The Blood – Elder Rick Keagy

 

“Therefore, let no one judge you because of what you eat or drink or about the observance of annual holy days, New Moon Festivals, or weekly worship days.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body that casts the shadow belongs to Christ.” – Colossians 2:16-17

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be one of those two disciples who met the risen Lord on the way to Emmaus? (Luke 24:13-35) To have everything they had learned growing up in the Jewish tradition finally made remarkably clear. To suddenly understand that all those traditions and festivals and holy observances – all the sacrifices and offerings – were simply guide points marking the way to Christ. Imagine how much more poignant their memories of those events throughout their lives must have become.

And if they were paying attention (of course they were paying attention), I would venture to guess that the one “holiday” for which all of that would not have been more true was Passover. Immediately they would have realized that all those perfect lambs and goats they had roasted with their families over the years were merely stand-ins for the final Passover lamb whose sacrifice they had just witnessed.  And I’m sure I cannot do justice to how profound that must have been. 

I wonder if they thought back to the sprinkling of the blood on their families’ doorposts.  And they recalled learning how that marked them to be passed over for destruction. Then they may have asked, “Now how do I mark myself with the blood of this perfect Savior?”  And eventually, after rejoining the twelve, they would have come to understand that Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper to do just that very thing.  When we are marked with the blood of Christ through our participation at His table, we are passed over by death just as the Israelites on the night of their deliverance from Egypt.

I’m guessing this is nothing new to anybody who may be reading this (Is anybody reading this?).  But I have to admit, until recently I had one important detail a little sideways. You see for some reason I had it in my head that the blood on the doorposts was a sign to God, so He could pass along to “the destroyer” (Exodus 12:23) which houses to skip. As if our omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator needed some kind of celestial spreadsheet to keep track of who was His.  I suppose I had a mental image of him with his heavenly headset, radioing down to the Angel of Death something to the effect of:  “I’m not 100% sure which of those folks down there are the Israelites, but just look for the blood on the doorposts”.  I know, a little ridiculous when you think of it that way.

Because this is what I missed: the blood on the doorposts was not for God, but for them.  They were marking themselves as one of His, in need of deliverance. And God says it directly to Moses, right there in Exodus 12:13:  “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are.  And when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (NKJV, emphasis added) Yes, God needed to see it, but not so He would know for sure, but so they would know for sure. It was their public declaration that they were His.

And that’s what we do when drink his blood at communions. We mark ourselves as belonging to Christ, in need of his deliverance and forgiveness – certain we will be passed over for death and have life eternal with Him. 

And I’m glad I’m not sideways on that anymore.

 

The Cup – by Elder Rick Keagy

 The Cup        

Have you ever been at a nice, or even reasonably nice, restaurant, and wanting to enjoy a glass of wine with your meal – perhaps a bottle to share with your guests – you are handed very politely by your hostess or server the dreaded and intimidating Wine List?  Your palms go clammy and perspiration forms on your brow as you are confronted with an unrecognizable and seemingly endless variety of options.  Nobody else wants the job, but everybody eagerly awaits your decision, but you’re no real connoisseur and you just don’t know where to start. 

Here’s a tip that I picked up along the way:  after deciding between red and white, choose the second least expensive bottle.  Not the cheapest, but the one that costs two or three bucks more than the cheapest.  If there is a tie for second, pick the varietal that is least familiar to you – you’ll almost certainly be pleasantly surprised.  I’m told that a good wine steward will typically place a very suitable selection in that position on their list. And I’ve found this to be true.  Try it the next time everybody treats the little wine list folder like it’s radioactive, and see if they don’t marvel at your oenophilic capabilities.    

Do you know a guy who never had to worry about this?  That’s right, Jesus.  (You were wondering where this was going, weren’t you?)  When he was asked to pick the wine, he just took some water and made the best that had ever been served.  And if you’re a biblical trivialist – though this may not be trivial – you’ll know that turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2) is the first miracle performed by Jesus recorded in the Gospels.  Interesting.  I mean, it seems almost like a parlor trick compared to giving eyesight to the blind, or telling a paralytic to rise and pick up his mat, or raising the dead for crying out loud.  Not exactly “announcing his presence with authority”.  (Check in if you know that movie reference.)

But we know better.  Everything Jesus did was intentional.  And everything the Holy Spirit insured was recorded in the Gospel accounts is intentional.  So if this is Jesus’ first miracle, we once again must have stumbled across something important.  And I think his first miracle is precisely so, because it is a perfect bookend to his last. 

In John’s account, notice to whom the chief steward is talking to when he declares “You have saved the best wine until now”.   The bridegroom.  Little “b” bridegroom.  Now this particular bridegroom is otherwise anonymous and dare I say, inconsequential.  But the big “B” Bridegroom of the church is of course, Jesus.  And Jesus saves his best wine for last, in the cup of salvation that we share at the Lord’s Supper. 

And the reason the wine in this cup is the best, regardless of what they pour in the communion cup(s) at your local congregation, is because it replaces the cup of God’s wrath.  Listen to this from Psalm 75:8 – “For in the hand of the Lord this is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.”  Chain reference that and you’ll find Jeremiah 25:15-16 – “For thus says the Lord God of Israel to me: ‘Take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it. And they will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.’” (Both NKJV translations – when it comes to God’s wrath, nothing beats King James language.) 

That’s the cup we deserve – frothy, sour, full of dregs, making us stagger, stumble and lose our sanity – the cup of God’s Wrath.   And just as Jesus turned water into wine to introduce his miraculous power, he turns fury into forgiveness to conclude it.  When we partake of this cup, we trade our wickedness for His righteousness.  And that, my friends, is no parlor trick.

