In the book of Leviticus, Moses received from the LORD (Lev 23) a mandate regarding what are called “holy convocations” (verse 4 ff).  This list included Sabbath, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of First Fruits, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah, or the New Year), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Feast of Huts, Sabbath Year, and the Year of Jubilee.  These Feasts connected the worship of God with concrete historical events, provided annual opportunities for theological instruction, and often included a symbolic communal meal.
Three of the above-mentioned feasts were considered pilgrimage feasts because “every male Jew of twelve years and older was obliged each year to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for at least one of these feasts.”   These particular festivals were connected to flocks or crops, and included Passover (which fused with the Feast of Unleavened Bread during the Exodus event), The Feast of Weeks (later called Pentecost) and the Feast of Huts.  The additional feasts of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Purim were feasts that commemorated God’s saving events.

The Covenantal Meal
The typical Jewish meal was far more than a mere nourishing necessity.  It must be understood as an act of fellowship and acceptance; in its eating, a community was formed.  The meal was also used as a covenant meal, and as such was integral in the sealing of a covenant.  Psalm 23, for example, is exemplary in its covenantal language, listing the many benefits of making a covenant with the Shepherd-King, Jehovah-Raah (the LORD my Shepherd).  Verse two of Psalm 23 speaks of being led to places of restful provision, while in verse three the subordinate is guided to successful living (leads in paths of righteousness).  Verse five reinforces the Shepherd-King’s presence and protection in dangerous places, and then describes a typical covenant meal between a vassal and his overlord (prepares a table in the presence of enemies).

The Christian Feasts
During the Apostolic era, the early Church gradually laid the Jewish feasts aside.  The reason for this is twofold: Jesus became the once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 9:10; 10:10), and his resurrection canceled the requirement of ceremonial law (Col 2:13-14).  Still, Jesus was well aware of the Jewish calendar, and it is an interesting sidelight to examine certain New Testament events within the context of the pilgrimage feasts.  During the Feast of Booths, for example, Jesus taught and prophesied in the temple (Jn 7:14-39).  The Holy Spirit descended (Acts 2) during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost and, later, Paul hurried to Jerusalem for its remembrance (Acts 20:16).  Within the context of Passover, Jesus (age 12) talks with the teachers in the temple (Lk 2:41 ff), cleanses the temple (Jn 3:13-17) and endures his passion (Mt 26:17 ff).  It is also within this cultural context that Jesus chose to institute a new feast.

The Gospel Accounts
Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that Jesus chose to institute his feast squarely on the first day of the Feast of the Passover, also known as the feast of Unleavened Bread (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7).  The feast would no longer be simply a time to remember an event; it would now represent an entirely new covenant!  The sacrificial undertones of this new feast are unmistakable, as this is also the day on which the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed.  John’s Gospel, however, is different from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  In his account, John states that the supper happened “before the Feast of the Passover” (13:1).  John focuses on the fact that, at this supper, Jesus washed his Disciple’s feet,.  He does not even mention Christ’s covenantal reinterpretation of bread and wine.  This difference in timing is a small but curious inconsistency in the Gospel accounts.  John, however, does mention with the others that Jesus exposes his betrayer at this supper.  Also, the synoptic accounts of this covenant meal have an eschatological element, as each reports Jesus saying He will not drink wine again until He is rejoined with those present in his Father’s kingdom.
During the supper, Jesus utilizes terms from the Jewish table blessing (berakah) as He distributes the elements of the covenant meal to the Disciples.  The Synoptic accounts record Jesus’ actions with the words “took; blessed; broke.”  Then He gave the bread to those at the table.  Interestingly, John records the terms “took; blessed; gave” in his account of Jesus feeding the five thousand (6:11).
The institution of this new-covenant meal is best left to the words of Jesus himself.
Matthew 26:26   While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;  28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

Mark 14:22   While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.”  23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Luke 22:19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

