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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Some rambling thoughts on communion

We Believe: Essays on the Catechism is a fine tiny book published by Concordia Theological Seminary Press that gathers essays from Lutheran pastors and was handed to me by Pastor ZImmerman this morning (for free! maybe it's always free?).

The essay The Holy Supper: A Taste of Heaven by Rev. Dr. William Weinrich got me thinking on that great mystery again. I'm sure whatever I post will be quickly followed by a searing note from Andy employing words larger than my head to shatter any excitement generated by the following words, but let's give it a shot anyway.

The very sensory character of the Lord's Supper indicates what we always assert by way of doctrinal statement. The Bread and the Wine are the very Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, which He has commanded us to eat and to drink. The Lord's Supper is something concrete, particular, real; it is Body and Blood. It is not something merely other-worldly, spiritual, non-material; it is not merely "soul food." It is therefore received in concrete, particular and real manner--by eating and drinking. Because it is the Body and Blood of Jesus, it is eaten and drunk even by those who do not believe what their ears have heard, namely, "This is My Body; this is My Blood." Even unbelievers eat and drink the very Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus when they partake of the Bread and the Wine. Those who believe these words, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," rather faithfully eat and faithfully drink and receive in faith that which the Father gives through the giving up of His Son into death.

This is to say that the forgiveness of sins, and the Life of the Spirit which comes with that forgiveness, is bound to a particular Body and to a particular Blood. On the very night in which Jesus was betrayed, He "instituted" the Supper, which was His own. By means of this "institution" Jesus gave to His Church for all times and all places that Supper, which would be the place and the time of His death for the forgiveness of sins. We many put it like this: the death of Christ which occurred once is "for us" in the Lord's Supper.

I really like that bit where Weinrich illuminates one of the most profound examples of the incarnation of Christ: "This is to say that the forgiveness of sins, and the Life of the Spirit which comes with that forgiveness, is bound to a particular Body and a particular Blood."

If we are not receiving Christ's true body and Christ's true blood in the elements of the supper, then what are we receiving? And whatever it is, how is it going to do us a bit of good unless it is Christ Himself?

I will never again settle for an understanding of faith that cleanly divides the spiritual from the physical, as I did when I was younger. If I did, I'd be letting myself be robbed of the incarnate Christ--a Man Whose real blood was shed for me, and whose real body was broken for me. A Man Who is God.

It seems like many understandings of communion give the doctrine of the Trinity a good thrashing, and pretty much gloss over the Holiness of God. If Christ is being received in the Supper, then God and Spirit are also received. The gift given in the supper is a completely monergistic activity. In the words of Dr. David Scaer, "Since God is not morally neutral and does not choose to be holy, but He is holy, all His works necessarily share in His holiness." That holiness when received by a Christian is justification and sanctification all at once, because it is God Himself. That holiness, when received by an unbeliever is a sin of blasphemy and damnation--just like it was for those who dared touched the ark or the mountain where God dwelt in the Old Testament.

Any other understanding of communion sucks the Lord straight out of the Lord's Supper. And I guess that makes sense.