Speechless

Michael Metzger

“What is a weekend?” Lady Violet, no shrinking violet, was speechless. She might not be alone. One day Jesus might be speechless, asking us, “What is a weekend?”

In Season One of the acclaimed PBS series Downton Abbey, Matthew decides to take a job as an attorney. His father-in-law, Robert Crawley, the ruler of the estate, is surprised. He planned to groom Matthew to one day run Downton Abbey. “Oh don’t worry,” Matthew shrugs, “there are plenty of hours in the day and of course I’ll have the weekends.” A puzzled look comes over Lady Violet’s face. “What is a weekend?”

The idea of a weekend is only a century old (when Downton Abbey is set). It’s part and parcel with modernism, an era that spurned institutional authority. Individuals decide for themselves what is best. It’s Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice’s Mother: Where is your corset? And no stockings!
Alice: I’m against them.
Alice’s Mother: But you are not properly dressed.
Alice: Who’s to say what’s proper? What if it were agreed that “proper” meant wearing a codfish on your head? Would you wear it?
Alice’s Mother: Alice.
Alice: To me a corset is like a codfish.

For this sort of idea to get legs, it required institutions. One was the advent of the Friday-Sunday “weekend.” It doesn’t square with the Bible, however. In Genesis, a day is “evening, then morning.” The day begins at sundown. The end of the week is a three-minute moment at sunset Saturday. In the Bible, there is no such thing as a three-day weekend, as Jesus arose on Sunday morning, the first day of the week (Mark 16:9).

The weekend coincided with two other institutions, travel and sports. Travel, from the English travail meaning a journey fraught with danger, was not an industry prior to the 1920s. It was dangerous. Robbers roamed the crude roadways. With the advent of the automobile and decent roads, travel became an institution.

The same is true of organized sports. People always played, but sports became an institution in the 1920s. Michigan Stadium was built in 1927 with 72,000 seats and a plan to expand to 150,000. Today, the weekend is wall-to-wall sports.

With the confluence of these three came a culture called modernity. Cultures are the air we breathe. We get used to them. We don’t smell any odors. T.S. Eliot did, however.

Eliot warned against modernity, particularly in the Four Quartets (1945). A daily participant in Anglican communion, he saw how the Lord’s table prepares us for the wedding banquet. We give him our “firstfruits” by participating in the Lord’s Table on Sunday morning and throughout the week. Over time, we begin to master “take and eat,” but it takes a long time. The 10,000 Hour Rule would say 10,000 communions. If true, modernity makes 10,000 hours of “take and eat” almost impossible.

Do the math. Weekends make Sunday services an inconvenient interruption. We have kids’ sports, travel, yard work, or just sleep in. If anyone question us, we retort as Alice did – Who’s to say what’s proper? Well, most of the worldwide church for starters.

The Early Church met daily to share communion. For 2,000 years, various faith traditions, all predating modernity (Eastern Orthodox, Middle Eastern, Catholic) have held that The Lord’s Table is the moment in time that best prepares the church for the future wedding banquet. Taking communion develops an appetite for the banquet feast.

For modern Christians, this unfamiliar. They figure if they read the Bible, join a fellowship group and hit church every so often, they are maturing. To some degree they are, but Jesus seems to suggest it’s not enough. In Matthew 22, he tells a chilling story of a person who is unprepared for the banquet. “Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!” The man is speechless. He’s tied up and thrown out.

This is a difficult story. Does it allude to purgatory, where believers are purged and purified so they are prepared for the wedding banquet? I don’t know. The real question is are you prepared? From what I know of scripture, only believers make it to the banquet. Jesus predicts some will be unprepared.

The solution is seeing communion for what it actually is. The four offices of Christ are present at The Table – king, priest, prophet, and savior. As king, he summons his church to his table. Can you imagine telling your boss you’ll only make it to work every second or third day? As priest, Jesus offers his body and blood at communion. Can you imagine telling him, Sorry, can’t make it to communion – we have kids’ sports. As prophet, Jesus thunders Thou Shalt Not. Stop. Find another time in the week for these things. Bring your firstfruits. Can you imagine correcting a prophet – who’s to say what’s proper?

Dallas Willard noted that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it. Heaven is an acquired taste. Whether it takes 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 hours of practice, the math says many of us (me included) won’t be prepared. If you attend church every so often and your church serves communion every so often, it will take a few hundred years to be prepared. I don’t think we live that long.

John Adam said facts are stubborn things. The fact is, Jesus predicts some believers will arrive unprepared for the feast. Second fact: Jesus is never wrong. It’s easy to assume he’s talking about someone else. But what if he’s referring to modern believers? What if we meet him unprepared for the wedding banquet and we stammer something about being busy on the weekend? What if, like lady Violet, he replies, “What is a weekend?”

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

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9 thoughts on “Speechless”

  1. I feel caught between the rock of not practicing communion often enough and the hard place of not practicing it meaningfully enough.

    I serve in protestant churches that have renewed the practice of communion weekly, but quickly, by the method of intinction, at the close of the worship service. Most weeks I don’t find this very meaningful for most people. It is a solvable problem and one that I think is okay to struggle with. But something else has to give; either the length of the service, or the length of the sermon, the number of songs, or the time in prayer. These are tough choices.

    Another “institution” that has developed in modernity that contributes to Mike’s issue is the regional church. So many Christians worship at churches on Sundays that they will not return to during the week. So we starve ourselves of some of the means of grace Sunday to Sunday.

  2. Mike Metzger

    Trent: I agree with the tensions you feel… and we’re just scratching the surface. I also agree that too few Christians, at least those caught up in modernity, feel these tensions. They instead shrug it off, as though weekend diversions of travel and sports and what-have-you simply cannot be beat. They can, of course, but it requires a long-haul view of where we are heading.

  3. The long-haul view needs to be applied to small group meetings, too. These can get us grace for the Sunday to Sunday gap if we will give them the priority they deserve. All kinds of good things — grandchildren, trips, general business — can get in the way and we feel the tension.

  4. Mike Metzger

    Trent: An additional thought. My friends remind me of Andy in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Success requires – absolutely demands – that she make sacrifices. “Can’t you see I have no choice?!?!”

    Only her closest friends, as well as Miranda Priestly, suggest she does indeed have choices, and that she made them long ago.

    Too many Christians, in desiring that their kids get in the right schools or fit in with the right neighborhood, assume they “have no choice” but to plunk their kiddos in Sunday morning sports programs. “Can’t you see I have no choice?!?!”

  5. Mike Metzger

    I recommend to readers the writings of Christopher West on this topic. Christopher never met his father-in-law. He died when his wife was a girl. But he tells a remarkable story about the man he admired. “At church the day after his wedding, having consummated his marriage the night before, he was in tears as he came back to the pew after receiving communion. When his new bride inquired, he said, ‘For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of those words, ‘This is my body given for you.’”

    Huh – going to Mass on your honeymoon. How unusual. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. Christians who faithfully celebrate communion “get it.”

  6. But what do you do, if you no longer find refuge in the temple, through ill health. And people no longer visit.Has modernity impacted to the extent we dilute the Torah ? Should the table be taken into the community ? As with the women at the well ?

  7. Pingback: The Need for Thankful Worship | Carl Creasman The Need for Thankful Worship| Live Well blog; life insights with values

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