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Communion Meditations (2015)

Rudder Orders

Originally scheduled for October 18

1 Corinthians 11:26 NIV  (26)  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.



The United States Navy, some years ago now, made a major change in the way in which its ships were steered. It’s not something obvious to just any passenger, but as you might imagine they take these things very seriously in our Navy. The old-style consists of what are called “rudder orders.” In this method, the helmsman is given orders concerning what to do with the rudder. So if he was told to turn the rudder port 30°, he would set the rudder at that position and the ship would turn to the starboard (the rudder always points in the opposite direction of the turn of the bow.) The degree of the turn really did not determine the new course; only the rapidity with which the ship was to turn. A small angle meant a gentle turn; a larger one, a swifter one. Note that this did not tell the helmsman just what direction he was going to wind up in. He needed a second order to put the rudder amidships to set the ship on its new course.

The new method is quite a bit simpler. You tell the helmsman to bring the ship to a particular course, or you tell him to change the course by some number of degrees. With the advent of computers, power assistance on rotors and the fact that we have only one sailing ship left in our Navy, the new method seems to work better. As you can imagine, however, it was quite a change in style for the sailors of the time.

So why did the Navy change? One reason is that the old-style did in fact require two orders. That occupied more of the captains time, which could be very precious in a combat situation. Also, it’s much easier to check the results of the new method. If you happen to be heading towards a specific target, you just look out over the bow of the ship and see if the jack staff aligns with where you’re going. If there’s no particular target, you can look at the compass. The old-style focused on what you were doing with the ship. The new style focuses on where you’re going. After all, the voyage is not a success if you don’t arrive where you intended to go.

The institution of communion marked a similar change for the people of God. In the old-style — that is to say, the Old Testament — the people look backward to their sins and attempted to make corrections with the sacrifices they brought. They understood that this wasn’t going to work forever, but it is what the Lord had commanded them to do. They were going to continue to do it as long as those sacrifices were needed. But in the new style, corrections by sacrifice have ended. Christ is the sacrifice who has atoned for all of our sins. The new style looks ahead.

The new style looks ahead — to the coming of Christ. We are told frequently in the New Testament that he will return to judge the living and the dead. That’s where this ship is going. We should therefore take communion with gratitude, looking back to the sacrifice of Christ. We should also take it with anticipation, looking forward to his imminent return. As the ancient church used to say it, “even so, Lord Jesus, come.” Communion should remind us that we want our Lord Jesus to return — and taking communion proclaims that he will return.

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