Today the people of God around the world assemble as a grand Christian community and declare His praise and virtue. God is acknowledged and recognized–songs of praise exalt him, his purpose, his wisdom, his compassion, and his love demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The church speaks to God and listens to God. We listen in the word read and preached. The Christian community seeks his will for the coming week; remind us what God wants from us. Remind us of our glory, our potential, our responsibility. Remind us of our capacity because of his presence among us. Refresh our commitment to his cause and his work–generate within us renewed strength so that we go forth restored and whole resonating with his presence in our hearts and lives.
A significant part of the weekly assembly for the first century church was the opportunity to “break bread”. This biblical phrase refers both to fellowship meals, sometimes called “love feasts”, and also to the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper or the communion. The church assembles to remember and give thanks to God in the Supper.
When I lead God’s people in thoughts and prayers to prepare mind and hearts for the Supper, I am constantly in search of fresh words and translations. Today I share the first few verses of Romans 5.
“Now that God has approved us, thanks to faith and through our Lord Jesus Christ, there is peace between God and us. Through faith, Christ has delivered us to the generous love of God that we now enjoy, and we are happy with the hope of sharing the glory of God. There is more. We are able to feel this happiness even when we suffer because the sufferings teach us to be patient. If we have patience, our character is strengthened and with a strong character, our hope grows even more. That hope is not going to fail us because God gave us the Holy Spirit who has poured out God’s love on us. Christ died for us in the necessary moment when we unable to save ourselves, being enemies of God. It is difficult to imagine that someone night die to save a righteous person, but perhaps someone might risk their life for a very very good person. But God demonstrated his love in that Christ died for us even we were sinners.”
Time does not permit a complete treatment of this text, so I call attention to only a few concepts.
- Approval. God has stamped us “approved”. We have God’s approval, we are being “let through”. We may not feel approved, we may not look approved, we may not act approved, but God has put his seal of approval on us and in us. (This is the way Paul describes the Holy Spirit in other biblical passages.) Today as you partake of the Supper, relish and enjoy the fact of God’s approval.
- Peace. This is not only the peace of God which Paul describes to the Philippian church, but peace with God.
- Hope. We enjoy love and are happy in hope. Is the love of God something you enjoy? Does hope make you happy? Notice the cycle of happiness which we celebrate in the Supper: hope, problems, patience, character, more hope.
- Love. The love of God provides the great bookends for this repeated cycle. We enjoy God’s generous love because Christ has introduced us to it and because the Holy Spirit pours it out in our lives.
As described in the next chapter of Romans, the continual poured out love of the Spirit is only possible because of our transition from enemies to friends. The text of Romans 5 does not apply to those who continue to live as enemies of God. That we are now friends of God is shown by the fact that we do with our lives what he did with his life. We participate in his activities. We attend his parties. He is our hero–we imitate him. We participate in his death (through baptism) so that we will participate in his glory. The hope of his glory in the text of chapter 5 is made reality as we are assured of participation in his resurrection–both in renewed lives here on earth, and also in the ultimate resurrection at that final day.
The approval God grants is not random; it is not fleeting. The foundation of this approval is firm; God has acted in Christ, we have reacted, God continues to bless. Approval, peace, hope love. These we celebrate today as we eat this Supper together.