Who Am I?

Evangelical Is Not Enough 7

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Evangelical Is Not Enough | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelical Is Not Enough 7

Thomas Howard’s seventh chapter, Table and Altar: Supper and Sacrament, focuses on the Eucharist (the Thanksgiving) of bread and wine, body and blood. He opens the chapter with a strange statement that the word sacrament does not appear in the Bible. As I read the chapter, I thought perhaps he meant that the Thanksgiving, the “breaking of bread”, or the various other ways Scripture refers to what many Protestants call the “Lord’s Supper” is never specifically called “sacrament”. If that is the case, he’s probably correct (though John 6 strongly implies it at least). If that’s not what he meant, then I don’t understand his statement at all.

For those who don’t know, “sacrament” is the anglicized version of the Latin word “sacramentum”. Sacramentum was the Latin word chosen to translate the Greek word “mysterion”. And mysterion certainly appears quite a bit in the Bible. So I was left rather confused by Howard’s unqualified statement.

Mysterion is used in an eschatological sense in the New Testament, the future reality of creation’s experience of God has broken into the present in Jesus. And, as Howard points out, “remembrance” as used at Jesus’ establishment of the Eucharist carries the additional meaning of making the past present again in the moment. So in the Eucharist, we always have the reality of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection rushing forward into the present moment as the future of the eschaton rushes back (from our perspective) into the same moment.  In the Eucharist, we do not live somewhere between two moments in time, past and present. Time instead collapses into the mystery of Christ’s body and blood, which makes all things new.

Howard points first to John 6 for the theology of the Eucharist, and that is always where we need to begin. It is, after all, the eucharistic chapter in the theological gospel just as John 3 is a starting point for the theology of Baptism. I’m familiar with the way John 6 tends to be “spiritualized” in evangelicalism. But Howard is correct. That explanation falls apart in the narrative of the text. If the “spiritual” meaning were what Jesus had in mind, his followers would not have all been so offended. As it is, he is left with only the Twelve by the end of the text, and they hardly offer a ringing endorsement.

Howard then traces a bit of the history of Christian writing on the Eucharist, which continues almost without interruption on the heels of the text of the New Testament. In my series on Baptists, Eucharist, and History, I covered the first couple of hundred years or so of Christian writing on the topic in a fair degree of detail, more than Howard has room to do in a section of a chapter.

However, Howard does later try to discuss the Eucharist using the categories of “natural” and “supernatural”. Those have never seemed to fit the sort of relationship between creation and God as glimpsed through Jesus to me, and I’m even less comfortable with that way of dividing reality after reading Fr. Schmemann. I would say a better description of the mystery is that it involves the union of the matter of the created world (bread and wine) with the divine reality of the Body and Blood of Christ without diminishing or destroying either. It is the union toward which we are striving and for which we consume our Lord.

However, I do agree with the overall arc of the chapter, even if I was inclined to quibble in a few places.


For the Life of the World 8

Posted: November 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 8

This post looks at section 13 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. Also, if you haven’t listened to it yet, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast over sections 9-16.

I’ll dive right into Fr. Schmemann’s words since they are better than anything I can come up with.

Up to this point the Eucharist was our ascension in Christ, our entrance in Him into the “world to come.” And now, in this eucharistic offering in Christ of all things to the One to whom they belong and in whom alone they really exist, this movement of ascension has reached its end. We are at the paschal table of the Kingdom. What we have offered — our food, our life, ourselves, and the whole world — we offered in Christ and as Christ because He Himself has assumed our life and is our life. And now all this is given back to us as the gift of new life, and therefore — necessarily — as food.

“This is my body, this is my blood. Take, eat, drink ….”

There are questions that are typically asked: What actually happens? Nothing? Something? If something does actually happen, exactly when does it happen? If something happens, how can we explain it? If nothing happens, how can we invest it with meaning?

All of those questions (and more beside) are mostly an exercise in missing the point.

