One of the things I get asked incessantly these days is “are you settling in?” I guess I hear it so often because I’m part of a big collection of people here at Trinity. When I hear it I need to remember that it’s very likely that this person probably hasn’t asked me before and therefore my answer has to sound genuine and as interesting as it might be as if I was being asked it the first time. I recently have had the same experience listening to the talks on our recently started Alpha course. It’s all very familiar having led Alpha several times over the last 10 years or so. Quite easy to get bored with the familiar and the oft visited.
It strikes me again and again that there is so much of our Christian traditions and practices that we do again and again and yet start losing touch with the excitement of the first time round discovery. Part of this is because much of Christian practice has been pretty entrenched in the Christendom approach which has been very similar for around 1600 years give or take a year or two.
One of the big areas I’ve noticed this is particularly the area of sacraments, the meal in particular. You will understand that as a Salvationist I actually find it difficult to elevate things like this to the sacramental and ritualistic way in which they are often performed. In this, I’m well and truly an outsider looking in. Not that it is done overtly ritualistic at Trinity, it’s not, it’s quite understated and actually very inclusive which is great.
I am far from negative about the whole thing. But like everything new, I’m coming at this for the first time fresh. The first thing that strikes me is that when I look at the last supper and the subsequent mentions of breaking bread, it appears to me that the context is, of course, very informal. Secondly, I’m struck with the fact that the people are eating meal together and as they do so they remember Christ’s death as they go through the common symbols of bread and wine…something that would have been at every meal table in Israel. Thirdly, although there is every evidence that they shared it, I don’t get the impression they got a tiny little nibble of bread and what can only be described as a thimble of grape juice.
The final thing that strikes me is that this was a practical, communal, missional meal of a missional people! Jesus had given them an extremely memorable, functional and repeatable way of sharing the story of the tribe that is the Christian family. I mean it’s the most accessible, transferrable, common, simple and yet profoundly intimate description of Jesus and his purposes we have and we lock it in the church. I mean, I think that this was the reason that the temple curtain was torn in two, to replace ritualistic access only able to be performed by another by a profoundly multi-sensory experience of the Saviour of our souls. If breaking bread is to be something that conveys grace and blessing of sharing in the blessings of the Crucified Christ, then it is surely something that must have wider significance.
I’m not trying to mock the church. I am seeking to understand and maybe seeking to provoke the question of thinking about what we communicate when we do these things. It strikes me that one of the elements of the dynamism of the early church was the natural daily breaking of bread, one with another, without qualification, this gospel symbol of incarnation, salvation, redemption, grace and glory. Why is this something we only want to do once a month? I’m only really starting to ask the question.
I’ll say this, however: when you view breaking bread from a mission standpoint instead of an ecclesiastical stand point, there is simply a world of a difference!