In Which We Resurrect the Real Presence

This post deserves to be pulled from the archives and kicked around for a bit. I let it fall by the wayside, and I’m still wanting to work through this subject.

Essentially, my question was ‘why is the idea of real presence in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper a necessary doctrine?’. Christ’s language when he institutes the Supper is clearly metaphorical and so, I ask, what compels us to argue that Christ is ‘actually’ there (whether physically through transubstantiantion, or spiritually through…who knows what)?

Further, referring to Joshua 24:25 – 27, I asked the following:

Are not metaphors, signs, and memorials powerful and efficacious in themselves? Does claiming that Joshua’s stone did or didn’t have ears in any way weaken or strengthen the power of that symbol to convict and condemn a backsliding Israel? Is it even a relevant point of discussion?

I received several responses from friends named Matt, the meat of which follow:

“[T]he thesis of the post seems a bit silly. Why the real presence? Why the crucifixion? Seems a bit over the top, n’est pas? A bit gauche if you ask me. But it’s not about what we think makes sense to us, it’s about what is. The gospel is foolishness to the wise of the world.

To deal a bit more directly with the question, it is a recreation of the incarnation. In the Eucharist, we become like our Blessed Mother. We are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and we receive Christ into our being, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. If Our Lady had received only the Spirit of Christ, there would be no incarnation, no resurrection, and no salvation for the world.

Thus, if we do not receive Totus Christus the same is true. We will have no incarnation, no resurrection, and no salvation.

Besides which, to say we can ‘feed on Christ’ in a spiritual way without receiving Him physically is to say that the Spirit and Body of Christ are somehow separable, which is the basis for pretty much every heresy the Martyrs of the Early Church died to fight against. All of those heresies in some way cut against the notion that Christ was inseparably and entirely God and Man.

Finally, the witness of the Early Church from as far back as the late first century is perfectly clear in teaching that the Eucharist is the corporeal Body and Blood of our Lord, so fiercely that one Early Father, who’s name escapes me at present, said that anyone who does not believe this doctrine is not worthy of the name Christian. There is absolutely unanimous consent amongst the Fathers on this topic.

I guess it seems like a sort of myopic view to ask why something that was believed by all Christians everywhere for 1500 years and is still believed by the vast majority of Christians worldwide needs to be true. Why’s the sky blue for crying out loud?” –Matt Yonke

And from another Matt entirely…

“I think the fundamental issue Christ the Mediator. No man has seen God, no one knows the Father save the Son. But for Christ the Mediator, the sacrifice to the Father part of the Cross is unemphasized (though still important) and the Incarnation itself, and Christ pouring Himself out to us is emphasized. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” It is of vital importance that that Light which was the Life of men has been manifested, and we sense Him. And it is important that He is a man because our fellowship with God is a fellowship with the Man Jesus Christ.

But if the Sacrament is not Christ, first, we are not rightly Christians but Spiritians, or Yahvists. Christ was present for them, but He is not a mediator here and now for you and I. We have access to God through another, the Spirit, and not Christ. We may be, by the Spirit, lifted up to communion with the Father and Christ, but Christ is not Himself a mediator. But the Scriptural doctrine is we need contact with Christ Himself to approach God. It is through the veil of His Flesh that we enter into the Holy of Holies.

Similarly, Christ for us, Christ the Mediator, not only brings us into the Presence of the Father, but cleanses us from our sins. Not from the consequences of our sins–God’s wrath–but from our sins themselves. It is by being in the Light, as the Father is in the Light, that we are saved. It is when we are in the Light–that is in the Presence of Jesus–that the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from sin. Our sin is removed (not the consequences of sin, but the sin itself) when we are in the presence of Jesus. And again, if it is not when we are in the presence of Jesus, but merely of the Spirit that sin is removed (not that the presence of the Spirit does not remove sin), we are not rightly Christians, but Spiritians. We are physical and Jesus is physical. His blood is physical and His flesh is physical. We are in the presence of Him, of His flesh and His blood, when He is physically present. To have our sins removed (and not merely their consequence) we must be physically sprinkled with the physical blood of Jesus. We must be sanctified by eating the Flesh of the True Pascal Lamb. As the Levites were made holy by eating the Old Covenant sacrifices, so we are made Holy by eating Christ.

Again, our unity with the Father and the Spirit is not only by through and in Christ, but our unity with one another is through Christ alone. But the Apostle Paul tells us that our unity is through the Bread alone. “For we being many are one body and one bread because we partake of that one bread.” Pastor Wilson rightly pointed out Sunday that there are only two tables in I Corinthians, the table of demons, and the table of Christ. So we eat of the same table wherever we receive the Sacrament. But he failed to note that the Apostle does not merely link the tables by the host, but also by the Food. “For we being many are one body and one bread because we partake of the one bread.” It is the unity of the bread that unites all Christians. It is because you and I partake of the same one bread that we are both united.

And if we look at the gospel narrative there is a bit more than we typically suppose. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Christ is instituting the new Passover. Christ seated at the table is the new lamb, the bread and the wine the new Matza and cup of blessing. But all the old types find their realization in Christ. The new Adam is Christ. The new Abel is Christ. The new Seth is Christ. etc. But the new Matza and cup are similarly Christ. But they are the Bread and Wine of the Sacrament. Therefore the Bread and Wine are Christ.

