Home Sacraments COMPLETELY REVISED: The Eucharist
COMPLETELY REVISED: The Eucharist PDF Print E-mail
Written by Calvin Fox   
Saturday, 04 April 2009 19:14

I have believed the primary personal benefit of receiving Communion is the strengthening that doing so gives to my faith.  This is why I have been comfortable thinking of the Communion as a Sacrament, a means of Grace (defined, not as Salvation, but simply as unmerited aid given by God).  By re-presenting to me His Sacrifice, the Eucharist renews my love for Jesus and deepens my assurance that by His Blood I have been redeemed.  It is the occasion when I, in response, renew my Covenant with Him and my promises to serve Him in the week ahead.  All of this is why I do not want to be distracted. Concentration is required.  This is an intimate moment between me and my Lord and it requires time for prayer and quiet meditation.  That almost never is possible in a typical Eucharist, but I pray that will change.  

I have also believed that for the Eucharist to be effective, the Gospel must be preached and heard before the Meal is celebrated and in conjunction with it.  The practice of taking the Elements around to shut-ins and just dispensing them privately has no Scriptural warrant and is contrary to the normative meaning and use of the Sacrament.  The Eucharist is intended for corporate use only (where at least two or three besides the Celebrant are gathered in His Name and participate together) and the Word  accompanies the Wafer and Wine.  The Gospel preached stirs the heart and prepares it to receive Communion.  This is because the latter is the former visualized (the Spoken Word and the Visible Word work in tandem).  The Eucharist does not “work” apart from the Word or apart from personal saving faith in those receiving. This is classic Reformed (and Anglican) conviction.  But I have come to see something important has been missing from my Protestant convictions about the Eucharist.

The Eucharist as a Meal

The Apostle John does not describe the “Lord’s Supper” as such.  Rather, he provides important teaching from Jesus which gives theological background or commentary on what has became known as the Eucharist (the name simply means “thanksgiving“).  John 6 explains the meaning of the Eucharist and the Eucharist illustrates John 6.  The main reason I am convinced of this is that the verbs for eating and drinking are present participles or active and thus call for continuous and on-going “eating” and “drinking” of the flesh and blood of Christ.  That is what is essential in order to have the Life Jesus offers.  Participating in a periodic, very short Ritual which is concluded in minutes is not a substitute for that, let alone essential.

The expression “flesh and blood” (instead of “body and blood“, as in Corinthians) refers to a person (e.g.- Matt 16:17), in this case-to Jesus Himself.   We are to be continuously ingesting Jesus himself.  Salvation depends upon that.  This is perhaps the single most important truth which the Eucharist causes us to remember.  We need Jesus.  We can not live as Christians without Christ!  Realizing that while reading John 15:5 (“without me you can do nothing”) is what brought me to begin feeding on Christ years ago.  Receiving Communion every week, I formally renew the decision to do that.  That does not mean I am being born again repeatedly.  I married my wife once years ago.  In my heart, and occasionally verbally, I frequently renew and reaffirm my commitment to her.  That does not mean I repeatedly marry her.  That was once for always.  So with my relationship with Christ.   

We feed on Jesus in our hearts by faith. I have mistakenly equated eating  with believing.  Both verbs have objects. The object of believing is Jesus.  The object of eating is Bread.  Jesus is the Bread.  Both believing and eating bring us to Jesus.  But believing is not eating.  Believing in Jesus means I come to Jesus.  I commit to Him.  I trust Him that He can save me.  It is easy to stop there.  Many do, especially if believing is understood to mean only the decision to accept  Christ as Savior,  Eating goes way beyond  that and is a life-long activity. Eating is receiving, ingesting and absorbing the life-giving nourishment that Jesus, as Bread, offers to those who come believing.   The order should be, “I believe, therefore I (can and shall) eat“.  For many evangelicals, the order is “I believe, therefore I have eaten- at the moment I came, the moment I believed.  Meal over.  

But the object of believing in Jesus is to make it possible to obtain Life from Him.  The object of eating the Bread is to receive nourishment from it.  Faith receives, not only Jesus, but what Jesus offers.  Eating receives not only Bread, but what Bread offers. There is a big difference.  

How and when do we do this eating as Believers?  Inasmuch as Jesus continually gives Himself, His life, to us, we can receive it anywhere, anytime.  Personally, I especially receive life-giving nourishment from the Lord when I am deep in the Scripture and in Scripture-led prayer.    That is the normal and usual time and place for me to receive what Jesus offers. I come out of deep Bible study stronger, encouraged, convicted and inspired or comforted.

John 6 teaches all this.  It is not about the Eucharist, but about feeding on the Bread which is Jesus.  The God-given means through which that can and should happen, especially for a congregation, is the Eucharist.  

The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Life

I have been mistaken to put almost exclusive emphasis on my faith, what goes on in my mind, while receiving Communion.  I have made the Eucharist very subjective.  I now understand something objective is given in the Communion to be received by faith. That something is the Life of Jesus.   This is in harmony with John 6.

John 1:4 In him was life [Eternal Life is the very life of God Himself, which is, by definition, eternal]

John 4:14 whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

John 5:21 the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 6:48 I am the bread of [i.e.-which is the source of] life.

John 6:5 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

John 10:10 I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  

Romans 5:10 …we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

2 Corinthians 4:10 … the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies. 11 … the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Colossians 3:3 …your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 … Christ is your life

How is this objective Life and given through the Eucharist?  

