How long are we to be mere lumps of flesh? How long are we to be stooping to the earth? Let everything be secondary with us to the provident care we should take of our children, and to our “bringing them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” If from the very first he is taught to be a lover of true wisdom, then wealth greater than all wealth has he acquired and a more imposing name. (St. John Chrysostom)
Hat tip: Al Stout
Some random questions and reflections on reading John 4, in no particular order and without having taken time to integrate them:
- Why does Jesus leave the area after the Pharisees hear? Do they function as a kind of Saul here, with Jesus carrying out the Messianic secret? Or could the Pharisees in this case be representing the quarrels over wells that took place in Genesis, so that Jesus is here repeating the paths of Abraham and Isaac in being forced to find another well? The latter seems appealing.
- Why Sychar? It is related to the Hebrew for beer and could suggest drunkenness. There seem to be mixed opinions on whether Sychar is Shechem. Contemporary Bible dictionaries seem to reject the idea. However, the connection with Joseph’s field (Genesis 48:22, and especially Joshua 24:32) seems to establish that this is Shechem. This is typologically very appealing, for in this passage Jesus offers the covenant to a non-Jew but he is not like the faithless Levi and Simeon whose offer of the covenant is only a pretext for murder. Levi and Simeon kill the men of Shechem after two days, but Jesus teaches the people of Shechem for two days.
- The sixth hour does not appear to have a strong Old Testament connection. I wonder here if it is rather serving a chiastic purpose, linking this passage with the sixth hour in John 19:14. Here, Jesus is named the Messiah; there, he is crowned. Here, Jesus speaks of his Father; there, of his mother. Both here and there Jesus thirsts. Both here and there women are prominent (the Samaritan woman, Jesus’s mother, Mary’s sister, and the two other Marys). Here Jesus speaks of the water he provides; there water literally flows from Jesus’s inner parts. Spirit and truth appear in both places as well. This fits with the chiasm proposed by Hajime Murai.
- The woman at the well is clearly marital imagery, following on two suggestions already in John that Jesus is the bridegroom, and following in the steps of the many wells in Genesis. The Samaritan woman is a new Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Zipporah. She is likely a type of Jesus’s bride, his church.
- Most commentators suggest that this Samaritan woman is a woman of poor character. James Jordan suggests that we have misread this, that she has simply been mistreated, following in the footsteps of the wives of Malachi 2 and Matthew 5 and 19. She is clearly no Jezebel. The fact that she represents a kind of typological Eve here I think tends to confirm this, that at worst she has been deceived and the primary blame lies upon her husbands. The fact that she may represent the church as the bride is a little less clear, as there are many more dimensions there (faithless shepherds, deceived flock, remannt). But I certainly don’t think she stands in for the faithless shepherds of Israel. Jordan’s suggestion seems very plausible.
- I have wondered often what it means to worship “in Spirit.” Some believe this implies the need for spontaneous emotion in one’s worship (perhaps connecting this with the wind of John 3 in order to reach this conclusion), but I don’t think that is what Jesus is getting at. James Jordan suggests that it implies “in the corporate meeting” because that is the sphere of operation of the Spirit, binding us together and working through us to minister to one another. That is possible, especially if we consider that this is contrasted against worshipping in Jerusalem. But I think the implication may be broader. Looking at Romans, being in the Spirit is identified with simply having the Spirit in you (Rom. 8:9ff), which is a consequence of belonging to and being connected to Jesus. This connection to Jesus is sealed in our baptism (Rom. 6), which ties us in to both the Spirit and the new creation kingdom (Tit. 3:5). That fits well with the preceding context here in John, which has much to do with baptism. So, we could paraphrase “in Spirit” by saying either “baptized” or “in the new kingdom-creation.” There is certainly also a Trinitarian aspect here: Father, Spirit, and Word-truth.
What does James Michener’s novel Space have to do with software development?
I’ve posted some reflections on technical debt and organizational discipline on my other blog.
