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Do you know what the bread and wine of communion point to? A book by John Stott titled The Cross of Christ helps us more fully appreciate the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. It expanded my understanding of the cross in profound ways. In his book , Stott unpacks the meaning behind communion and during this Holy Week I would like to share with you three lessons that communion teaches us.

  1. It teaches us about the the centrality of Christ’s death.

On the day before Jesus died he could have asked his followers to remember anything, but the one thing he asked them to remember regularly was his death. Communion reminds us of the significance of his death.

  1. It teaches us about the purpose of Christ’s death.

The Old Testament pointed to the need for blood to be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Communion reminds us that the blood of Jesus provided forgiveness and it was the only way for forgiveness to be final.

  1. It teaches us about the need to appropriate Christ’s death personally.

Stott says “The eating and drinking are a vivid acted parable of receiving Christ as our crucified Savior and of feeding on him in our hearts by faith… For him to give his body and blood in death was one thing; for us to make the blessings of his death our own is another” (Cross of Christ p. 70). When we participate in this meal it becomes a personal expression of faith in what Christ’s death accomplished.

This Easter week, as we prepare to join at the table, let us meditate on and remember the purpose and power of the communion meal.

So often reconciliation involves me forgiving someone who has “wronged” me.  Whether the wrong was real or imagined, I am still called to forgive.  In Matthew 18:21-22 JESUS makes clear that we are to be people who forgive if we are to be HIS followers.  I don’t forgive seven times, but seventy times seven times.  This is unbelievable.

Surely JESUS miscalculated when HE told Peter that this was the expectation.  Have you not read the truth found in the old saying “If a dog bites you once, shame on the dog, if the dog bites you twice, shame on you?”  JESUS, surely YOU are not asking me to forgive when the same offense is committed over and over again.  YOU are not asking me to swallow my pride and give up my dignity and humbly forgive someone who really cannot be asking for forgiveness because he keeps doing the same thing to me.  These verses and expectations must not mean this.  But the wisdom from JESUS is different.  HE makes clear HIS expectation for us, but we twist and manipulate it so that we justify our unforgiveness and the lack of reconciliation that results.

Yet, the wisdom from above is so different from what the world has to offer.  The world says ‘I have worked all night and I have caught no fish.’  But JESUS says “let down your nets one more time,” Luke 5:5.  The world says ‘don’t get mad get even.’ But JESUS says “forgive and love your neighbors.”  The world says ‘never give a sucker a break.’  But JESUS says “I have come that they (all of the suckers of the world) may have life and have it to the full.”

 

So how often will I forgive and thereby be reconciled with my brother?  Seventy times seven or some lesser number?

You’ve watched the Oscars, right? Then you’ve seen the lush red carpet that the stars walk on as they enter the theater. Rolling out the red carpet is a picture of the preparation that goes into treating someone like they are royalty. Repentance is the “red carpet” of reconciliation. That’s what happens when God calls us into relationship with him. He shows us that our sin caused the breaking of relationship. When God exposes our sinfulness, he graciously gives us the gift of “repentance”, so we can agree that only God can save us from the destruction of our sin. We surrender our hearts to Him, asking him to change us. His invitation opens the door to us tasting his forgiveness, and as we repent, the red carpet is laid out for us to enter the kingdom. Repentance is a changing of the mind that says I don’t want to live with “me” as the center of my universe anymore, so I am turning around and I am going to trust Jesus to direct my steps. With a change of thinking comes a change of heart. As reconciliation takes place, our hearts are again connected and relationship is built on holy ground. The red carpet is really holy, royal ground. See 2Samuel 11 & 12 so see David’s sin with Bathsheba, how Nathan confronted him, and in Psalm 51 how David repented.

Just as our relationship with God has been broken by our sin, so are our relationships with others broken by our sin. Through the power of the Spirit we can walk in humility and see how our sin breaks relationships and hearts. As we surrender the situation to God, he exposes our sin and calls us to the ministry of reconciliation. He calls us first to repent to him (Psalm 51), because in hurting another, we sin against the heart of God. Then we are called to humbly go to the person we have sinned against, and specifically confess our sin and ask for forgiveness.

The person who was hurt also needs the humility of the Spirit to be able to extend forgiveness. Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, so our kindness will open the door for someone who has hurt us to repent. As we humbly enter a conversation with someone who has hurt us, we are inviting him or her to taste forgiveness. As humble repentance is expressed, the red carpet is laid out to re-enter relationship. A change of mind and heart has been revealed and the holy ground of connection and relationship is re-entered. It is not easy, it often takes more than one conversation, and it calls for change over a long period. It takes preparation to start and time to develop the reconciliation process, and it is often costly. It starts on the red carpet. But the ability to walk again with someone you care for is worth the cost. Jesus thought so when it came to us!

I find that in difficult conversations listening to the other person is often complicated. I often discover that instead of listening, I am preparing, in my mind, for how I want to respond. What would happen to our conversations if we started really listening to each other rather than preparing our responses?

Several years ago I was introduced to an amazing tool to help me listen better. This tool has become a staple amongst our staff team. We aptly refer to it as “SWIHYSI”: ‘So what I hear you saying is…‘ In any conversation, instead of responding with what I think, I respond by restating another’s thoughts and begin speaking with, ‘so what I hear you saying is…’

Restating what you hear is a profound way to show that you are listening, and also provides an opportunity for the person speaking to know that she/he is being heard.

Jesus was the master at restating what people were communicating. I’m reminded of his encounter with a women at a well in John 4.  He restated her comments and it started a spiritual interaction that brought about her conversion.

I would challenge all of us: the next time you are in a conversation with someone, take three simple steps:

  1. Listen closely to what the other person in communicating.
  2. Stop thinking about what you are going to say.
  3. SWIHYSI” the other person. Respond to him (or her) by restating his/her thoughts as you heard them.

This simple tool will have a massive impact in our abilities to listen, communicate and live together in unity.

 

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