The Power of Ritual
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
The water was frigid, but millions came anyway this week to bathe in what Hindus believe are the sacred waters of the Ganges river. The ritual of Mela occurs once every 12 years and is the largest congregation of humans in the world.
Led by thousands of Hindu hermits, who live in Himalyan caves and only come out every 12 years, millions plunged Monday into the freezing cold Ganges. They chanted Hindu scriptures and both naked and clothed dipped into the water. The devout bathe to wash away their sins and free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth. This is part of the Hindu concept of reincarnation. Many of the world’s religions, including Christianity, have rituals. But was this ritual effective? Or are we to believe the words of Christ Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father accept through the Son.” What do you believe?
Welcome to HT, I’m CM sharing the GS that’s all about Jesus as we read the Bible in 90 Days this is a program called “The Power of Ritual”.
When you read the Bible straight through in a short time, it keeps you from getting slowed down and even stuck. First of all you pray. You ask for the leading of the Holy Spirit to reveal the common threads through script, like the great story of redemption – a Messiah promised, a Messiah who came. Second, you keep looking ahead. You don’t make snap doctrinal judgments from just reading the Old Testament. You study the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. It’s been called continuing revelation and it culminates in the Messiah Jesus.
OPEN - The Bread has been Broken by Jeff Deyo
In March and April, depending on the Jewish lunar calendar, in the seventh month of Nisan, there is the Passover, the Pesach. If you’ve taken the Bible reading challenge with me, you get to Exodus 12 on Day 5. The Lord instructs Moses, “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are … take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast … This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.” In Exodus 12, this is the first Passover. They celebrated this once in the desert and then it was not observed again for 40 years as the Israelites were punished to wander in the wilderness. It comes with one of the final plague that delivers Israel from Egyptian slavery. God told Moses in Exodus 12:12, On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast … Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought you out of Egypt.” Then after that first Seder, the final plague hits causes Pharaoh to give up and let God’s people go. The Angel of Death passes through. Exodus 12:29, “at midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
If you are a faithful Jew today, you keep Passover. You hold what’s called a Seder dinner that’s steeped in symbolism. Once in my life I was fortunate enough to experience a Seder with a Jewish family who opened their home to me and explained the rich significance. The Exodus that follows is mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament and also in the New. But let’s say you aren’t Jewish. You’re a Gentile or maybe you are a completed Jew. You know Yeshua is your savior. You may be asking yourself, “what in the world does that have to do with me?”
Well remember, look ahead, look for the threads through all of scripture. Twenty-eight times in the New Testament, the word translated “Passover” is mentioned. The Lord Jesus Christ kept the Passover. Mere hours before the cross, he told the disciples in Luke 22:15
“I wanted very much to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer.”
It started out as a final Passover meal with his disciples, but something new happened before Jesus was taken and led to the crucifixion. He mentions the next time they would eat together, it would be a Passover meal fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Here we have Jesus telling us to observe this meal, the Lord’s Supper, communion, or as some Christians call it by the Greek New Testament word, Eucharist.
What can we learn and take to heart?
First, how often. Jesus said “as often as you do this in remembrance of me.” This has caused great debate through the centuries in the church … this how often. Jesus didn’t say and the New Testament doesn’t say. Weekly, monthly, annually? It doesn’t say. There is a hint from the Apostle Paul and only a hint that the early church did it weekly. I know in North America, some large churches do it monthly quarterly, or annually just because it’s a logistical nightmare to serve communion to so many people at one time every week. But should ease of serving be your criteria for how often you do this in remembrance of me? I’ve also been in churches that served communion weekly and noticed the Lord’s Supper had become routine. People were chatting and laughing and the emphasis seemed to be – let’s just get through it, so we can get on with the service and get out on time. You ever sense that in taking communion?
Second, there’s the low church/high church debate. People in some Protestant churches are worried that if they think in terms of ritual, they’re going Catholic. They are afraid if they go beyond thinking the Lord’s Supper is a memorial, they will be buying into transubstantiation – the concept that the bread and the wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Is this right? Then, there are of course high church Christians who believe strongly in getting on their knees and partaking of this ritual and the service becomes just that – ritual. Is that right? And because it is symbolism – which is not a bad word – let’s not even touch to subject of whether we should take real wine or Welches grape juice.
Third, what did Jesus mean, in taking the Jewish Passover that he observed and making it an ordinance, an element of practicing the Christian faith? Did he teach that we were to remember the Last Supper as a memorial to him and what he did in dying for our sins? YES! Did he want it be serious and something that led us to commune with Him as we await that next meal together – the marriage supper of the Lamb? YES! I make no apology in calling this program “The Power of Ritual” for this ordinance or sacrament is a ritual inaugurated by our Lord himself and meant to take us into the very presence of God. Communion is no small word. Communing with God is powerful and when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, no matter what you call it, we should be communing with the Living God through the Son of God, who came and shed his perfect blood to atone for our sins. Communion is the symbolic representation of the fact that we in Christ stand at the highest mountain peak of God’s redemptive plan. Like successive generation of Jews called to think of themselves as participating in the Exodus, so the Church participates in the work of Christ by virtue of our union with him. The reality of the church’s new, resurrected life in Christ is so powerful, so real, that that fact can only be seared into our hearts through an outward act, a symbol, in which we physically participate. The Lord’s Supper is not merely a symbol of our union with the resurrected Christ, something that is nice to do but is really a “less real” representation of some other reality. It is a ritual … founded by Christ … in which we as believers bear witness to ourselves and the world that we are one in him. Whatever your church and however your church works out the particulars, the Lord’s Supper is serious, holy business. This is why it’s good to remind us of what we are doing and for whom the meal is intended. It is not something to be taken lightly by those who are in Christ, nor, as Paul warns us, should it be taken at all by those who do not know him. It is a redemptive meal. We do so not simply because Christ commanded it and we HAVE to do it. It goes deeper. We must understand WHY Christ commanded it. It’s something that in principle God’s people have been doing since that great redemptive act in the Old Testament, the Exodus, and it receives its fuller significance in Christ. This is a powerful ritual and I make no apology for using the word, because I, myself, come out of the lower church. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are to think of ourselves as participating in Christ because that’s what we are doing. We are to understand ourselves as “being there” – not physically, nor even in our imaginations, but in the most powerful way, theologically. I don’t mean “theology” understood as an abstract, academic concept, a subject in school. It is the means by which we are connected to Christ through the centuries as a person who once instituted the meal with his small group of followers. Whenever we celebrate the same meal, we are in Christ together. I mentioned in the New Testament there are 28 mentions of the word for Passover. After Jesus’ words instituting this ritual, I think we can take great comfort in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul is offering warning, but hear the reference to Christ and his work.
“6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Christ our paschal Passover lamb. When we take this meal, we can remember and we can participate with the Spirit of the Living God leading us to true holy communion.
CLOSE - Here is Love by Fernando Ortega and Tata Vega
- a Hymn sometimes sung for communion
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