Today we will celebrate the Eucharist – this Christ ordained ordinance of the Christian church. It may be identified as the communion service, the table of the Lord, the covenant meal of the church –none of which is without merit. I personally prefer the term Eucharist because it simply means ‘thanks’ or ‘the giving of thanks.’ If this act of worship is about anything at all it seems to me it is about and must always be about thanksgiving; a grateful heart for all that God has provided for us in and through the finished work of redemption accomplished by His Holy Son, Jesus Christ the Lord of all.
Before coming to Paul’s words written to the Corinthianchurch I want us to reference Heb.11:3. I will present this from a couple of translations, and then announce my theme.
Heb.11:3 It is by faith that we understand that the world was fashioned by the word of God, so that that which is seen came into being out of that which is unseen. (Barclay)
And it is only by faith that our minds accept as fact that the whole universe was formed by God’s command – that the world which we can see has come into being through what is invisible. (JB Phillips)
Theme: “More Than Meets the Eye”
One of the issues we are always up against in education is the conflict between science and faith. At the heart of that conflict is the fact that science is limited to the physical, material order of the visible universe, while faith connects us with the invisible universe of S/spirit. According to the known laws of science it is impossible for a human being to walk on water. But according to the Biblical record both the very physical Christ and his very physical disciple, Simon Peter, did.
For those of us who accept the authority of scripture we are left to conclude that such a miraculous event indicates that there must be another realm – another reality – and that it transcends , is greater than and cannot be confined to this visible, material order. And of course, this means it is beyond the possibility of scientific explanation.
Hebrews 11:3deals with these two realities or realms; it gives us the order of these two realms as well as the relationship between them.
It is clear that there are two distinct universes as to nature and function. The one is invisible/ unseen and entirely S/spirit in nature and being. The second is visible/seen and entirely material/physical. This Hebrews text tells us that the invisible realm of S/spirit existed before the material realm. It also tells us that the material universe did not evolve progressively out of itself but that it came out‘of that which is unseen.’(Barclay) OR ‘has come into being through what is invisible.’ (JB Phillips).
Based on this text (and certainly many many others) it has to be concluded that the real world is S/spirit. By “real world” I mean the world that existed before time, that continues to exist throughout time and will eternally exist beyond time. We can also conclude that because the origin of this seen realm is the invisible realm of S/spirit then that realm of S/spirit is greater than and transcendent of the material realm. You cannot confine the S/spirit world by any material structures.
Believe me, I am not of those who justify ignorance in education and science in the name of religion and who take great pride in doing so. We need to thank our God for all true scientific discovery and advancement; we are blessed to have access to this. But we must also understand and accept that the ultimate and final definition of our existence – the ultimate meaning of our life is far beyond science and lies entirely with and in another reality.
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the Eucharist, or even with the theme of this message: “More Than Meets the Eye” Let’s return to the Corinthian text and see what we can find.
In some respects it is a daring thing the apostle does in this portion of his letter to the Corinthians. In dealing with the Eucharist he cites two illustrations. Both were rooted in the experience of Old Testament Israel, which, he wrote, happened as examples to us.
First he wrote of what really happened when the priests (and I think in the broader context the whole nation) ate the offerings that had been presented to God at the altar. He makes it totally clear that in the physical act of eating those physical offerings there was a whole nonphysical reality that they were sharing in. And that is the key word – the key phrase – vs.18 ‘...sharers in the altar...’
Look at what happened. And again you must keep in mind that the act of eating was a physical act; they physically ate the physical offerings of meat and bread, etc.. But in all of this highly physical activity there was more than meets the eye; and that “more”was this: There was a joining with the altar, an entering into fellowship with the altar, a becoming one with the altar, an identifying with the altar; you are now “in common” with the altar, you are a partner with and participant in the altar.This, of course, raises the whole issue of the altar itself. It too was physical – physical bronze, stone or wood, which brings us to the core question: How can one experience such profound oneness with a physical object – even if that object is an altar?
And now we have come to the whole point of Paul’s argument. The issue is not the physical altar; the issue is the “life of the altar” and that life is not physical; that life is spirit – the life of God Himself.
With this in mind Paul then jumps to something almost astounding; the issue of idolatrous worship. Note with care what he teaches. The physical offering made to an idol is nothing. And equally the physical idol itself is nothing. By ‘nothing’ he means there is absolutely NO life (either spiritual or physical) in the offering or in the stone, wood or bronze image. In other wordsthe issue in worship (both idolatrous worship and true worship) is not physical, not of this realm, this world, this material universe. But – and this is the whole point – there is more than meets the eye; there is something unseen, something invisible and far more real than the physical thing we are doing.
Consider the following note: The thing sacrificed has no spiritual power or nature; nor does the physical idol to which it is sacrificed. Those things are nothing in themselves. But more importantly than their not being anything, idols represent that which is demonic.
Demons are the spiritual force behind all idolatry. Those who sacrifice to idols sacrifice to demons. When worshipers believe an idol represents an actual god, Satan sends one of his demon emissaries to act out the part of that imaginary god. There is never a god behind an idol, but there is always a spiritual force; and that force is always evil, always demonic.
And note that Paul uses the same word here – ‘sharers’ – meaning: There is a joining with, an entering into fellowship with, a becoming one with, an identifying with; you are now “in common” with, you are a partner with and participant in the life of that invisible demonic entity that operates behind the physical image.
Let me now bring this fact of the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in worship to the Eucharist. You will soon be given a piece of physical bread, and a physical glass filled with physical juice. Every aspect of these physical elements came out of the physical earth.
Paul reminded us at verse 26: For the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. And yet it remains certain and true that this physical table, this physical bread and physical juice possesses no inherent spiritual life or reality beyond the physical. The bread does not become the actual flesh of the Christ nor does the juice become His actual blood.
And yet there is more than meets the eye in this very physical act of worship. So once more we find Paul’s favourite word here: vs.16 -Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
If life is in the blood and the life of the flesh is the blood (as scripture declares) then this sharing is a sharing in the very life of Jesus Christ. This sharing is not superficial or shallow or casual; it is deeply intimate and involves exchange, i.e. the giving away of yourself and the receiving of the other one in the relationship.
So once again: There is a joining with, an entering into fellowship with, a becoming one with, an identifying with; you are now “in common” with, you are a partner with and participant in the life of that invisible spiritual reality of the very life of Christ.
What I can tell you with absolute Biblical certainty is that right here at this very physical table there is present an invisible, nonphysical and highly spiritual reality. In the S/spirit this morning there is present at this table every provision that our Sovereign God has supplied through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ. And returning to the Hebrews 11:3 text we understand that it is by faith that we now enter into and participate in and become one with that invisible S/spirit provision.
All of a sudden this physical act of worship – this taking up of the bread and the cup – this physical act of obedience based upon and born out of the faith of our heart –becomes so much more than a physical act. We become participants in that invisible world of Spirit – participants in the life reality of Christ no longer after the flesh (as Paul wrote) but in or after the Spirit.
No wonder the enemy wants to keep us from this table by generating thoughts and feelings of guilt, condemnation, fear and unworthiness. Knowing what I now know, wild horses couldn’t keep me from this table. Come and eat; come and worship; come and participate in more than meets the eye.