Sunday, April 5, 2015

THE ONLY TRUE EASTER TRADITION

We as humans love tradition. We have traditions associated with every significant and reoccurring event in our lives. There are traditions that we have in connection with birthday celebrations, traditions in weddings, traditions for national holidays, and especially traditions that are connected with religious holidays.

When it comes to the traditions connected with Easter, I suppose that every family has their own traditions. In our home, for years we carried on a tradition that my family had when I was a boy growing up. On the Saturday night before Easter Sunday and after we kids had gone to bed, my mom would put candy in each of our hats, then hide the hats someplace in the house. When we woke up on Easter morning, all of us kids were busy looking for our hat and pumping mom for clues. Vivian and I did the same with our boys growing up, until they reached the age where the searching for the hat ceased to be fun and began to be only a chore.

Of course, in terms of traditions, there is also the Easter bunny and the dying of the Easter eggs. Some people discourage these traditions since it is thought that they are of pagan origins, but my own feeling is that we can redeem traditions like anything else in our lives.

THE PLACE OF TRADITIONS IN WORSHIP

It is not necessarily bad to have traditions. Any reading of the Old Testament rituals involved with the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple show us that God also puts great emphasis on ritual and traditions. The difficulty comes when these things actually detract from the real meaning of what they are to signify.

This is something of which Jesus often accused the Pharisees. “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” Jesus told them on one occasion. “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:8-9 ESV)

So is the danger yet today. We often are so wrapped up in the rituals and the traditions of the event that we completely miss what it is that we are celebrating. This is especially true when it comes to Easter.

AUTHENTIC TRADITIONS

Of course, in speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus was not talking about the fun type of family traditions that we sometimes have at holidays. He is not talking about Easter egg hunts. He is talking about those traditions that to us, are meant to hold a deeper spiritual or religious significance. To the Pharisees, there were many traditions of this type, but I would like to talk about one that we have involving the holiday of Easter. In fact, I would call it the only authentic Easter tradition.

This tradition was established by Jesus himself. We read about this event in three of the gospels from the words of Jesus (Matthew 26:17ff, Mark 14:17ff, and Luke 22:7ff). In addition to these accounts, we also have the following quotation from the Apostle Paul:

I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when 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 took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  (1 Corinthians 11:23-25 NAS)

When Jesus spoke these words and shared this meal with His disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, he instituted what we, in various church denominations call the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion, or the, Holy Mass. Of course, we do not observe this ritual only at this season of the year, but it is especially important at Easter, since Jesus established it just before the days of his crucifixion, death and resurrection. These are all events that we observe during the Holy Week.

THE TRADITION THAT DIVIDES

This tradition of communion is of such importance, that we refer to it as an ordinance. We call it this because it is something that we are actually commanded by Jesus to do. However, as important as the Lord's Supper is, we as a church family have often let it get in the way of the true meaning of what it is to commemorate.

We have clothed these rather simple words of Jesus with so many of our own interpretations and individual traditions, that the tradition itself has often detracted from what it is meant to signify, instead of giving us understanding to the truth that it is meant to illustrate. In addition, we have taken what was meant to demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ and changed it into something that has divided the church.

Throughout church history, we of the wider church family have argued about what actually physically and spiritually happens during the Lord’s Supper. It has caused some deep divisions in the church. As a result of these arguments, many churches do not allow those believers who are not part of their own particular denomination or fellowship to share with them in the Communion service. Because of our misuse of tradition, that which was to be a demonstration of the oneness of the body of Christ, has come to instead only emphasize the divisions that we have created within his body.

As vehemently as we might make our arguments for what physically and spiritually happens during the Lord’s Supper; I have a strong suspicion that we all are far from the real truth and far from any real understanding. The reason that I think this is because something that Jesus said regarding that Last Supper that he shared with his disciples on that night.

THE FULFILLED TRADITION

Jesus told his disciples, “I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16 NAS emphasis added).

My question is; how is it that we can know the complete meaning of this ordinance when the true significance has not even yet been fulfilled, and will not be until the age to come? Is it not presumptuous of us to think that our individual and particular understanding is superior to all others, when there is none of us that have the complete picture?

There is a certain sense that we can say that the “Kingdom of God” is even today present in the redeemed ones of the Lord, but we are far from its fulfillment. We do not need to look far before we see imperfection in the church. What we presently see is not the fulfillment of what Christ envisions.

THE TRADITION THAT PROCLAIMS

It is important for us to realize that when we take the communion, we must not do so in an unthinking manner. Paul says of the Lord’s Supper, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26 NAS).

To proclaim something is to declare it or make an announcement about it. In other words, when we take communion, we are affirming that Jesus was crucified. Proclaiming the Lord’s death does not necessarily mean that we are doing it in a positive manner.

The Roman soldiers who actually did the crucifying of Jesus proclaimed his death. In fact, here is what we read of them:

They stripped [Jesus] and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’

And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him and led Him away to crucify Him. (Matthew 27:28-31 NAS)

The people passing by the cross as Jesus hung on it also proclaimed His death. Here is what is said about those people: “And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘…Save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross’” (Matthew 27:39-40 NAS).

The religious leaders of the day proclaimed the death of Jesus as well. “[They] were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him’” (Matthew 27:41-43 NAS).

But there are other ways to proclaim the death of Jesus. We can also proclaim his death in a positive manner.

There was one Roman soldier who, in the end, came to realize who Jesus was. Just moments before, this same soldier took place in the crucifixion of Jesus. However, when he saw all that was happening and felt the very earth tremble at the death of Jesus, the soldier changed his proclamation from what it had been moments before. Now he did it rightly. He said, “Truly, this was the Son of God”! (Matthew 27:54 NAS)

Like Thomas, who first doubted, after seeing the resurrected body of Jesus, we also can proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Paul told us that when we take communion, we proclaim the death of Jesus. The way in which we proclaim the Lord’s death is of utmost importance. That is why Paul adds this warning regarding the Lord’s supper:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilt of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man [and by inference, woman] examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are week and sick, and a number sleep.  (1 Corinthians 11:26-30 NAS).

THE PERSONAL TRADITION

Notice that Paul says that we should examine ourselves. Our task at this point is not to wonder about the person sitting next to us or the person from another church. Our task at this point is to examine ourselves.

What is there in our own lives that is unworthy of the life of Christ? Jesus has died for us. He has died to cleanse us from all those things in our lives that are unworthy of the life of Christ. We come to him now, confessing in our hearts our need for his cleansing in our lives.

As I have written on other occasions, the Lord's Supper is a family meal, and all who are of the family of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ should be welcome to share it. It makes no difference if you are from another church, but it does make a difference that you do it in a manner that is worthy of the sacrifice suffered by our Savior.

THE HOLY TRADITION

The Lord’s Supper is a holy institution, and we must share it in a way that is worthy of the blood and the body of Christ.

Jesus said of the meal that he shared with his disciples on that night, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you, do this in remembrance of Me.” This is also what he is saying today, to all believers who proclaim him as Lord and Savior.
 
"Do this in remembrance of Me" 
 

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