It was the weekend of Pentecost in 2012. I was one in a group of about thirty who were walking through an ancient church in Ephesus. The church overlooks a small glade to the north with a solitary pillar standing in the middle. The pillar is all that is left of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians. Centuries later, Christians would send the abandoned temple’s columns to Constantinople for the Haggia Sophia. This lone pillar was intentionally left by them to remind all that the gods of millennia past had come to their end, and the eternal kingdom of God had come in King Jesus, reigning on the earth through his people.
As our guide finished recounting this history, one of my teachers began a commonly known church song. As we joined we sang loudly, “Kings and kingdoms will all pass away / But there’s just something about that name.” In that moment these words were not belief or wish; they were reality. We beheld in that pillar a kingdom which had passed away. Meanwhile the kingdom of God carried on through time. The experience drove many of us to tears.
We left the basilica to go to a little known, nearby diner. We enjoyed an amazing lunch and then did a common Christian practice. A tradition handed down by every generation to the next. Our teachers blessed the bread and wine. We passed the bread, broke it, gave it to one another, prayed, cried together, passed the cup to one another, and blessed each other.
The experience is a treasure to me, but what struck me was that this Eucharist practice of the blessing of the bread and wine had been occurring in Ephesus by followers of King Jesus for nearly two thousand years. Many kingdoms had come and gone in that time. Many joys, sorrows, conflicts, wars, struggles, and festival times had come and gone for these Christian communities. Still, this practice continued, connecting them to the person of King Jesus, shaping them as his eternal kingdom.
While Paul lived and taught in Ephesus, the very city I had just eaten lunch in, he wrote to the Corinthians explaining the power of the Eucharist practice writing, “Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a participation of the blood of the King? Is not the bread we break a participation of the body of the King? Since there is one bread the many are one body, because we all participate by means of the one bread. Look at the Israel according to the flesh. Are not the ones eating the sacrifices participators in the altar?” Paul uses sacrifice, an essential act of ancient Jewish identity, to parallel the Christian Eucharist practice. Participating in the sacrifice by eating the meat or bread allowed a Jew to interact with the altar. The altar was the place of forgiveness, thanksgiving, petition, and desire to be with God as his people. Interacting with the sacrificial food allowed the person to be shaped into the people of the altar.
In the Eucharist practice Christians share in the moment of the King’s bloodshed, the altar of forgiveness. Participators share this moment with all who have ever received it. In this practice, all time and space collapse into the eternal kingdom of God so that God’s people are together with our King. It is here, together, we find our source of forgiveness, our place of thanksgiving, our loving God and King to pray before. This practice was given to us by our King so we might receive the identity as God’s forgiven people and be empowered to be his unshakable kingdom. On Pentecost the Spirit allowed me a glimpse of this beauty, the eternal unity of God’s people together practicing the life of King Jesus.
Traditional practices are often overlooked as simple preferences or methods to be discarded as culture trudges along. Rather, practices are meant to bind the people of God together beyond space and time, beyond cultural moods or fads, and beyond joys or sufferings. Traditions are about people. In these moments of practice a person finds words to express pain, songs to celebrate joy, or a rock of stability in the torrent of the world’s chaos. The stability offered by practice is rooted in the person of King Jesus and lived by the kingdom he teaches. We love people by offering them eternal life. That life is not ideas, hopes, or personal ethics, but a community of faith practicing the life of King Jesus.
Make breaking bread with brothers and sisters a reality. One of the first ways I did this was by making Amish Friendship Bread for all of my friends. It is fun to make, and the investment makes the generosity even sweeter.
I chose Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug soundtrack. Listen to it with the ironic victory of Paul calling out Death in 1 Corinthians 15 on account of our resurrection in King Jesus. Or, in the power of our unshakable kingdom that stands at a mountain no one else dares approach, as the writer of Hebrews describes. Together, we win in King Jesus.
Father, teach my heart to desire your life.
King Jesus, show my mind the power of your life.
Spirit, empower me to live the life of Jesus again, in my context, in this body.
Every day for all eternity you are receiving the promised resurrection life from King Jesus in the process of redeeming Creation. Allow the traditional practices of the people of God to teach you how to extend that life to others. Extend it through your daily practices. Have a conversation with a person simply because they need the presence of King Jesus. Give a meal, or some other form of generosity, to someone in need because our King has provided for us. We practice his life that he might love others through us.