But throughout our study the main point has been that the whole liturgy is sacramental, that is, one transforming act and one ascending movement. And the very goal of this movement of ascension is to take us out of “this world” and to make us partakers of the world to come. In this world — the one that condemned Christ and by doing so has condemned itself — no bread, no wine can become the body and blood of Christ. Nothing which is a part of it can be “sacralized.” But the liturgy of the church is always an anaphora, a lifting up, an ascension. The Church fulfills itself in heaven in that new eon which Christ has inaugurated in His death, resurrection and ascension, and which was given to the Church on the day of Pentecost as its life, as the “end” toward which it moves. In this world Christ is crucified, His body broken, and His blood shed. And we must go out of this world, we must ascend to heaven in Christ in order to become partakers of the world to come.

But this is not an “other” world, different from the one God has created and given to us. It is our same world, already perfected in Christ, but not yet in us. It is our same world, redeemed and restored, in which Christ “fills all things with Himself.” And since God has created the world as food for us and has given us food as means of communion with Him, of life in Him, the new food of the new life which we receive from God in His Kingdom is Christ Himself. He is our bread — because from the very beginning all our hunger was a hunger for Him and all our bread was but a symbol of Him, a symbol that had to become reality.

Or in the words of Jesus:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

I’m not sure I can really add anything, so I’ll close with these words from section 13.

We offered the bread in remembrance of Christ because we know that Christ is Life, and all food, therefore, must lead us to Him. And now when we receive this bread from His hands, we know that he has taken up all life, filled it with Himself, made it what it was meant to be: communion with God, sacrament of His presence and love.

It seems to me that the common Baptist and evangelical understanding of the Eucharist has already surrendered to a secular understanding of reality. It is based on a perception that material things are somehow “ordinary” and nothing could be further from the truth.


For the Life of the World 7

Posted: October 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 7

This post ponders sections 10-12 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. If you haven’t listened to it yet, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast over sections 9-16.

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

We talk about new creation, but I’m not sure we adequately wrap our minds around it. In and through Christ we are not simply individually made new. Rather, humanity is restored in Christ, our Eucharist, to what our nature was created to be. Yet not only mankind, but all creation is made new. “Behold! I have made all things new!” Very often, our gospel is too small. I like how Fr. Schmemann next describes some of the things faith is not.

“It is fitting and right to give thanks,” answers the congregation, expressing in these words that “unconditional surrender” with which true “religion” begins. For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search, or of Pascal’s “betting.” It is not a reasonable solution to the frustrations and anxieties of life. It does not arise out of a “lack” of something, but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love and joy. “It is meet and right” expresses all this. It is the only possible response to the divine invitation to live and to receive abundant life.

The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the “Preface”. However, it is not something to simply skip over. In his podcast, Deacon Michael comments that if you read the preface or the introduction of a book, you’re a bit strange. Most people jump right to chapter one. (As the head of a publishing company, I assume it’s his business to know such things.) I got a chuckle out of that part of the podcast. As I’m sure will surprise no-one who knows me, I almost always read prefaces, introductions, author’s notes, and all the rest of any book I read. I guess I’m statistically odd. He reads the whole prayer in the podcast. I’m going to include one translation of it here as well, for it is beautiful and makes a profound statement.

It is meet and right to hymn thee, to bless thee, to praise thee, to give thanks unto thee, and to worship thee in every place of thy dominion: for thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same, thou and thine Only-begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit. Thou it was who didst bring us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until thou hadst brought us back to heaven, and hadst endowed us with thy kingdom which is to come. For all these things we give thanks unto thee, and to thine Only-begotten Son, and thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know, and of which we know not, and for all the benefits bestowed upon us, both manifest and unseen. And we give thanks unto thee also for this ministry which thou dost vouchsafe to receive at our hands, even though there stand beside thee thousands of Archangels and ten thousands of Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, soaring aloft, borne on their wings, singing, shouting, proclaiming and saying the Triumphal Hymn:

As Fr. Schmemann says, it’s the preface of the world to come.

