Clearly, more than just getting worship right is important in changing the world, but since worship is the central act of God’s people, performed on the first day of the week at the center of the world before the very face of God, surely worship sets the tone of everything else.
We have seen that God calls us to holy war, first of all the “wrestling at Penial” of singing the psalms before His throne and calling on Him to act. This time I want to focus on what God has done for us, and how very often we refuse to receive it, and how this ruins the power of the Church.
It’s very simple: God has given us rest.
Jesus has done it all. Jesus came down from heaven and gave us the Kingdom. We did not earn it. We did not deserve it. It was given to us free of charge.
Jesus has made us enthroned kings in union with Him. Jesus has ascended to God’s right hand to rule the world, replacing the angels. And we are in union with Him.
Hence, we also are seated in the heavenlies.
But you would seldom know it.
Over and over the New Testament tells us to sit for our meal with God. Six times we are told that Jesus commanded people to sit when He fed the 5000 and the 4000. The text does not say “the people sat down” or even “Jesus gave the people permission to sit” (which would be strange enough), but that He commanded them to sit! Evidently, sitting for a meal with Jesus is important to Him, and important to the Spirit who inspired the evangelists to record His command six times. Numerous other passages show that the picture of the Kingdom is always of people seated with God: Matthew 14:17-19; 15:34-36; Mark 6:39-40; 8:6; Luke 9:14-15; John 6:10; Matthew 8:11; Luke 12:37; 13:29; 14:10: Ephesians 2:6; Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14.
I have received several responses when I have pointed this out. One young man who has decided to abandon Biblical Christianity wrote that, well, this was all very interesting, but that Church tradition was otherwise (meaning his own church tradition). Another wrote that in his church, people had sat for 45 minutes for a sermon and really needed to get up, so he had them come forward. Another told me that his people wanted to do something and so he had them come forward.
I can reply that if the people are tired of sitting, have them stand for the Prayer of the Church (which should come after the sermon as part of the Offertory) and also stand for a communion hymn or chant a psalm (or two or three). Then sit for communion.
I can reply, more ferociously, that the desire of people to get up and do something is precisely what needs to be fought. We don’t come up to get the meal; Jesus’ representatives bring it down to us. The meal is part of incarnation. It is gift. Yes, perhaps we get up and go forward to leave our tithes and canned goods and other gifts at the Table during the Offertory, but when it comes to receiving the Kingdom, we do nothing but eat.
Jesus brings it down to us, starting from His ordained agent, and then passing through the hands of other baptized Christs to one another.
Jesus washes our feet, even though we’d rather He didn’t.
Now, this refusal to sit for communion is arguably a Judaizing evil. Of course, I’m not saying that people who come forward and stand around, or march by the pastor, or kneel at a rail intend to forsake the Gospel. But their ritual does, in fact, arguably betray a Judaizing facet.
It may be scandalous to say this. Well, it’s not I who say it. It’s Paul (or Anybodybutpaul), the author of Hebrews, who says that under the Law “every priest stands daily ministering, and repeatedly bringing near the same offerings, which can never remove sins; but He, having brought near one offering for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12; 1:3).
There you have it. Standing in the holy place for the sacrificial meal is a characteristic of the Old Covenant. The priests never sat in the Tabernacle and Temple. We, however, are in union with Jesus, joined to Him, and seated with Him. To fail to sit for communion is, however unintentionally, a de facto compromise of the New Covenant.
A friend of mine once said in a lecture on prayer that there are no seated prayers in the Bible. Well, not quite. Jesus was seated when He gave thanks at the Last Supper. I draw from this that the officiant in the liturgy, as Jesus’ enthroned representative, should also conduct the Supper from a seated position.
Now, all of this material is kind of clear, but there is something more to be said. After all, it is possible to come back and say, “Well, that’s fine, Jim, but there’s no actual command to be seated for the Supper.” And to be sure, there are times in the church when sitting is not possible, when the supper must be eaten hurriedly in the forests before the enemy army arrives.
What kind of obedience do we want to have? The olde Puritans used to be called Precisionists sometimes. The story is told of a Cavalier who asked a Puritan, “Why are you men so precise about everything?” The reply was, “Because we serve a precise God.”
