This Communion Meditation is a 3rd Installment in the series, “Wonderful Words of Life: Faith.”
For the last two weeks we have been talking about faith. We have seen that faith is not a luxury but a universal necessity. It is the essential possession of the youngest child cradled in her mother’s arms and the oldest skeptic preparing himself for the last long sleep. In its universal form faith is all about trust—even when we may not trust in God, we will certainly trust in our human relationships—beginning with our mother, and in our surroundings—natural law, and, ultimately in our worldview. By definition, faith has content. An agnostic like the late, great Carl Sagan, looks at the universe and declares, “The cosmos is all there is, there isn’t anything else.” The Christian looks at the creation, sees God at work, even in the midst of all the confusion, and affirms that, “Beyond all sight and experience, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the maker and redeemer of all things, visible and invisible, known and unknown.”
Last week I suggested that faith may a leap—there is always an element of risk, but it is not without its witness. As the author of Hebrews declares, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV). I believe that, when the apostle wrote this, he was assuming the witness of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8, St. Paul is speaking plainly about the witness of the Holy Spirit when he declares that:
“the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and if Children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellows heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him, that we might be glorified with him.”
And, in 1st John 5:8, the apostle is clearly talking about the witness of the Spirit when it declares:
There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water (which flowed from Christ’s side and by extension of baptism), and the blood—(which signifies the life and death of Jesus); and these three agree.
I have no doubt that Bishop Spangenberg had these texts and others like them in mind when he spoke to John Wesley on a transatlantic crossing, saying, “Does the Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” Wesley said, “It does!” Later he would say that he misspoke. He did not have the witness of the Holy Spirit until after his experience in a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, in which his heart was “strangely warmed” as he listened to a Moravian brother reading a passage from Luther. Wesley ultimately made “the witness of the Holy Spirit” an essential of Methodist doctrine and teaching. Wesley called the witness of the Spirit “an inward impress upon the soul”—but, being a practical man,he said that the true believer could also regard the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer as a further witness of the Holy Spirit. You know the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance and the like.
In the final analysis, I think both Spangenberg and Wesley would have agreed with Karl Barth the great 20th Century Reformed theologian when he wrote that “feeling is ultimately just the patchwork by-product of faith.”
They would agree with the late Bill Bright, founder of Youth for Christ, when he wrote that the train of salvation is pulled by the engine of faith, and the caboose of feeling just comes along for the ride. Bright said that you could detach the caboose and the engine would still pull the train—but you could not detach the engine and expect the train of salvation to go anywhere.
Today, we have come to celebrate the Holy Communion on the same day on which it is celebrated around the world by Christians in ever tribe and nation. I cannot promise you that after you celebrate this holy supper you will feel any different, or that you will absolutely, positively feel the grace that God is always willing to give us. You may leave here with the complex set of feeling and problems with which you entered. However, by faith, I can tell you that most of us have gathered here in the sure knowledge that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ keeps his promise that, wherever two or three have gathered in his name he will be present. I can tell you too that I am not the host of this table—I am just one who serves. The true host is Jesus Christ who said that this break is his body, broken for us, and this cup is the cup of the new covenant in his blood which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Before we turn to the service proper, I would add only that everyone is always welcome to “Taste and see that the LORD is good!”
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.