While in doctoral studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary I participated in a small discussion group. The minister of a church in Oakland told us one day of a man who started coming to church by himself, sat on the far right, about two thirds down, and left quickly after the service. One Sunday the minister caught him as he left and in the process of getting acquainted asked what drew him to the service and the man said simply, “The mystery.” He went on to explain, “I am a scientist at the University of California and deal constantly with hard, cold facts and so I feel the need to experience the mystery.”
Neal Windham of Lincoln Christian University, wrote in a recent issue of The Christian Standard, “When asked what’s missing when churches marginalize the Lord’s Supper by breaking bread casually and infrequently, Eugene Peterson replied, ‘Mystery’”.
Peterson wasn’t using the word “mystery” in exactly the same way Paul does who spoke several times about the long held plan of God which, he said, has been hidden but has now been revealed in Christ and the Gospel. That which had been hidden through the ages and only hinted at by Moses and the Prophets has now come to light in Jesus Christ.
But Peterson put his finger on something very important. There is still mystery involved in the Lord’s Supper and what it signifies. How can God love all human beings, sinful, slimy, despicable, inhumane, bumbling, self-righteous, and stubborn human beings so much that he would send his son to die for us? It’s a mystery to me. How can an innocent, sinless Jesus, as Paul says, “become sin for us” and obediently suffer an agonizing death on the cross? That’s a mystery. Or when Jesus takes the bread and says, “This bread is my body – this cup is my blood.” Or, as in John 6, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” How can that be? It’s a mystery to me.
Two disciples, a few days after the crucifixion, are sadly making their way home to Emmaus when someone they do not recognize joins them. Soon he begins to teach them from Moses and the Prophets that the Messiah must suffer and die. Perhaps wanting to hear more they invite him to eat with them. Although it was their home he takes the bread, breaks and blesses it and gives it to them. And their eyes are opened. Immediately they run, find other disciples and say, “We recognized him in the breaking of the bread.”
There is a hymn that expresses the mystery this way:
Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face,
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.
Yes, it’s a mystery, but one that draws us in and gives us life. How? I don’t know, but it does, and we need that kind of mystery in our lives every week.