prayer for the Epiphany

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

not discerning the Lord’s body

When the Corinthian church ate together in what was perhaps called a love feast, a full meal, we read that the wealthier folk arrived first and instead of waiting for their brethren, ate and drank, even getting drunk. They were sinning at the Lord’s Table, failing to discern the Lord’s body.

Into the history of the church we see different interpretations as to what the Lord’s body in Holy Communion means. For the Catholics the bread and wine are transubstantiated, or changed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Those who do not accept that dogma by faith are not allowed to participate in the sacrament. The Lutherans barely departed from that with their doctrine of consubstantiation. Ditto with the Roman Catholics except that the Lord’s actual body and blood are with the bread and wine. Of course miracle and mystery accompanies both understandings.

John Calvin and others provide a better understanding, though I’m not sure it can be supported by scripture. By the Spirit we share in the heavenly partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in some mystical sense. So that in Holy Communion we do partake of Christ’s body and blood spiritually, though not materially. That interpretation would seem to reflect the Lord’s words in John 6 that when he was referring to the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, his words were spirit and life. This understanding is also sacramental.

The Anabaptists saw Holy Communion as strictly an ordinance, not a sacrament. It was a memorial, remembering what Christ had done for them, for the world in his death. 1 Corinthians 11 and the gospel accounts of the last supper indicate that this much is true. It is indeed a memorial.

I have in the past adopted John Calvin’s view. But I wonder if that position isn’t saying more than what scripture actually says. 1 Corinthians 10 does indeed seem to indicate that we do share in the body and blood of Christ in partaking Holy Communion. But I have to wonder if that can be pressed beyond the idea that by faith we share in the benefits of his broken body and blood in our participation at the Lord’s table. I am thinking now, no.

There is one thing for certain. Not discerning the Lord’s body to the Corinthians meant that they failed to acknowledge all who belonged to Christ. After all, as the same letter says again and again, we are the body of Christ. It is God’s people through faith in Christ who are Christ’s body. The rich did not acknowledge their poor brethren. And therefore failed to discern Christ’s body. And as a result were judged by the Lord in their grievous sin.

What I take home from this is that Holy Communion is a participation together by faith in remembering our Lord’s broken body and poured out blood for us, so that by faith we are forgiven of our sins, and made one body, indeed Christ’s own body, by the Spirit. So that for me this practice becomes in a sense horizontal- with others in Jesus, as well as vertical- between ourselves and God. The Lord blesses this practice which actually he commanded, since his redemptive work is in large part about God making us one in him. So that in that sense it is indeed mystical, of the Spirit. A celebration and thanksgiving of this grace given to us, in and through Jesus. As we carry on as his body in and for the world.