Eder Rick Keagy – part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2

Who did betray Jesus?  Well, the obvious answer is Judas “surnamed Iscariot”.  Easy.  It seems as if every mention of his name in the Gospel accounts of this final evening are either preceded or followed by some indication that he was the one who deliberately set out to betray Christ.  And indeed, Judas did actively and purposefully betray Jesus by leading the arrest squad directly to Gethsemane.  Jesus even fingered him when he handed him the bread dipped in oil.   But scripture makes it equally clear that he was merely Satan’s operative, something Jesus himself implicitly acknowledges when he says to Judas, “What you are doing, do it quickly.”  Of course doing Satan’s legwork certainly isn’t anything to be proud of, so let’s put Judas on the list.

How about Peter?  Another perfectly acceptable candidate.  Three times he denied Christ, and cock-a-doodle-doo.  At least he tagged along to see how this crooked deal was going to go down.  And make no mistake; in the midst of an incensed mob that was in the process of putting a pretty good beating on Jesus, the fact that he’s even hanging around goes a long way in my book.  Still, there’s no denying the denials, so he’s on the list too. 

Here’s an option that might surprise you:  John, the Beloved Disciple.  No, you say, not John.  Isn’t he the only disciple recorded to have seen Jesus’ crucifixion through to the end, there at the cross with Mary when Jesus breathed his last?  True, but don’t miss the fact that John is the guy who got Peter into the High Priest’s courtyard, where Peter so famously denies the Lord.  (John 18:16)   As the youngest disciple, I wouldn’t be surprised if John didn’t make sure that Peter got in the door so he would have some muscle if things got dicey.  And if that were the case, he wouldn’t have strayed too far from Peter’s side.  But I don’t see him piping up to correct the issue when Peter is questioned.  (And wisely so, God needed these guys to kick-start the church – but that’s a discussion for another blog.)  Anyway, John makes my list.

How about the other nine disciples?  Thomas, there’s a no-brainer.  He betrayed Jesus that night and didn’t stop betraying him until he touched the risen Lord.  The rest – the next we hear of them they are hiding out in fear of the Jews.

You mean on that night they all betrayed Christ?  Yes. 

And so did I, and so do I.  And that, to me, is the point.  We are reminded every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper that Jesus was betrayed, because we possess a heart of betrayal.  And yet, in spite of this betrayal – indeed because of it – Jesus gives us his broken body and his shed blood, and he forgives us.  And so, when we take hold of this understanding, we can enter into Holy Communion humbly, yet boldly – knowing full well that God’s table is a betrayer’s table, prepared for those who so often turn from him.  And yet he invites us to dinner, and he welcomes us with unfathomable love, and he restores us to a full relationship with Him.  

The Betrayer’s Table – Blog by Elder Rick Keagy, St. John’s Wash Park

 

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The service is running overtime again.  You’re checking your watch.  Maybe it’s a warm summer day and the sanctuary’s air conditioner just can’t keep up.  Maybe there is no air conditioner.  Maybe the game starts in a few minutes.  The kids are asking “Is it done yet?” as they crawl beneath the pews or chairs.  But you know better.  There is one more thing, And you really wish they could just speed things up and be done.  And finally you breathe a sigh of relief because you know you’ve almost made it.  You hear something that sounds a little like this:   

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread,  and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (New English Transalation)

And you’ve heard it so many times that the words roll right through your thoughts, because you’re really just happy that you might get out of there in time to make it home for the game, or before whatever self-control the kids have left becomes completely spent.  And you miss it.  Because it’s always been there; this final Passover evening is described simply as “the night in which he was betrayed” (emphasis added). 

But here’s a question:  Why is the only modifier to describe such a monumental event “betrayed”?   It seems to me that the Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, could have chosen so many more powerful ways to delineate this event.  Consider this:  though they may not have known it at the moment, this was the fulfillment of hundreds of years of anticipation for the Jewish people, the very last time that the Passover supper would point back to the events in Egypt all those generations ago.  The final pure and spotless, perfect lamb was soon to be offered for the sins of all mankind.  Why not “the night of the ultimate Passover?” 

Here’s another thought:  Jesus was about to undergo incredible sufferings, the likes of which, I think it’s safe to say, most of us could never imagine.  His Passion.  So much so that he prayed to be delivered from it just a few hours later.  And only hours after that, he would be beaten and scourged to the point of near death, then hung on a cross, pierced, and die.  These were his final peaceful moments with his closest friends, a holy banquet in a quiet room – one last meal among brothers.  How about the “night of his suffering” or “the last night of comfort”?

One more option:  The Great Teacher will soon be physically leaving his students and there is time for one more lesson.  This is one last opportunity to give them an ongoing means to remember him, something tangible that they can do and teach others to do.  At this point he gives arguably his most important object lesson of all, as he shows them how he will become broken and poured out on our behalf.  Let’s try “the night he completed his teachings”.

We could go on here, but the point is made.  And if you’ve spent any time at all in any orthodox congregation, to hear any description other than “betrayed” sounds completely out of place.  And there it is – right at the beginning.  Why there?  Could have gone at the end – “He did all of this on the night he was betrayed.”  But no – it’s one of the first things we hear when the Words of Institution are spoken.  One of, if not the, most consistently spoken and received pieces of scripture – across generations, denominations, and traditions – said before one of, if not the, most important sacramental activities transmitting the very last instructions Jesus gave to his followers begins with the word “betrayed”.  We know it’s not accidental.  This must be important.

So relax.  The game will wait.  Nobody’s paying any attention to your kids anyway.  Don’t let yourself rush though this last, best part.  And consider for a moment just who did betray Jesus.