Thursday, April 6, 2023

Blood of the Covenant. . .




 I grew up when the Sacrament of the Altar was offered four times a year and when most folks did not commune every time it was offered.  These were days in which the Sacrament was more theoretical than practical, when we believed in something that was, at best, an addition to the normal Lord's Day of Word and prayer.  Thankfully, the days when this was the norm have long ago passed and it is the rarity when a congregation has less than twice a month offering of the Sacrament.  While there is certainly a way to go, this has been a great improvement on the infrequent celebrations of the past.

That said, I am not at all sure we have regained the Eucharistic piety of the time before.  We receive the Lord's Body and Blood more frequently than in the past but ours is not yet a piety that expects and even requires the feast.  I wish it could be said that we are making progress in this but the choice of how often to offer the Sacrament remains rather local and the decision of whether or not to commune when it is offered remains equally individual.  Perhaps we have not quite understood the Sacrament in the unique terms of the readings appointed for this day (Series A).

This is the blood of the covenant.  Those are Jesus' words on the night in which He was betrayed.  They are words set within a context.  Blood and covenant go together -- from the Passover marking of the doorpost and that covenant relationship sealed in blood right down to Jesus' own words in the institution narrative.  Along the way there is the covenant blood that sealed the relationship between God and His people as Moses read the commandments and all the people said they would keep them.  From Jeremiah to Zechariah, covenant blood was the mark of God's relationship with His people.  Hebrews connects this to Christ in a profound way.  Covenant blood is the mark of the relationship God has with His people in Christ.

We meet Christ in the Sacrament now when we feel the need or even feel ready for Holy Communion.  We meet Christ there because that is where Christ has placed Himself and where He has made Himself accessible.  The onus is not on whether we will commune but instead on what could possible keep us from receiving the Sacrament.  The burden is not placed upon the Spirit and our conscience convincing us that we ought commune but those rare occasions when the Spirit and our conscience convinces us not to commune.  For most of us, those ought to be rather few and far between in our Christian lives.  That does not mean we commune without a thought or without meaningful preparation.  Though this does not make us worthy of the Sacrament, that does not mean that godly preparation of body and spirit through fasting and prayer are useless or unnecessary or unfruitful.  Just the opposite, these means of preparation aid and assist our koinonia in Christ's flesh and blood.  Nor does this mean that it does not matter who communes.  This is not about those who do not belong to the fellowship of this altar in this place.  This is about the folks who regularly gather around that table.

Because God has connected His covenant with blood and this connection is made right down to Christ's Words of Institution, our communion at this divine service is itself a confession of this connection and of the fruits of this covenant relationship.  We commune not simply for personal benefit but as corporate identity -- this communion shows that we have been made partakers of this covenant and that this covenant is our new identity in Christ.  We say this every time we quote St. Paul:  As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup we proclaim His death until He comes again.  A Eucharistic piety is built upon this relationship between the covenant in Christ and the blood of Christ we receive in this Sacrament.  It is a hunger and thirst for the blood of the covenant and a desire to live within the fellowship of this Table and receive the fruits of this communion always just as it is also a bold confession of what is received here and what the fruits of this covenant relationship are (the forgiveness of sins).

We make much of choice -- what church to belong to, whether to attend, etc...  Surely our communion upon the blood of Christ and this affirmation of where, why, and what benefit that covenant blood is shed is not merely a matter of whim or the feeling of the moment.  Surely our communion in Christ's blood is our duty as well as our delight and the most ordinary and yet profound mark of our belonging to Christ and our identity in Christ's body.  Because it is the Blood of the Covenant given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, our place within God's House and at the rail are not simply a matter for us to choose but the clear expectation of all of God's baptized children and not to participate is an exception to that.

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