Interestingly, John also makes reference to the eating of the body of Jesus, and the drinking of His blood.  In the previously mentioned account of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6), Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (v. 53).  Whether Jesus meant for the bread and wine to actually become his body, or merely to signify it, has led to much interpretation, division, superstition and abuse.  It is the intention of this particular lecture to simply state what is, reserving various interpretations for the final lecture in this series.  Perhaps, however, the covenant that Moses ushered in will shed some understanding upon Jesus’ reference to the blood of the covenant.
Exodus 24:5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD.  6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”  8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Jesus employs the words of Moses (“blood of the covenant”) when instituting His new-covenant meal.  Rather than a bull’s blood, however, He would use his own blood, which would be represented in the new-covenant meal by wine.  Whether this “last supper” was a Passover meal or simply a typical Jewish meal just before the Passover, there can be no misunderstanding that Jesus meant it to be a covenant meal, built on the foundation and imagery of the Passover Feast.  Exodus 12 tells the story of the Israelites’ deliverance, and the utilization of both blood and bread.  They are told in 12:14: “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.”
This verse has two important words regarding the Feast.  “Memorial” is from the Hebrew root word zeker, meaning “a memento; by implication, commemoration:—memorial, memory, remembrance, scent.”   “Ordinance” is the second significant word for our purposes.  It is from the Hebrew root choq, meaning “an enactment; hence, an appointment (of time, space, quantity, labor or usage):—appointed, bound, commandment, convenient, custom, decree(-d), due, law, measure, x necessary, ordinance(-nary), portion, set time, statute, task.”   In this way, the Israelite was to use the Feast of Unleavened Bread to remember so as to reenact, as if they themselves had gone through the Red Sea.  It is a remembering as though it were happening again.
Anamnesis is the Greek word for “remembrance” and means “recollection: — remembrance (again).”   When Jesus institutes His new-covenant meal based upon the Passover, He says “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), invoking the same kind of remembering which is applied to the Passover event.  Regarding this remembrance and celebration of Passover, the Jewish Mishnah instructs “in every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt . . .He brought us out from bondage to freedom.”  This new-covenant meal, then, is to be understood as an extension of the
Feast of Unleavened Bread, where bread and wine are used as a way to personally participate in the event of deliverance through an active and reenacting type of remembrance.
Though John’s Gospel does not include the actual words of institution, he clearly delineates both the example of the new covenant and the stipulation of this covenant.  He records Jesus saying “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (13:14-15).  At the supper, John witnesses the Initiator of the new covenant on his knees washing feet.  The stipulation of this covenant is the command to love as He has loved, and is at the heart of this new-covenant meal.  Jesus says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:34-35).   Additionally, VanderZee states “As a covenant meal, the Lord’s Supper has the character of a pledge, an absolute commitment on God’s part . . . the believing community dedicates itself anew to the service of God.”

Apostolic Application
Ten days after Christ ascended bodily into His Father’s kingdom, the full weight of the new covenant was released and realized in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as thousands responded in both repentance and baptism.  Luke, in Acts 2:42, documents that these new followers immediately incorporated the covenant meal into their gatherings, recording, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Additionally, Jude 12 tells us that agape feasts were taking place among the Christians.  As the infant Church celebrates the new covenant meal, the New Testament writers employ four different terms to refer to the feast, according to its context.  They are:
•    Breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), indicating the presence of Christ.
•    The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11), remembering the death of Christ.
•    Communion (1 Cor 10:16), suggesting a union with both Christ and others.
•    Eucharist (1 Cor. 14:16); the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew berakah
(the blessing prayer), indicating thanksgiving for the Christ event.

When the new sect begins to grow exponentially, new problems arise having to do with the covenant meal, and a new Apostle is ordained to deal with these problems.  In the process, the covenant meal gets interpreted for the expanding Church.   The apostle Paul continues Christ’s sacrificial tone when speaking of the covenant meal.  For example, in dealing with latent immorality in the Corinthian Church, he appeals to both the new covenant meal and the Passover meal in his exhortation.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7 he writes “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.”  He references the use of unleavened bread in the covenant meal to remind the Church at Corinth of their new life, purchased by the sacrifice of Christ, the Passover Lamb.  In this usage, leaven represents the blatant immorality mentioned in the prior verse.  Continuing in verse 8, Paul says “Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Paul exhorts the Church to be in the process of living out their new lives as they partake of the covenant meal, perhaps seeing obedience as the people’s role in the covenant.
The behavior at this time in the Corinthian Church is an historic parallel to the Children of Israel.  In Exodus 24 the Jews had been released from bondage and had entered into covenant with the Living God.  Yet, because Moses took a while to get the instructions for their worship (40 days) the people grew impatient and fell into both idolatry and immorality (Exodus 32).  In the Apostle Paul’s next allusion to the covenant meal, he references the Israelite’s behavior.  1 Corinthians 10:6-11 says:
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.”  8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Paul exhorts the Corinthian Church to flee from idolatry on the basis of the covenant meal. He interprets it both as a participation in the body and blood of Christ, and as a sign of their unity.  In 1 Corinthians 10:14-17 he states:

10:14   Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.  15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say.  16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.

