Saturday, January 29, 2011

An Offhand Comment Finds Deep Trouble

An offhand comment in a Bible class about the Baptizer's call to "Look to the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world" and how we sing those words to the Christ who is present in bread and wine set off an interesting and rather far flung discussion.  On the one hand I discovered a deep denial of the Real Presence (not from intent but from a failure to connect the dots or consider the consequences).  On the other hand I wonder if there is an almost denial of the incarnation -- that God could choose to become flesh and blood within the limitations of that mortal body.

Anyway the conversation began with a question about adoring the Christ who is come to us in the bread which is His body and the wine which is His blood.  Surely we do not worship bread.  But Christ is in the bread in such way that we from our earthly vantage point cannot separate them.  Lutheran Eucharistic theology is very incarnational at this point.  But we cannot worship bread.  Would we worship Christ standing before us in His flesh and blood.  Well sure, but Christ is not standing before us in His flesh and blood.  But surely He is as His Word does promise "This is My body... This is My blood."  Well, that's different.  And here we come to the main issue of the person.  The Christ who is present in the Sacrament is not quite the same Christ who is incarnate and the presence of Christ in the Sacrament is not of the same reality or corporeal nature as Christ incarnate.  I am summarizing a conversation that went on for much longer.

The issue is that we have failed to teach people the doctrine of the Real Presence or else we have taught it in such a way that some have gotten the distinct impression that the Christ who comes to us in the Eucharist is a different Christ or at least His presence is less real, less concrete, less, well, corporeal, than the Christ who walked Galilee, who mounted the altar of the cross, who suffered, died and rose again.  In essence, a spiritualized presence in which it is, at least to them, idolatry to venerate Christ during the Agnus Dei or apply to the Christ who is present in the bread and cup the words of John.  Here the liturgy functions as it is supposed to function -- the corrective and the positive doctrinal statement that guarantees and affirms what Scripture teaches and our Confessions affirm.

Now I know that receptionists will flood the comments with the idea that Christ is not zapped into the bread and cup until the contents are taken in the mouth but for this error I would again point to the liturgy and its corrective and teaching function.  What sense is there to the Agnus Dei if Christ is not located where His Word says He is at that time?  It is foolishness to sing about the Lamb of God who is out there somewhere while bread and wine have been set apart by the Word (dare I say voice of Christ speaking through the Pastor).

I know this is somewhat disjointed but so was the conversation and it is a startling reminder that no matter how much we say or how often we think we say or how clear the liturgy is in proclaiming this truth, we are up against much in maintaining and confessing both the Real Presence and what effects that presence.  This was a surprising reminder to me that what we often assume can be a more powerful agent to inform faith than what we have been taught.  So again, I would say, the catechism still needs to be heard -- even among those who have been Lutheran all their lives.


Anonymous said...

The mystique of the Reformed churches
is the spiritual presence of Christ
in the Eucharist. While the Lutheran
theology understands that the body
and blood of Christ in the Sacrament
is the same body and blood which was
given and shed on the cross. There
is no doubt in the New Testament that
the Word of God causes it to be
Christ's body and blood in the

Anonymous said...

We talk a lot about the Real
Presence of Christ in the Sacrament
and rightly so. Yet the REAL POWER
of Christ in the Sacrament is also
important. The Lord's Supper is given to us as sustenance to refresh
and strengthen our faith. It also
gives us the forgiveness of our sins
so that we can be reconciled to our
Lord without any merit or worthiness
on our part. The Eucharist truly is
a Means of Grace.

William Weedon said...

Pr. Peters,

Much joy in Dr. Hardt's treatise on the Supper:

I especially enjoyed this:

Just a few months before his death, Luther still proclaims his spontaneous and unrestrained confession to the adoration of the Sacrament: "In the venerable Sacrament of the Altar, which one is to worship with all honor, the natural body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is veritably given and received, both by the worthy and the unworthy." AE 35:344

Mark Daniels said...

The last paragraph of your post says a lot. After twenty-six years as a pastor, I am constantly amazed by how the very basics of the Bible and the Catechism are foreign to people who have been Lutheran their entire lives. Keep the faith!

Blessings in Christ,
Mark Daniels

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why it matters when the miracle occurs. Christ gave his physical body and blood to be eaten and drank, so that we remember his sacrifice on the cross forgiving our sins. That's it.

It's not given to parade around, to worship apart from eating and drinking, or to add to our sins when it is inevitably spilled or mistreated. Those prone to the sin of moralism will make up a bunch of rules about it, and those prone to spiritual laziness will be irreverent about it, and those prone to over-reliance on human reason will baselessly speculate on God's miracles. Just as with every other gift from God.


John said...

Could one reason that folks who have been Lutherans all their lives and who are lacking in the basics be because the basics were never again taught to them in the church after Confirmation?