Monday, September 14, 2015

The Lord's Supper: God stuck between your teeth?

A rough sketch of some thoughts around The Lord's Supper.

Sanderson Jones, founder of The Sunday Assembly is intrigued by the experience Communion offers.
  "It's an idea that you can taste, I have some imagination, so this idea of grace and forgiveness... suddenly that idea of the divine is in your mouth. What a concept! It gets stuck in your teeth. It's something which is really interesting for me – what can I learn from that? How can you give people an experience?" 
The church isn't gnostic and unphysical - it has something tangible in its life.
“We smell good to God because we smell like Jesus…because we eat Christ every Sunday morning.” James B. Jordan 
 “The Lord’s Supper is simply the gospel (in edible form)” Anonymous 
Kevin Vanhoozer writes in The Drama of Doctrine reflecting on historical discipleship in the church:
“The ancient practice of Catechesis was a kind of ‘dramatic journey’ that sought to train new believers to participate fittingly in the Christian life. The instruction that early followers of Jesus received involved learning Scripture and educating desire. (Covering The Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer and Ethics). The sermons and other instruction in Scripture were designed to entice people into the dramatic narrative of God with God’s people. The process of instruction typically culminated in the catechumen’s baptism, a dramatic entry into the drama of God – into the very life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 
Communion sets the shape of the church’s story.
“Without the Eucharist it is very easy for us to imagine Jesus as a great example, great teacher, or a great hero.” Table Talk 
And yet there is much confusion about the meal at the centre of the life of the church - the eucharist, communion, the Lord's Supper, the divine liturgy... even what we call it isn't always clear.

Ridley and Latimer were martyred for their view on The Lord's Supper in the politically charged context of 1554. John Piper notes that who could eat communion was the key issue in the sacking of Jonathan Edwards. More than martyrdom and sackings, this meal is about the crucifixion of Jesus. The issues on the table about The Table are issues of what the cross of Christ means and how we participate in all its benefits today.

Five positions in brief
1. Roman Catholic - the bread and wine are no longer here, the body and blood really are here.
2. Luther - Christ is with in, under and the bread.
3. Calvin - by the Spirit, Christ is present in the bread and wine.
4. Zwingli - Christ is in heaven, we remember with bread and wine in a solemn commemoration.
5. Schmemann (Eastern) - similar to the Catholic approach, but focus on this is a gift to us. We receive and are then sent out for the life of the world.

Positions 2,3,4 are Protestant and condemned by Rome at Trent. Calvin's focus on the Spirit clarifies the presence of Christ in a way other than the Catholic belief which he claims is overstated, and goes further than Zwingli who Calvin suggests makes too little of the meal. I love the gift emphasis in Schmemann (with thanks to Michael Hyatt for his audio commentary).

Liturgy is the pattern of the church. Historically the church has held a basic pattern of liturgy, some streams of the church reject this but probably end up inventing their own liturgy in search of significance and out of necessity to have some order.

Historical pattern from Justin Martyr, and the Anglo/Catholic and Eastern churches.
Part 1. Preparation and gathering (confession)
Part 2. Liturgy of the word (readings, preaching, creed)
Part 3. Liturgy of the sacrament (the Table)

Some worry that coming to the table too often will reduce it's value and turn it into a lifeless ritual... though few such people worry about this happening with its sung worship and preaching.. alternatively some worry that value is lost by infrequency, though rare things are prized too. As an Evangelical who has spent a good amount of time outside more formal church traditions I'm aware of the impoverishment we experience in lack of focus and explanation around the Table.

The Lord's Supper is climactic moment in the life of the church - a great banquet. I, for one, want to think more about this, to learn more of this, and to get more often to the table.

"As we break bread, as we pour wine, the Spirit shows us the love of Jesus for us." (John Hindley, Calvinistically.)

Not so much God stuck between your teeth, but by the Spirit, Christ stuck in your heart.

Further reading?

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