The Bread and Wine are more than arbitrary symbols.  In 1 Cor 11:29, Paul teaches that eating and drinking them improperly is to be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood and to bring judgment upon ones self with physical consequences.  Surely, more than mere symbols are involved.  Surely there is more than pieces of bread and cups of grape juice involved in the Lord’s Supper.  They do more than represent the Body and Blood of Jesus,...Paul says in 1 Cor 10:16 that when we chew the bread and drink from the cup we are literally “partaking” or participating in the Body and Blood of Jesus [i.e.- in Jesus Himself]  

I believe Paul must be talking about sacramental action when he says we participate in Jesus (Body and Blood) when we receive Communion. The Bread and Wine are not mere symbols.  They are effectual symbols.  They make real (effect) what they symbolize.  Perhaps it is better to describe the Elements as “communicating symbols“.  The Elements are not only arbitrary symbols of the Body and Blood or Christ, they effectively communicate what they symbolize.  They transmit the reality they represent. They become that reality and this action not depend upon anyone’s faith. Therefore, they enable the believing communicant to sacramentally eat and drink the Body and Blood (Christ).  Remember that Christ arose in His glorified body and has been in Heaven ever since the Ascension.  See Col.2:9, Phil.3:21 Therefore, His Body and Blood can not actually be present in the Communion.  

Jesus did promise to be with those who gather in His Name here on earth after His Ascension.  He said He would always be with the Apostles and those who go into the world to make disciples.    He is said to be walking among the churches in Revelation 1 after His Ascension. And He appeared here on earth to Saul (on the Damascus Road).  So there is some sense in which there is a real or true presence of Jesus on earth.  I associate this Presence with the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit of Christ that is really and truly present when we gather for worship and when we scatter for mission.  Christ Himself is localized in Heaven.

The Elements (Wafer and Wine) are not transfigured into the literal Body and Blood of Christ; but they communicate the actual Body and Blood of Christ to those who receive them. This is what happened at the original Lord’s Supper. Jesus had not yet died, but He said to the Disciples: This is my Body.  This is my Blood.  Take and eat and drink.  By receiving the Elements we, like those first Disciples, are somehow actually, truly receiving the Life, the nourishment, that Christ gives to His Church Therefore, communicants are truly partaking the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  How can that be?  It is a Sacrament!  

Ephesians 4:15 we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole … body grow(s)… .

Colossians 2:9 holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together … grows with a growth that is from God.

“My flesh“, Jesus said, “is food indeed“. This High View of the Eucharist is the view of the Continental Reformers.  And John Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology in particular is shared by the English Reformers see 

Evangelicals typically shy away from such a High View, the name “Eucharist” and the very concept of Sacrament.  The Lord’s Supper and Baptism (by immersion) they insist, are Gospel Ordinances. No objective grace is given in an Ordinance.  It is a Command, observed out of obedience and as a testimony (Believers Baptism) or as a simple memorial (Lord‘s Supper), using arbitrary symbols only.  All this is primarily to avoid anything they think is Roman Catholic and a contradiction or denial of the Protestant Doctrine of Salvation by faith alone plus nothing.  The Supper itself, they think, has no efficacy.  It does not cause or effect anything by being done.  Interestingly, Protestants have no problem accepting the efficacy of an Ordination Service by which a person really becomes an authorized Clergyman.  Likewise, they have no problem with the Marriage Ceremony through and by which a couple really become husband and wife.  These are not Sacraments, but they illustrate that Protestants actually do believe Rituals can have efficacy.  Likewise, almost all churches see Baptism as the means by which people really become members (Act 2:41).  And yet, when it comes to Communion they do not believe anything objective really happens, even though, for example, Paul clearly says that sharing Communion causes the communicants of a congregation to become One Body. See 1 Cor.10:17, et al  This demonstrates that the Eucharist is objectively effective

We have said that “communicating symbols” effectively communicate what they symbolize.  They transmit the reality they represent.  They become that reality.  Is there a Scriptural basis for this concept?  The prime example and model of “communicating symbols” is Christ Himself.  Jesus the Man is a communicating symbol of God (this may be compared with Jesus as the Image of God or as a “sign“ in the Gospel of John).   Jesus Christ not only represents God on earth (in the Incarnation), He is what he represents.  Christ is really God.   We are saying that is what the Elements in the Eucharist do.  As communicating symbols, they represent Christ and through them faith-ful communicants receive more of the Life that is eternal.  

What I have outlined in this Essay is in keeping with the traditional Reformed Doctrine of the Anglican Church (Church of England) from at least the 17 Century  and the official Doctrine of the Episcopal Church in the United States until 1979 as expressed in The 39 Articles of Religion from the Book of Common Prayer as follows-

 XXVIII.  Of the Lord’s Supper.  

... it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

[BUT] Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture,   The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

XXV. Of the Sacraments.

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them.  And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.

This is true because Holy Communion has “Integrity”.  What it is and does not depend on what people may think about it. It always is and does what it claims whether anyone believes this is so or not.  In Communion, Christ is offered to all who receive.  That is a blessing to those who receive in a worthy manner and condemnation to those who do not receive in a worthy manner.  In either case, the Sacrament remains a communicating symbol. 

XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil

XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

This is classic Anglican Doctrine!  

What of Baptism?  Is it a communicating symbol?

The Essential Elements:

Confession of Faith
Words of Institution
Water (the act of Baptizing)

What is symbolized: Regeneration; Union with Christ; Forgiveness of sins; Salvation

Baptism effectively communicates sacramentally what it symbolizes.  It transmits the reality it represents.  It becomes the occasion of that reality.  Therefore, we may say, as the BCP does, Baptism enables the person being baptized to be sacramentally regenerated, etc.  They are to be accepted as Christians and members of Christ’s Church.  It remains for those who are Baptized to be discipled and demonstrate that these gifts are real in their lives.  (This is actually true of those who profess faith and are baptized in the Baptist tradition as well.)   

XXVII.  Of Baptism

Baptism is not only a sign of profession, … but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased…


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