Tenderness is the heart of the covenant
When Jesus passes you the cup at the Love Feast it is an act of tenderness. Maybe you can’t look into his eyes and see it; but when you drink, you might be able to feel it. When you are surrounded by others who love him and love you, the tenderness might become more evident. I hope so.
It always happens. Someone at the feast will come up against this tenderness and it will throw them for a loop. Some might be frightened by it and might even refuse to drink. You can feel their resistance. Others will be melted for the first time and understand the liquid love being offered -- a few flee to the outskirts of the group, they are so overcome. That's because the heart of the covenant is tenderness and it unravels the world.
When Paul wrote to his church plant in Philippi from prison, his tenderness towards them spilled out again and again. I think he imagined them gathered around the communion table where Christ’s selfless love was on display, ready to consume, when he wrote:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
How tragic it is that so many Christians skip most of his exhortation and immediately stumble over “being like-minded” and then “having the same love” and then being “of one mind.” In postmodern America being like-minded is assumed to be impossible, if not illegal. Difference is prized and protected. Sameness is about rights, not communion. "One mind" sounds like an ideological demand reminiscent of the Nazis, or something -- it might seem as if Jesus were passing the cup and each person is commanded to swallow an elephant-sized ideology to follow him! I think many of my friends feel just that way when the cup comes to them. Some won’t even take a sip, much less make a covenant at a "love feast" because they can’t swallow what they perceive to be a massive load of mind-boggling stuff that comes with it.
How do people miss “comfort” and “sharing” and “compassion” in what Paul says Jesus brings? How do they miss the possibility of “joy,” or “love,” of being of “value” and being freed to value? Drinking deeply of all those wonders are what the covenant includes. Unity in Christ is a spiritual reality infused with love, not a doctrinal argument presided over by the winners of the last round of law-making.
Don’t miss the longing
Jesus “took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” Matthew 26:27-29
He knew His death was going to usher in the age to come. He wants us to be included at the future banquet table God has prepared for his loved ones. He desires to be there with us. This new covenant symbolized with the bread and cup has that longing in it. It is not just about the beliefs we share, but the hope, the longing.
Don’t miss the vulnerability
“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. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!’ They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.” Luke 22:20-23
By his own hand Jesus shares with his betrayer, just like he shares with us. This is the self-giving love that thrills Paul, and humbles me. If you came to the table wondering if you really believed some boatload of rationality, wouldn’t you miss that God, in the likeness of your own body, is going to impossible lengths to tell you something completely beyond that? This new covenant comes through service and death, not through rational domination. There will always be some society-dominators who make an attempt to take over the world by force or manipulation, often thinking they are doing it for everyone’s good (back to Nazis). But that is obviously not the way of Jesus. The cup is full of the new covenant in his blood.
Don’t miss the sharing
“Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:25
I experience the tenderness of Jesus in so many ways. I have a sense that God is with me, sharing life, sharing love, healing, restoring. Prayer is comfort and power. The church is sustaining and fruitful. My faith is a gift I treasure. All these things and more are symbolized by that cup; they are the grace I drink -- my share of the shared life God gives. Jesus imagines all this as he moves through death with me. In the verse above he imagines his future and mine with him. We will drink again when the work is done: his first, mine next. I share in his work; He waits patiently for mine to finish. But we will share the cup again, one on one, together with all the others who love him -- today and then forever.
This short post is just one small way I want to keep protesting the captivity of Jesus in the minds of so many. They have been trained to look for a principle that fights for hegemony or organizes them into some kind of holiness. They reduce their covenant down to a contract, even a law. Meanwhile Paul writes to them, "Surely there is some tenderness in you, because Jesus is that tenderness -- and he has given you himself!" Whenever we share the bread and cup, or whenever we are having the same attitude and intention of Jesus, we are deepening the tenderness the world needs to much and I need so much. May we all stay soft to the tender gestures of Jesus, like handing us that cup -- especially when we think deep thoughts and decide what to believe.