We are in this together and it is a big deal. We are the body of Christ.  (We then broke into sharing the peace - stopping the interactions took leadership from the worship leader!)  I still had one section of the reflection left.



Thursday, September 21, 2023

Reflection 2.


How best to we remember Jesus in Communion.  The most obvious way is to

1.      LOOK BACK.  Some Christians call this the Lord's Supper and it is possible to go back to that upper room where Jesus first takes bread and wine. Mark tells the story vividly of a group of disciples blind to impending disaster, bickering about self-importance, with Judas right there just thinking this is another Passover meal, when Jesus takes bread and says: This my body, This my blood.  But this supper table is not the place to look, for when Jesus takes bread and wine he is taking us to the Cross. As though we must climb up the sides of the hill called Golgotha to see a hideous sight where the best man who ever lived, hangs in agony, rejected by the crowds,  with a gash in his side and thirst in his throat, separated from his Father (Father why have you abandoned me) with an unimaginable burden crushing him. The man who said: Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friend. You are my friends if you do what I tell you. He is giving us everything by sacrificing his life as a Lord who offers friendship in relationship with him as Lord.  

It is an overwhelming spiritual truth that nobody could put us right with God unless he helps us.  And he does it his way giving his only Son to take away the sin that separates humankind from God by the power of love sacrificed in death.  And he does it for me and you.   Remember me says Jesus because I am suffering to win new life for you. 

In my ministry occasionally people have said: I can’t take communion at the moment. I am in a bad place and it doesn’t feel right. But there never is a right place. None of us deserve this.  The most amazing truth is that when we truly grieve, truly with repentance that looks to the cross…this is precisely where Jesus wants to meet us.  It’s profoundly serious and personal. 

The old spiritual goes Were you there when they crucified my Lord. Well, of course not. Yet Jesus did this once for all for all of us. So yes, I was there.  Because God so loved the world, this death has cosmic reach.   Let’s quietly hear the words in Stuart Townend’s song that we shall sing;

Behold the man upon a cross

My sin upon his shoulders

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

A reflection on Communion


My computer surgery and death messed up various plans. A couple of weeks ago I was asked by our minister to offer a reflection leading into Communion last Sunday, and I began to jot down early thoughts on my trusted computer. Which, alas, turned out less trustworthy.  Among files lost were these early notes. My practice is to prepare a stereo script (for eye and ear) and then internalize its main thrust.  Needless to say the process was somewhat abbreviated! I chose two readings: Mark 14:33-36; 1 Cor.11:23-29. I so rarely speak in church nowadays so I thought I would give you a flavour!

In reflection I began by describing the first time I saw communion. I was around 9 years old.  My friend and I finished children’s class early and went to find our parents in the main church building. Through a chink in the nearly closed doors we witnessed an extraordinary sight. Everyone was so quiet. No prayer, no singing. 'Here', my friend said, 'they're eating something'. 'Let me look' I said, and those few seconds are imprinted on my memory. The utter strangeness, the mystery of people eating in church. Even at 9 years old I realized something special was happening for God.  And it was. 

Jesus only asked us to do two pieces of ritual. One is Baptism – the public entry into belonging with him and his church. We have celebrated that with one of our young people the week before. Two is Communion , when repeatedly we do something for Jesus together.  It doesn’t demand special equipment, just bread and something to drink. But it's practical, involves us in doing something together. Jesus commands: Do this to remember me. And, yes, he commands!

I split the reflection into three parts. They are well-worn: LOOK BACK, LOOK AROUND and LOOK FORWARD.  Onto the next posts. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Computer Surgery

I regret to announce that my laptop went into surgery last week.  Well, not immediately.  Clearly unwell, I left it for extended diagnosis. It felt strange as I walked away from my constant companion of 6 years with a certain amount of dread.  Which turned out to be appropriate as the consultant announced it would require major surgery and have to stay in for a few days.  While under the operation procedure it sadly perished.  Apparently the battery had expanded to mess up the internal organs.

I was promised that all the key personality traits and knowledge could be transferred to a new machine which I collected late yesterday.  I am trying not to expect too much.  Signing back in to some essential programmes has proved highly stressful with password amnesia.  Indeed, accessing my blog took a painful 30 minutes, as attempts became ever more desperate.

Unfortunately, the dead computer was strongly tied in with my seminary past.  Two distinct systems divided responsibilities of accessing and storing data.  Finally, severing from this past has mightily disrupted the new machine with all kinds of stuff still to be found, including my sermon preparation for next Sunday and notes for my Tuesday teaching (which began last night).  It has added an unwelcome frisson to my life. 

But I was also challenged.  Just how much had I come to be dependent on a machine which is vulnerable? And how much did I need all this data going back 23 years?  Good questions.  I am chastened and am trying to simplify though (very) kind friends have said they would like the blog posts to continue. Well, for a little while, anyway !

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

About Noel 3)

Though it was clear that Noel was highly regarded in the Baptist World, I had absolutely no idea that he was going to become President of the BWA 1985-1990. Whenever he visited England he would stay with us as the unassuming friend he had become.  I am not quite sure how it worked but he must have been behind me becoming a member of the Doctrine Commission and therefore a regular member of the annual meetings held on every continent in sequence. I became part of a little travelling British gang. I learned so much and on each occasion  he always spent time with me.

 Owing to the many visiting academics who visited our Cambridge Church I had begun what became a very significant relationship with Baptists in Australia.  Several concurrent years I was the annual convention state speaker in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and at other mission events.  Such a privilege. But never  Perth and W. Australia which lay so far away from what became our main centre of gravity in Sydney.  Noel lamented this absence.  

When I became seriously ill in 1986/87 he came and stayed in Cambridge with us. He grew even closer in friendship. I found him an exceptional mentor.  When I was asked to submit my name for Principalship of Spurgeon's College in 1993 he was a wise supportive guide. (However, when I asked his advice on my move to the US he was less convinced it was right!) 

Eventually I did visit Perth to speak at the college and spent time with Noel in his home.  The icing on the cake was the later invitation to fly out and preach at the 50th anniversary of the college's foundation. Renamed Noel Vose Seminary it was memorable in many ways, not least because Noel and his two successors were present to join the celebrations.  I think you can tell from just this snatch overview how much I valued him and friendship seemed to go both ways.  Indeed his biographer included  Noel's over-generous assessment of me with warm words about Carol, Simon and Robert. 

How good it is to recall influences like these in our lives.  And it was his dedication to me inside one of the G.H. Morrison's books of sermons that began this memory trail.