Holy Communion – 7

3.2 The apostolic recognition of this event as foundational for their new life in the mystery of the Kingdom.

After the resurrection and ascension the disciples understood why, again and again, Jesus had gathered the lost sheep of the House of Israel, the cultically unclean and those debarred from the temple liturgy of sacrifice, and although it scandalized the priests He deliberately broke down the barriers erected by the cultus, and enacted in their midst a sign of the Messianic Meal, when many would come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. That eschatological meal was not an eating and drinking between holy priests and people, but the marriage-supper of the Lamb, who because he had come to bear their sin, gathered the poor and the outcast, the weary and the heavy laden, the publicans and sinners, and fed them with the bread of life and gave them living water to drink. The disciples remembered also the parables of the prodigal son and his feasting in the father’s house, of the bridegroom and the wedding feast, and the final judgment which would discover those who had given or not given food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, and they understood their bearing upon the Lord’s Supper as the great eschatological meal of the Kingdom of God through which that very Kingdom is realized here and now, as far as may be in the conditions of this passing world. The disciples recalled, too, those Galilean meals of fellowship with Jesus, the miraculous feeding of the multitudes by the Great Shepherd of the sheep, and the equally wonderful words He spoke about manna and water, about His flesh and blood, and the life-giving Spirit, and they knew that what had been parable and sign and miracle then had at last materialized in the Easter breaking of bread.[1]

The resurrection qualifies the Last Supper, and transforms it into an eschatological representation of Christ; his presence continues to be with them, yet it is a ‘presence in absence.’ Thus, we have to distinguish, in a doctrine of the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, between the eschatological parousia and the final parousia in judgement and new creation. It is the same Jesus who is present through re‑presentation, and yet this presence is veiled so as to create a space between the Word of forgiveness and the final power of healing for the Church to reach out and bind the lost into this fellowship.

Certainly bread and wine are signs, in contrast to some kind of self-effectual power inherently present in them They refer to ‘something’ else. They remain what they are – it is senseless to speculate about whether their ‘substance’ is transformed. But, on the other hand, they are certainly not random ‘signs,’ ‘deposits,’ and ‘gifts (or ‘elements’), but derive their intention from the event of the history of Jesus with his disciples, from the breaking of bread and the Last Supper. They are elect signs, destined for their meaning. What gives them their validity is neither our faith, nor their symbolic power, nor any salvific effectuality which inheres in them intrinsically, but solely the intended historical act of Jesus. There is no ‘something’ which could be found which would guarantee their ‘efficaciousness’. But he is present in them. He has determined that they will be the ‘elements’ of the Supper which he conducts with his disciples, ‘until he comes’ … He has determined himself to give his own a share in himself in that they receive these ‘elements’ within the context of the Meal. In the Meal, that is, in the giving and taking of bread and wine, he desires to be present among his own – and ‘to take them into the victory of his lordship by the power of the Holy Spirit.’[2]

[1] Torrance, Conflict, 169.

[2] Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, Volume Two (trans. D. L. Guder; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), 627, italics mine.

One comment

  1. Glad I found your blog. I downloaded all of Forsyth’s writings, printed them up, and bounded them.

    Forsyth and Oswald Chambers have had a tremendous impact on my learning. Is there anyone today like them?


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