Related to my weekly communion jaunt, a friend asked whether I see communion as central to the liturgy, and what elements of the service ought to be present weekly.
As to which facet of corporate worship is central, I’m not sure we can identify that any more than we can identify which leg of a stool is central. I do see communion as the celebratory climax of the service, but no less important is Jesus himself speaking a word to his people through the mouths of his representative heralds (consider how it is that Jesus preaches peace to the Ephesians in 2:17).
The notion of worship as covenant renewal helps to answer the question of what is essential and even in what order these facets ought to appear. It is interesting that the New Testament portrays the church more as the new temple (2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21) and the new Zion-Jerusalem-assembly (Heb. 12) than the new synagogue. New covenant worship is the explicit heir of the old covenant’s sacrificial worship (Rom. 12:1, Heb. 13:10–16). We ought to look closely at how models like Sinai (consecration, word, meal with God) and the sacrificial system (the order of which is always purification offering, ascension & tribute, peace offering meal) translate into the new covenant. Other obvious covenant renewals like Deuteronomy and Ezra-Nehemiah are useful here; so too are David’s liturgical reforms that overlay sacrifice with song; and Revelation, however obscure, nevertheless gives us a heavenly pattern for organized corporate worship. Kline and others have done work analyzing the structure of Biblical covenants that is helpful here. But even considering only Sinai and the sacrificial system it seems evident that we ought to have a minimal pattern of confession-absolution; followed by ascension in song to bring tribute and hear a word from our commander-king-husband; and closing with a meal. (It seems possible to link these three legs of the stool with the offices of Jesus, and also with the members of the Trinity.) In addition to these three, a good case can be made as well for a kind of call and commissioning as opposite book-ends of the service.
How do we integrate this order of worship with 1 Cor. 14, where everyone is to bring a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation? These fit with the central “ascension” portion of the service: the song and tithe and word. Obviously that leaves unanswered questions of what these things look like in detail, and what their specific place and proportion is.
Returning to the question of what is central in worship: it is Jesus who stands behind both word and food; worship is an actual going–up to meet with him. If he has spiritual eyes, who does the worship leader see when he turns around on the Lord’s day? It is Jesus (Rev. 1:10ff). Who is the true worship leader? It is Jesus (Heb. 2:12).
Over the past seven months I have written a series of blog posts arguing for the practice of weekly communion in the church. Weekly communion is not something for which we have an explicit command in scripture, so at best it is possible to establish it as a “good and necessary consequence” of scriptural examples and commands. This makes it a question of fittingness, betterness, and wisdom rather than a matter of right and wrong that ought to bind everyone’s conscience equally. Still, we ought to pursue not only what is permissible but also what is best, and I hope that you will consider with me the merits and blessings of celebrating weekly communion in the church. What follows is a set of arguments primarily from biblical theology and biblical typology: what you might call a sort of typological logic. You may find a few of these arguments to be somewhat fanciful, but I hope that you will find them to be cumulatively persuasive.
- In everything, eucharist!
- Jesus knocks: will we open the door and have a meal with him?
- Worship is sacrificial, so as priests we too have a daily partaking of bread and wine
- Worship is a tryst, thus morsels and wine
- Worship is the gathering of the host, a dress review banquet
- Worship is spiritual warfare, and we must always find a table set in the presence of enemies
- Tithing is linked with bread and wine via Abraham and Melchizedek, and is to result in “food in my house”
- Worship is not only a tryst, but a jealousy inspection, a day of the Lord
- Bread is to be set out continually in God’s house
- There is nothing better than to eat, drink, and be joyful
- Joyful feasting is commanded on the day of the Lord
- Following Moses’s inspired application, Sabbath feasting is how we obey the fourth commandment
- The church’s week to week experience ought to be a taste of God’s blessing rather than his judgment and withdrawal
- Whether or not we eat communion, we are showing forth something about the kind of table Jesus sets for his people
- Worship is covenant renewal, and to renew covenant is to feast
- Worship is in fact the renewal of a marriage covenant, and is it even necessary to ask how often a husband and wife should get together?
