Whanaungatanga: Missio Dei and a living eucharist

The Christian gospel is not just a story about personal transformation, although that is important, but involves the idea that to participate in Christian community is to join in with something bigger than yourself. And this bigger thing is shaped by the story and mission of Jesus: the New Testament is a missional text (Missio Dei => the mission of God). This is part of what the early followers of Jesus meant when they called Jesus “Lord and Saviour” instead of using this term for Caesar. Jesus offered them a different way of being in the world, and they were determined to do their best to follow it.

So what kind of mission was Jesus interested in, and what does that mean for us?

Luke records the first sermon of Jesus in Luke 4 in which Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah to outline the paradigm for his own mission.

Luke 4:18-19

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 

because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 

and recovery of sight for the blind, 

to set the oppressed free, 

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

The year of the Lord’s favour is a term intended to bring to mind the year of Jubilee, outlined in Leviticus 25. In the year of Jubilee, which was every 50 years, everyone was to return to the land of their family – regardless of the gains or losses made in the past 50 years. It was intended to be a practice that would stop the pooling of wealth among the rich few. 

In reality, the ancient Israelites were not very good at putting into practice the year of Jubilee; it turns out that for those who had gained a lot, it was quite hard to let go. So because Israel didn’t embrace the year of Jubilee, it came to be a symbol of a time in the future when God’s kingdom would come and when the Messiah would put things right. Jesus makes quite the statement when after reading out the passage he claims that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Even further, Jesus leaves something out of the original Isaiah passage. The Isaiah passage actually states: “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.” But Jesus is aware that somehow what is happening in and through him is what they’ve been waiting for, but not what they’ve been expecting. He’s going to fulfil the year of the Lord’s favour, but He’s not going to be in the vengeance business!

Throughout the rest of Luke, we see Jesus working out this mission: liberating, healing, setting people free from various restricting and debilitating conditions etc. He treated people on the margins differently and acted to break down the boundaries between “us” and “them”. Sometimes the recovery of sight was literal, and sometimes it was about helping people to see differently. Sometimes the freedom was from spiritual oppression, but it was also about setting people free from the confines that had been placed on them by the social, political and religious systems that oppressed them.

So what we see are clear connections between the anointing of the Spirit on Jesus, his ministry to restore the poor, oppressed and marginalised, and the connections between the Spirit, the kingdom of God, and the practices of inclusion that he was embodying in his life and ministry. And then the author of the gospel of Luke, goes on to write the book of Acts and suggests that the same Spirit that was in Jesus is now in the followers of Jesus, and that the same mission that Jesus had, becomes the mission of these early Christians.

Which all sounds great, and inspiring, and wonderful, but brings us to the difficult questions of what does this actually mean for us? 

Because we are aware that we live in a different time, a different culture, with different systems and structures in place. And the challenge for us all, is how do we take a concept that we read about, hear about and talk about, and allow it to become more than just an idea. Sometimes when we talk about something a lot, we get sucked into thinking that we’re actually doing more about it than we really are. So how could we, as a community of faith, actually continue to embody Luke 4:18-19 two thousand years later?

This is not a question with a single solution. It’s not defined by a particular programme because the kingdom of God is not something that is coming from somewhere else – it is near you, it is within you. So the answer to the question is always going to be moving and breathing in different ways. And even more so in our contemporary world, it requires innovation, creativity, a prophetic leading and impulse that helps lead us to where we otherwise might not go. 

But every week we come back to the Eucharist table, where we are asked to remember Jesus. He calls his disciples to break bread, and then eat and drink in remembrance of him. And the bread is his body, broken for us. He is giving his life to the mission of proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour.

And at one point in the early church, the Apostle Paul suggests that the church is now the body of Christ. So every time we take Eucharist together, we are not just remembering the breaking of Jesus physical body, but we are invited to participate in it too. To remind us of the idea that we also might be given as life and nourishment for the world. And maybe we’re a little broken in the process – but like Jesus – the breaking offers an opportunity for resurrection life. That we live in such a way that we join in the mission of God to bring love, justice and wholeness to the world we live in.To be a living eucharist.

WhanaungatangaClint Gibson