Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wondrous and Wonderful Sacrament
The collect is a revision of the one attributed to Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. The original wrote: Deus, qui nobis sub Sacraménto mirábili passiónis tuae memóriam reliquísti: tríbue, quaésumus, ita nos Córporis et Sánguinis tui sacra mystéria venerári, ut redémptionis tuae fructum in nobis iúgiter sentiámus. Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre, in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus per ómnia saécula saeculórum. Amen.
This translates as: God, Who hast left to us under a wonderful Sacrament a memorial of Thy Passion, grant, we beseech [Thee], that we may in such manner venerate the holy mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may constantly feel the fruit of Thy redemption within us; Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God through all the ages of ages. Amen.
The Lutheran revision is actually the work of the Anglicans who are rather genius at the language of the collects both eloquent and compact. Whatever the source, it is a powerful statement. First of all it reminds us that this a a wonderful and wondrous Sacrament. There are those, even within Lutheranism, who are not so sure on this point. Their piety is only slightly affected by the sacramental presence of Christ and, I must admit, I feel some sorry for them. The Lutheran piety is eucharistic, just as the catholic piety through the ages is eucharistic. While there may have been abuses among those whose zeal emphasized sacrifice over sacrament, to which the Reformation of Luther acted to correct or re-balance those excesses, it is a mark of our confusion over who we are that the Sacrament is not the source and summit of our parish liturgical life and our individual devotional lives as Lutheran Christians.
The next phrase reminds us of the words spoken each week in the LSB Divine Service (at least II & III): As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes... The cross is the center of this sacramental eating and drinking and it is the center of the witness of those who commune. And then we are pointed to the fact that what we receive is not rational or even explainable (no matter whether you resort to the philosophical grandness of transubstantiation or smugly think that Luther's "in, with, and under" is another version of the same reasoned explanation). It is a mystery -- bread and wine that become by His Word the body and blood of our Lord. Now I know some receptionists will write in about this and others will say that it is not Lutheran to say "becomes" -- well, I say read your Confessions and read the orthodox Lutheran fathers (Chemnitz, Gerhard, etc.). We proclaim a mystery, we receive a mystery -- that is what the Word of Christ proclaims it -- His flesh hidden in bread and His blood hidden in wine. Real food and real drink for real people and yet more than is tasted by the tongue -- only faith can receive its greatness and blessing and respond alone: Amen.
Finally that goal -- that the fruits of His blessed gift of redemption (communicated here in this wonderful and wondrous Sacrament) might be manifest in us, His unworthy and humble children. This Sacrament is not some solemn refuge in which we hide with God. This Sacrament works to equip us for our baptismal vocation of worship, witness, prayer, mercy, and service. The fruits of our sacramental eating and drinking are not some deep, personal feeling but a cross shaped life of passionate proclamation and compassionate caring. For surely we take this grace in vain if it remains as hidden in us as it is in the bread and the cup -- we are not called by Christ to remain hidden in the world but obvious. We do not distinguish ourselves by personal righteousness but by Christ's own righteousness placed over us by baptism. It is not our behavior that we display to the world but the Gospel, not our accomplishment but Christ's work in us and through us. The fruits of His redeeming work are not our claim or glory but the glory of Christ who works in us and the claim of God whose Spirit is the worker of holiness (sanctification) and the equipper for service (both witness and mercy).
The angels can only adore Christ as He comes to His people in bread and wine. Truly we also adore Him; in the Agnus Dei we sing our adoration to the Christ come to us in bread which is His body and in the cup of His blood. But we are not left only to adore, and in this way are made higher than the angels, for we are given this flesh as food and this blood as our drink. I can only think that they are envious of us and of the wonderful and wondrous gift of communion (at least if they are allowed this desire).
I love this collect and how it brings so many things together on a day often skipped over on our way to the cross.... for truly in this Sacrament He has left us not only memorial but means, not only grace but gift... Our hearts and lives as Christian people find this eucharistic feast both the source of our lives and health in faith and the summit to which we look forward each week -- at least until it is replaced with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end...
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"Strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another..."
How can we who receive Christ crucified and risen in the sacramental union not begin to love as He loves? Not begin to feel the compassion he feels? not begin to weep as He weeps? Not begin to share his triumph over sin and death?
The Lord is at the center of all things and yet in such a quiet, unobtrusive, elusive way. He lives with us, even physically, but not in the same physical way that other elements are present to us. The Eucharist is the other world present in this one - what a comforting presence! (Paraphrased by ErnestO of a Homily of Abbot Bamberger)
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