- Now that we have a perpetual sacrifice and are made permanently holy, we are continually in a festal season
- Worship ought to be accessible to all, from the least to the greatest
- The worship service that the early church inherited from the apostles was a Eucharistic service
While Jesus may graciously overlook the fact that much of his church today does not practice weekly communion, we still ought to consider whether it is better for us not to practice weekly communion, and for this I think we have hardly any excuse. God could have chosen the ongoing renewal of his covenant to take many forms, and he chose to cast it as a meal, a covenant meal, a family meal, for very good reasons. It is a widely acknowledged truism even among unbelievers that families ought to to eat together as much as possible.
I hope you will find that this has not only brought to mind the merits of weekly communion, but also other applications. There are many additional worthwhile directions we could take our investigation, and perhaps your mind is already reaching towards some of them. For example, we could ask whether it is better to use wine or grape juice in communion; whether it is better to use bread or crackers; what is the most fitting portion size for communion celebration; whether communion should tend to a penitential or a celebratory tone (Deut. 14:26, Neh. 8:9-12); just what kind of self-examination the apostle Paul means for us to make; whether little children ought to have a place at Jesus’s table (Ex. 10:9-11); where communion ought to fall in the order of worship and whether it ought to carry the burden of confession and absolution; the appropriateness or impropriety of individuals’ withdrawing from the table; and what sort of passages might be appropriate for use in communion exhortation beyond the tried and true words of institution. Perhaps we will consider some of these in the future if time permits.
Thus far in our consideration of weekly communion we have contemplated the testimony of the Holy Spirit through the biblical theology presented in scripture. But the Holy Spirit also works through the church—teachers are a gift of the Spirit—and it is useful to consider how the Holy Spirit has worked through the church in history.
It is generally acknowledged that weekly, twice-weekly, or even daily communion were the common practice of the early church. There are some hints of this in the Bible itself which are suggestive of a high frequency of communion if not weekly communion (e.g., Acts 2:42, 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:18, 20, 25). What is particularly interesting is to consider the absence of any indication that the supper could possibly be severed from ordinary corporate worship. This is so far unusual that Wes Baker writes that:
I have been unable to find evidence that any professing Christian until the Zurich Reformation (16th century), ever thought that Christians could have their regular Sunday worship without the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I am not saying that they rigidly insisted that it never be omitted. My point is simply that they would consider such worship irregular. . . .
It was Zwingli’s liturgy that first introduced the idea that regular worship is primarily a preaching service. Up until that point, no one that I have found, ever seems to have thought that way. (The Lord’s Supper and the Weekly Assembly, unpublished manuscript)
Even by the time of Augustine, weekly communion still seems to be the general practice. In fact, Augustine urges tolerance toward churches that celebrate the supper weekly rather than daily:
There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live. (Letter 54, Section 2)
We certainly would not wish to swallow everything from the early church fathers hook, line and sinker. But it is instructive to consider that the early church lived in an environment where the Lord’s Supper was frequently celebrated.
Thus, weekly communion: because we have every reason to believe that the worship service the early church inherited from the apostles was quite plainly a Eucharistic service.
We have considered several different models for worship, all of which capture different aspects of what it means for the church to meet with Jesus on the Lord’s day. As the chief shepherd-pastor, Jesus is concerned that all of his sheep would be fed and tended (John 21:15-19) as they meet with him.
Different parts of the Lord’s service have different degrees of accessibility to Jesus’s lambs. The sermon is perhaps the least accessible. Confession and singing and tribute-bringing are more accessible to all. But there is only one part of the Lord’s service that is accessible to all but the smallest infants, regardless of age (young or old) or mental capacity.
Thus, weekly communion: because Jesus wishes to feed all of his lambs as they come to worship him, so that all from the least to the greatest share in the experience of meeting with and receiving from him.