Friday, September 15, 2023

Out there some where

Of all the ceremonies that some wonder about or have questions about or that just plain gets their dander up, the elevation of the Sacrament seems to arouse all of these. Some insist it is a lame borrowing of Roman theology and practice. Others worry that pastors just like playing around, toying with ritual as if were a hobby. Still others just plain get mad. 

The connection between the confession of the Real Presence and the elevation is vastly understated by Lutherans. Sure, in some, perhaps many, places Lutherans omitted the elevation, even within Luther's own parish and by his own pastor. It seems that it was a rather knee jerk reaction on the part of those who wanted to eliminate the elevation and one that Luther did not make even though he did not say much when others did.

Among those who have restored the elevation, adding in another ceremony is hardly a significant factor. Instead, inherent in this is a very pastoral concern and one that relates to both difficult issues of who communes and the age of those who commune. It is one tangible reminder that at least initially among Lutherans the liturgical movement was a pastoral movement and a practical one and not the kind of academic and theoretical one it might have become.

When I talk to folks who are not members of the parish or within our fellowship in the Synod but who wish to commune, one of the questions I ask regards what they believe about the Real Presence. It is not the determining factor but important. Oddly enough, the people who get it wrong are often those you would expect to get it right. Sometimes the Baptists sound more Lutheran than Roman Catholics sound like, well, Roman Catholics. The issue of the Real Presence is not simply if Christ is present but where and when. These questions are answered clearly in the elevation. Christ is not simply present everywhere but where His Word says He is present and that His Word effects that presence so that it is what He says it is -- the bread His body and the wine His blood. 

Lutherans historically elevate the Sacrament (following the consecration of the elements, each in turn) and the exhibition of the Sacrament at the Pax Domini. While we do not locate a specific moment in time, we do insist that when Christ says it is, it is what He says it is. Geographically, this is not about a presence out there some where but right here and right now -- in this cup and in this bread. It is not simply about any bread or any cup but the one the pastor is elevating at those moments. According to Martin Luther, this is not some peculiar ceremony but one that confesses what the Word of Christ says. So, according to Dr. Luther, it is as if the pastor is saying; Look, dear Christian, right here is the Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins. The exact same things happens on a smaller scale when the same pastor holding up the Sacrament before each communicant, and, without equivocation or explanation simply says that This is My body/blood. In the distribution formula, the words apply specifically to the communicant: "The Body of Christ, given for you." "The Blood of Christ, poured out for you."  This is one of the reasons why I do not like the older Missouri practice of dividing up the Verba Christi and repeating a few of the words before each communicant. What clearly is happening here is that the pastor is saying that the bread and wine he is distributing is the body and blood and that this real presence is for sure by the time of the distribution (and, in all practical senses of Christ's words) until it is eaten and drunk -- whenever that may be).

By the pastor elevating and displaying the Sacrament before the people, He invites them to acknowledge and confess Christ's presence and He sets the appropriate place for the Adoration of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament to take place. In this acknowledgment and confession, the people affirm that they believe the Word of Christ and confess that they are receiving nothing less that the body and blood o Christ. They are, to put this in Biblical words, discerning the Lord's body and blood and confessing it in response to this invitation and they are doing so in preparation for the reception of that body and blood. When St. Paul insists that those who commune must discern the Lord's body and blood, he is not speaking of perfunctory act but the very adoration that accompanies the elevation. The scandal of the Real Presence is just that: this bread and wine are not to be treated as if they were Christ or as you would Christ if He were present now but precisely because Christs is present, according to His Word, where and when He has promised to be. Is this not part of discerning the Lord's body and blood? The elevation and adoration apply not to the Sacrament as it relates to its creative identity but precisely because Christ the Lord is present (we have already confessed this in the Formula SD VII.126). Discerning the Lord's Body means presumes that we recognize, confess, and receive Christ in "this bread" and in "this cup," and if we are not willing to adore Christ present by and according to His own Word, we should not be approaching the altar rail at all.

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

Thank you for this essay, Pastor.