Holy Communion – 11

The Apostle Paul had a very functional view of the Lord’s Supper. Linked, as it was at that time, with ‘the love feast’, he demanded that they ‘discern the Lord’s body’. That is, that (i) they saw what Christ’s body was given for, namely forgiveness related to love, and (ii) that they saw the body of Christ, its members and their needs, and shared mutually in meeting those needs. All partook of one food and drink – the body and blood of Christ which was ‘the one bread’, ‘the one cup’. That made them the one cup and the one bread. It was significant for their unity as the people of God, the body of Christ.

In all then, we see the grace of the sacraments was simply the grace of forgiveness, God’s love. The sacraments demonstrate the corporate nature of the people of God, initiated by grace into grace, and daily living in the grace of the Cross and the Resurrection. Baptism and the Supper unite to bring this grace (i) by the enactment of each sacrament, and (ii) by that dynamic remembrance which stimulates the people of God. Another way of saying this is that the grace of God is powerfully set forth and emphasised by the sacraments because every day the community needs the love of God in forgiveness, justification and sanctification, all of which flow from the atonement, i.e. from the one act of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection.

The sacraments are a participation, a communion of persons, a partaking in the transfigured humanity of the incarnate Son of God (Gal 3:27; Matt 28:19; Rom 6:3; 1 Cor 10:2; Eph 4:24; 1 Cor 10:16ff.; 11:24, 27ff.). What this portrays to us is that the life of the people of God must not be reduced to spiritualism or mysticism. If the sacraments were merely spiritual mysticism then they would be simply another aspect of worship. To partake of the sacraments is not to watch a religious drama, or to meditate upon emblems as one would a picture. Water washes those baptised, food is consumed at the table of the Lord.

The whole life of faith is a life lived in Christ (e.g. Gal 2:20; Col 3:3; John 14:23). Christ’s is a vicarious humanity so that ‘for us’ and ‘on our behalf’ are key emphases of the New Testament. Christ, in solidarity with us, is circumcised and baptised as our representative. In our place Jesus obeys, and as our Head Jesus dies for our sins and is raised. It is not that we merely share in Christ’s personality. Christ came to redeem – for this purpose he was incarnate. The energetic, crucial and tragic action is found in Christ’s work, drawing all sinners into the judgement of his cross where both the holiness of God and the conscience of humankind is satisfied. Justification is realised in the risen Lord Jesus – but we have this work, this personhood, this power, and this grace bestowed – re-presented – upon us in the sacraments. In this action, Christ is the Chief Actor.

With the coming of the Word in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in the solemn moment of truth the Gospel is crystallised, and we are clinched in our relationship with Christ in his action conveyed in baptism (1 Cor 12:12-13; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11). It is the continuity of our life in Christ which is reinforced, and highlighted to us in Holy Communion. For here, in a sacramental way, the life of Christ is conveyed into the life of the worshipper and the worshipping community through the bread and wine.

… the bread and the wine of the Eucharist are not merely emblems of the sacrifice that was once offered for the sins of the world; they are the vehicle by means of which the virtue of that sacrifice is appropriated by the participant.[1]

[1] Peter T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacraments (London: Independent Press, 1947), 162.

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