Likewise the Manna is a symbol of the Sacrament. But the Old Testemant signs are not signs of signs, but of Christ, our king and our God. Therefore the Sacrament is Christ.

Or to make my last point clearer:

“The significance of the bread and wine (which is enormous, certainly) is fulfillment of the Passover meal and an establishment of this new covenant”

But the Old Covenant signs are not signs of signs, signs of emptiness, of signs of the True Form, of Christ. The Passover meal is fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper, but that means all parts of the Supper are Christ–everything in the Old Covenant finds it’s fullfilment in Christ–and so the Bread and the Wine, the fulfillment of the Passover, are Christ. – Matt Petersen

I am working up a response to these two helpful remarks. In the meantime, don’t feel obligated to wait for me. And for fun (if ‘fun’ is the right word), see if you can work Joshua 24:25-27 into your thoughts.

On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

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15 comments on “In Which We Resurrect the Real Presence

  1. If you don’t have anything particular to say on this subject, or you just scrolled down without reading to see if there were any comments, you may comment on my new layout, and whether you like it or find it dull.

  2. kyriosity says:

    Am I really communing with Jesus, or am I communing with a metaphor of Jesus?

    The template is surprisingly different. Not bad, just not what I’d expect from you.

  3. Well I think that second matt is a genius.

    Seriously, I’m just posting because when I hover over the link to my blog and it lists “related searches” one of them is “Michael Jordan.” :-)

    Thanks for the post.

  4. Valerie,

    i’m not sure i’m sold on this one either. feels claustrophobic to me for some reason. anyway…

    communing with Jesus is not the same thing as chewing on him.
    last time you came and visited, i think you’d say we communed with you, not the cake; si?

  5. kyriosity says:

    Right. But your question was about “the idea of real presence in the sacrament.” Real presence in the elements? No. Metaphor works fine there for me. He’s not literally a vine or a sheep-gate, either. Real presence in the sanctuary? Yes. He is really present.

  6. Valerie,

    fair enough. however, those are two different things.

    The Roman and Orthodox communions teach some form of Transubstantiation (actually physically the body and blood).

    Lutherans teach the ‘Sacramental union’ (sometimes called consubstantiation), which claims that the body and blood of our Saviour are truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms of the elements (see the Augsburg Confession).

    Methodists teach that the sacrament is truly a ‘re-presentation’ of Christ, though the physical details are a ‘mystery’.

    The Reformed are a little more varied, but Calvin asserted that, though nothing is taken from the Supper without faith, still the body and blood of Christ are truly given to all partakers.

    Most Zwinglian evangelicals reject the whole thing and say the supper is just a memorial, like a moment of silence for the fallen (usually also denying the efficacy of the sacraments).

    anyway, point being that the debate isn’t so much over whether Jehovah is present with us when we worship, but whether (or how) Jesus is present in the elements of the supper. this debate is nowhere near as simple as Protestant v. Roman.

    and while i’m still very much up in the air here, it seems to me that something about the nature of metaphor and symbol is being ignored in these views. that said, i’m open to correction and direction on this topic.

  7. Valeire,

    Just a quick comment, there is a difference between the times when Jesus says he is a vine, and the words of institution. First, all the other metaphors say “I am the vine / shepherd / etc.” only in the Sacrament do we say “The vine is me.” And second, only in the Sacrament does Christ say some particular thing is him “This is my body” not “bread is my body.”

    Anyway, I’m not sure what to conclude from that, but it is noteworthy.

  8. Nathan says:

    While I have written and lost a much longer post, at this time, I’m not about to rewrite it. Maybe later. So for now, one question will do. When Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me,’ what was the difference between the bread as his body and the hands that held that bread?

  9. Nathan says:

    Regarding layout, color: good, picture: the fact that there is a header is an improvement, but the jury is still out on the content; overall format: ok. But who am I to judge, I’m a lazy minimalist.

    On that last note, as much as I think I appreciate the finer things of aesthetic worship and nuanced theology, there is this tendency that keeps floating to the surface of my mind when I read these postings and I think it is called biblicism.

    Also, anyone willing to throw out onto the table the working definition of sacrament being wielded above?

  10. Ben:

    I am really confused why it would be claustrophobic. Can you find a time when “Abra will be there” would sound claustrophobic?

    Maybe if someone told you “that photo you have in your wallet is really her” it wouls seem really odd, but I am having trouble understanding why “Though you thought you were only touching a statue of Abra, she was actually there and you were holding her hand” would be claustrophobic. Can you help me out a little?

    Matt

  11. petersen,

    you’ve accidentally conflated two conversations. i was talking to valerie about the layout of the website (a different one than the current):nothing to do with the real presence.
    so being a little confused is probably just fine. :)

  12. ok…that makes more sense. :-)

  13. Justin Spencer says:

    One connection which I can draw between the Joshua text and the institution of the Lord’s Table is the concrete nature of each metaphor used. Joshua pointed to a specific rock and said, “See…THIS stone.” Jesus held up a singular and very specific piece of bread and said, “THIS is my body broken for you.” In this sense these are not like other metaphors used in Scripture; they are more specific.

    I think we would look at quite a few Scriptural metaphors differently if they were used in this way. For example: What if Christ pointed to a specific grape vine and said “I am THAT vine” instead of “I am THE vine.”

    That wasn’t an answer, and it may not have been helpful, but there you go.

    Oh, and by the way, hi.

  14. hey justin. thanks for the comments. and hi back at you.

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