That’s a good answer. And before moving on, notice how the word ‘Cavalier,’ which used to mean horseman and designed the State-Church party in England, has come to mean “sloppy and high-handed.” This is no accident.
At the same time, I’d like to propose a better answer for us Biblicists:
Unto You I lift up my eyes,
Who dwell in the heavens.
Behold, as the eyes of servants to the hand of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes are to Yahweh our God,
Until He shows mercy to us. (Psalm 123:1-3)
What does this mean? It means that a faithful and loyal servant is so attentive to his or her master’s or mistress’s wishes that he pays attention to his or her slightest gesture. Good servants are not looking for loopholes. Good servants delight to pay close attention to the slightest indication of what their lord wants, because they love their lord.
Repeatedly, as we have seen, the Bible tells us that God wants us to sit at His meal. Anyone who has the attitude of Psalm 123 will not require some explicit command, but will readily see the hand gesture. Nobody who has the attitude of Psalm 123 will go about dreaming up cool new liturgies, like wandering by coffee tables and dipping wafers in wine, or even something so simple as having everyone eat at the same time and drink at the same time. All such changes to what Jesus instituted betray an attitude, however unconscious and unintentional, that we can improve on what God instituted.
a) Jesus broke bread, he ate and drank first, setting the example. He did not eat last out of some American notion of courtesy. (See http://theopolisinstitute.com/jesus-eats-first.
b) The wine was not served until they had finished eating the bread (1 Corinthians 11:25)
c) The men did not pick up little bits of bread from a tray, but each took the loaf in hand, making it his own, and tearing Himself as He tore the bread. (Compare Leviticus 1:4-5) And it was bread, arguably “daily bread,” since Jesus said to pray for daily bread, and we do so pray week by week in the liturgy. The Son did not become incarnate in some strange kind of human flesh, but was like us: “daily bread.” So we should not use a wafer, a cracker, pita, any kind of special bread, or anything that might teach people that Jesus was not like us in His humanity. Whatever daily bread is in a given culture is what we should use.
d) The bread was already in John’s hand by the time Jesus said “This is my body.” There was no time to speculate on the bread, as if something weird had happened to it. Jesus gives Himself to us in the act of eating: “Take and eat.”
e) Jesus did not go around the table serving the men separately (though He did go around and wash their feet separately). Each man had the privilege of serving his neighbor. In too many churches today that servant-privilege is denied as pastors and elders keep hold of the bread and usurp the servant-privilege for themselves alone.
What does this to do with changing the world? Very simply this:
We are enthroned with Jesus Christ in the heavenlies, replacing the angels (Revelation 4:4; 15:8; 20:4). We need to move through this life as kings and queens, viceroys of King Jesus and His ambassadors on earth. We apologize to no one. It’s His Kingdom and as His baptized ambassadors, rainbowed into His warbow by the prisms of sprinkled water, we’re in charge.
We are the Rainbow Army. When we gather for worship, God sees His rainbow and is reminded of the covenant. The covenant includes “If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; being put to death they shall be put to death – their bloodguiltiness is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13). From a sinner’s point of view, there is nothing more stupid than when perverts wave rainbows before the face of the God who sees everything. What they are asking for will make AIDS look like a picnic!
That awful judgment is not, however, what we want to see. We want God to act evangelistically, to change hearts, to destroy demonic influences. We want to see these sinners saved. What we do in Sunday worship is what can bring that good outcome to pass, if we dare to do what God wants.
The Supper is the celebration of our rule in union with His, and it must be taken enthroned. If not, then it’s not the Festive Marriage Supper of the King and Queen, but some odd rite that we’ve made up. Sure, God is gracious and makes up the difference in our failures, but there’s no power in standing or kneeling communion, for we aren’t fully participating in the kingdom. When we bring our petitions, we aren’t going to be heard as well as if we are seated, like Esther, at table with the Great King (Esther 5:5-8; 7:1-10).
You want Jesus to hear your petitions to change the world? Then sit, like Esther, at His table when you talk to Him.
James B. Jordan is Director of Biblical Horizons and Scholar-in-Residence at Theopolis.