This future has been given to us in the past  that it may constitute the very present, the life itself, now, of the Church.

The Sanctus, the adoration of God, the thanksgiving of creation, taken from the words of the Seraphim, is the only possible response to the divine love. It’s also beautiful, so I include it here as well. Say these prayers aloud. Don’t merely read them silently.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

The next part of the great Eucharistic Prayer is called the Remembrance. But this is not simply an interior intellectual reflection. In a manner not unlike the Jewish Passover, we are making the past present. As we enter the Eschaton (the future), we bring forward Christ’s work, and our past and future collide in the present moment.

Holy and most holy art Thou in Thy glorious majesty,
Who has so loved the world
That thou gavest Thine only-begotten Son,
That whosoever believeth on Him
Should not perish but have everlasting life,
Who, when He had come
And had performed all that was appointed for our sakes,
In the night on which he was given up, or
In which, rather, He did give Himself
For the life of the world,
Took bread in His holy and pure and sinless hands
And when He had given thanks, and blessed it, and sanctified it,
He gave it to His holy disciples, saying:
Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you
For the remission of sins.
And in like manner, after supper
He took the cup, saying:
Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood of the New Testament,
Which is shed for you, and for many
For the remission of sins.

Remembering this commandment of salvation,
And all those things which for our sakes were brought to pass,
The Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day,
The Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting on the right hand,
The Second and glorious Advent --
Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee,
In behalf of all and for all.

We praise thee,
We bless thee,
We give thanks unto thee,
O Lord,
And we pray unto thee,
O our God.

Amen and amen.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 20 – St. Cyprian on the Necessity of Wine

Posted: August 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Baptists, Eucharist, and History 20 – St. Cyprian on the Necessity of Wine

We continue today with St. Cyprian’s letter on properly preparing the Cup of our Lord. I find it likely my reflections on this letter will need to be broken into several posts. Concerning the necessity of wine, St. Cyprian writes the following.

Know then that I have been admonished that, in offering the cup, the tradition of the Lord observed, and that nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf, as that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be offered mingled with wine. For when Christ says, “I am the true vine,” the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures.

Notice how St. Cyprian explicitly outlines the interpretation of John’s Gospel he was traditioned. When Christ calls himself the true vine, he is connecting his life (which as the Holy Scriptures say is in the blood) to the wine of the cup. As such, if there is no wine, Christ’s blood cannot appear in the cup. That would be a very odd thing to write if those to whom he was writing did not believe we drank Christ’s blood in the Eucharist for our healing and to receive life.

While I don’t believe we have any instances today in which anyone uses water in the Eucharist, I know my own tradition uses grape juice rather than wine. Of course, St. Cyprian would have had a hard time conceiving of unfermented grape juice preserved for any significant length of time past the harvest. But if he had been posed with that question, do we honestly think his answer would have been significantly different? I tend to doubt it. It’s not what the Lord used. It’s not what he taught. And it’s not what the Apostles taught.

Of course, when you don’t believe that the ritual of the Eucharist actually accomplishes anything in reality, then I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much how you do it or what you use for the elements. I’ve even heard of an Eucharist performed with Dr. Pepper and Oreos! Nevertheless, the replacement of wine with grape juice was a 19th century innovation in the practice of the faith. It incidentally made the Welches quite wealthy as they cashed in on the temperance movement. Unfermented grape juice is a technology enabled innovation in the practice of the Eucharist. It wouldn’t have even been possible before we learned how to safely preserve unfermented grape juice for extended periods of time.

It’s also a good illustration of the manner in which we innovate at will today. This contrasts sharply to the ancient church which here we seeing resisting innovation. As I wrote yesterday, I think we tend to project ourselves into the place of the ancient church and assume they must have done what we would have done in their place. But I don’t find that the evidence supports that conclusion. Rather, under sometimes tremendous pressure and persecution, they clung to the traditions, practices, and interpretations of the Holy Scriptures they had been given. I tend to think that many times the sort of gentle reproof we find in this letter was all that was necessary to correct an errant practice.