Tonight I participated in a group discussion on a variety of theological issues with some friends and family from the church I serve and another local church that I love (Faith Free Evangelical Church). Through the course of the discussion, my good friend Pastor Mike mentioned his desire to see a deeper appreciation for the Lord’s Supper. Well, as many of you know, I had to tape my mouth shut because I nearly jumped out of my seat in my attempt to say, “Amen!” and to encourage that very desire! I love celebrating the Lord’s Supper and believe it is absolutely one of the most rich acts of worship that our church gatherings participate in!
One of the ways that I believe we can “thicken” our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is to “thicken” our theology of the Eucharist. As is often state here on this blog, our theology plays a major role in our praxis. So if we desire to “thicken” our praxis, I think it’s helpful to “thicken” our understanding of what actually happens during the Lord’s Supper (assuming something happens) and to “thicken” the various themes related to it. I’ve already written about five themes that can be found in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, so I figured I’d take a moment to share some of the “theology” behind the Lord’s Supper that has helped me lead our church towards having a “thicker” understanding of and celebration.
That’s really important to note here. This is not a, “I have this figured out so let me help you” type of post. This is simply my experience of growing in this area and having been richly blessed by the way in which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in our church community.
Anyway, here’s a few larger (and shorter) quotes that have helped “thicken” my theological understanding of the Eucharist. I make no apology for their length. My first “thickener” is the infamous John Calvin. Calvin’s work on the Lord’s Supper is, in my estimation, probably the best that can be found. He writes,
“To all these things we have a complete attestation in this sacrament, enabling us certainly to conclude that they are as truly exhibited to us as if Christ were placed in bodily presence before our view, or handled by our hands. For these are words which can never lie nor deceive—Take, eat, drink. This is my body, which is broken for you: this is my blood, which is shed for the remission of sins. In bidding us take, he intimates that it is ours: in bidding us eat, he intimates that it becomes one substance with us: in affirming of his body that it was broken, and of his blood that it was shed for us, he shows that both were not so much his own as ours, because he took and laid down both, not for his own advantage, but for our salvation. And we ought carefully to observe, that the chief, and almost the whole energy of the sacrament, consists in these words, It is broken for you: it is shed for you. It would not be of much importance to us that the body and blood of the Lord are now distributed, had they not once been set forth for our redemption and salvation. Wherefore they are represented under bread and wine, that we may learn that they are not only ours, but intended to nourish our spiritual life; that is, as we formerly observed, by the corporeal things which are produced in the sacrament, we are by a kind of analogy conducted to spiritual things. Thus when bread is given as a symbol of the body of Christ, we must immediately think of this similitude. As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life, so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul. When we behold wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must think that such use as wine serves to the body, the same is spiritually bestowed by the blood of Christ; and the use is to foster, refresh, strengthen, and exhilarate. For if we duly consider what profit we have gained by the breaking of his sacred body, and the shedding of his blood, we shall clearly perceive that these properties of bread and wine, agreeably to this analogy, most appropriately represent it when they are communicated to us.” (Institutes, 4.17.3)
Of course, the Westminster Divines were able to summarize well what actually happens when we partake:
“Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, (1 Cor. 11:28) do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. (1 Cor. 10:16)”
I believe that if you “thicken” your theology of the Eucharist then you’ll “thicken” how your church experiences and celebrates this sacrament! Don’t throw out everything the Reformed and Presbyterians have to say…