Friday, May 22, 2020
After the eating and the drinking. . .
That said, one of the great weaknesses revealed by the corona virus and its role in limiting or even shutting down the churches has been the fact that for our all work in restoring the weekly Eucharist in practice, we have not been so successful in restoring it in piety. In other words, the Eucharist has been treated like a medicine you take in order to relieve you of the responsibility to change your lifestyle. If you have cholesterol, you take pill and continue your unhealthy diet. So the lack of the Eucharist has been for some the deprivation of the pill that makes them spiritually healthy and exposed the lack of a piety other than the Eucharist.
The Sacrament has come into focus in part because of the pandemic. Virtual communions, consecrations by video, and drive by communions have all been offered as a means to keep people receiving something though outside not only the context of the Divine Service but also outside the intent. For the eating and drinking are not part of some individual relationship to God in isolation nor is the eating and drinking the end of it all. It is certainly a good thing that we are receiving the Sacrament more frequently than in the past and it seems that this is in part because those who commune are convinced that they are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ (though the manner of that reception remains an unsettled question for some). The down side in all of this is that the discussion seems to stop with the eating and drinking. The miraculous pill has been received and now it is time to go home. Or it could mean to go back to the sinful lives that caused the need for the medicine in the first place.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God! In these few words we are reminded that as we depart from the House of the Lord, we leave not to return to sinful ways with a clear conscience but to love and serve the Lord. The Eucharist is not the pill we take to avoid changing our lives but the very means by which those lives are changed. We cannot and do not cooperate with the justification but we can and should cooperate with the sanctification that flows from the forgiveness of our sins and our communion upon Christ's flesh and blood.
Though Lutherans are loathe to speak this way, it is the Eucharist that manifests us as the Church -- the body of Christ receiving the Body of Christ. And it is the Eucharist enables us to become what we are. Now before somebody suggests that I have forgotten the Word, the Eucharist does not exist apart from the Word of Christ for it is the Word and the element that make the Sacrament and the liturgy of the Divine Service is itself Scripture said and sung -- from beginning to end. So I am not pitting one against the other but looking at the fullness of our life together around the Word and the Altar of the Lord. The point, however, is that neither the voice of the Word nor our participation/fellowship in the Body and Blood of Christ are the end but the means by which we are becoming what God has declared us to be. We cannot effect the declaration of grace but we can cooperate with the Spirit in becoming what God has declared us to be. No, we do not take credit for it (Christ in us) but that does not let us off the hook. We are not here to receive a God pill so that we can live in the ruts of our old lives without any guilt feelings. Christ lives in us that we may become ever more like Him.
Receiving the Sacrament does not make up for a lack of piety nor does it excuse or justify a lack of effort or desire to be sanctified. That is an abuse of the Sacrament. As some have noted, the emergency conditions of this past few months may have revealed the shallowness of our Eucharistic theology and practice and the emptiness of our devotional life rooted in the Word of the Lord and manifested in prayer. It may have also exposed the fact that our tendency to turn God's grace into something cheap and easy has kept us from using these means to strengthen us for the fight against evil and emboldening us to live new, holy, upright, and godly lives. The mode of the Church on earth is, until the last day, always militant. The mode of our lives in Christ is also militant, always fighting and always battling the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh in order to that grace may abound in us and we may grow up in Christ to maturing of faith and life as the baptized.
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Perhaps Lutherans should emphasize the Eucharistic sacrifices of the priesthood of believers as found in the Apology:
“[E]ucharistic sacrifices, which are called sacrifices of praise, Lev. 3:1f.; 7:11f.; Ps. 56:12f., namely, the preaching of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of saints, yea, all good works of saints. These sacrifices are not satisfactions for those making them, or applicable on behalf of others, so as to merit for these, ex opere operato, the remission of sins or reconciliation. For they are made by those who have been reconciled. 26] And such are the sacrifices of the New Testament, as Peter teaches, 1 Pet. 2:5: An holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Spiritual sacrifices, however, are contrasted not only with those of cattle, but even with human works offered ex opere operato, because spiritual refers to the movements of the Holy Ghost in us. Paul teaches the same thing Rom. 12:1: Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is your reasonable service. Reasonable service signifies, however, a service in which God is known, and apprehended by the mind, as happens in the movements of fear and trust towards God. Therefore it is opposed not only to the Levitical service, in which cattle are slain, but also to a service in which a work is imagined to be offered ex opere operato, The Epistle to the Hebrews 13:15, teaches the same thing: By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; and he adds the interpretation, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. He bids us offer praises, i.e., prayer, thanksgiving, confession, and the like. These avail not ex opere operato, but on account of faith. This is taught by the clause: By Him let us offer, i.e., by faith in Christ.
“In short, the worship of the New Testament is spiritual, i.e., it is the righteousness of faith in the heart and the fruits of faith. It accordingly abolishes the Levitical services. [In the New Testament no offering avails ex opere operato, sine bono motu utentis, i.e., on account of the work, without a good thought in the heart.] And Christ says, John 4:23. 24: True worshipers shalt worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
The Eucharist is no “pill.” Yes, it is the medicine of immortality as Ignatius Of Antioch says. It is also as Pr. Peter Bender (Peace Sussex, WI) says. Every normal food you eat eventually becomes you, but this food causes you to become what it is. We cannot partake of the Eucharist believing what Christ has said of it, and allow ourselves to remain satisfied sinners.
Militant, indeed. May our Savior grant me strength to fight the fight daily.
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