Paul chastises the Corinthian church not only for their idolatry and immorality, but also for their division at this covenant table.
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.  19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.  20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,  21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.  22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? (1 Cor. 11:18)

The Corinthian’s failure was that they were not saving food from the Agape feast for those who arrived later (presumably those who were servants or slaves).  Additionally, it appeared that they were making distinctions between various classes of people.  While they may have used the bread and wine and said the right words to remember Christ’s act of deliverance, they had completely neglected the larger covenant stipulation to “wash one another’s feet.”
It is in the wake of this church’s disunity that Paul gives a new set of instructions for the new-covenant meal.  He says “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (11:23-26).  This passage impels the follower to full-orbed participation in the covenant meal.  The eating of the covenant meal is done squarely in the present; while at the same time it was to be a sign remembering and reenacting the past act of deliverance.  Finally, the eating is counted as a proclaiming of the past deliverance until the future return of the Covenant-Maker.



The rite of Communion has undergone much transformation and interpretation; certainly more than has Baptism.  While both rites were affected by shifts in piety and the development of Sacramental Theology, Communion has suffered the most amplification in both meaning and usage, and has, therefore, been subject to much superstition and abuse.  This lecture will consist predominantly of an overview of the centuries with regards to Communion.  Like the lecture on Baptism, I will let the main thinkers from each age explain their beliefs in their own words whenever possible.  Additionally, the prayers that were prayed as an introduction to the rite itself will be included.  This introductory prayer is known as the “anaphora,” and is helpful in offering an additional glimpse into what the Church believed itself to be doing.  Noted historian James White believed that an historical understanding is comprehensive when a student can identify the anaphora of the various periods and traditions.

Early Patristic
The earliest non-Biblical document, the Didache, seems to emphasize both the communal and eschatological nature of the covenant-meal.
Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory forever.

And concerning the broken bread:
We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory forever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

In the 2nd century, Justin Martyr’s (100-165) First Apology describes the anaphora by saying “There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.”   Two elements of his prayer are notable: the thanks and praise to the Triune God, and thanksgiving for being counted worthy to take communion. Additionally, Justin also links Communion with the incarnation of Christ, offering this word of explanation:
And this food is called among us the Eucharist . . . For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

Irenaeus (130-200) was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Revelator.  Irenaeus’ main concern was to oppose the Gnostics, who were intent on separating the two natures of flesh and spirit.  He appeals to the covenant meal in his argument by noting “For, as the bread that comes from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God is no longer ordinary bread but the Eucharist which comprises two elements, an earthly and a heavenly, so our bodies which participate in the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, since they now have the hope of resurrection.”
The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus records an anaphora that was probably used at the Church in Rome near the beginning of the 3rd century.  Hippolytus mentions the creation, the incarnation and the redemption of Mankind in his opening prayer.  He then prays the words of institution, finally going into a very telling explanation of what the Church thought they were doing.  He prays:
“Remembering therefore his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the cup, giving you thanks because you have held us worthy to stand before you and minister to you.  And we ask that you would send your holy Spirit upon the offering of your holy Church; that, gathering her into one, you would grant to all who partake of the holy things to partake for the fullness of the holy Spirit for the strengthening of faith in truth . . .”

“Remembering . . .we offer!”  To Hippolytus , it is both a memorial and an offering back to God of the elements of the covenant meal.
Origin (c. 152-253) was a Platonist, meaning his Christian thinking was colored by Plato’s notion of the world of ideas, of “ness.”  Plato taught, among other things, that physical things were merely variations on an original, which existed in “heaven.”  His analysis of Communion, therefore, emphasizes the spiritual nourishment of the Word over and above the physical action of partaking.  He explains “It is not the material bread that profits the person who eats the bread of the Lord, and does so worthily: rather it is the word which is spoken over it.”

Late Patristic
The student of Christian history will know that a great many things changed at the dawn of the 4th century.  A person would no longer be killed for being a Christian, since Constantine had legalized the religion in 313 A.D.  Christianity spread quickly, and the Bishops of the regions became the new nobility.  Hustad notes that they “adopted the symbolism of the state which was now available to them because of their power and wealth: vast buildings and properties, lavish furnishings and vestments, and impressive pageantry.”   Public worship became more formal, ornamented and priest-centered.
The various families of rites began to divide themselves into “East” and “West.”  The Doctrine of the Trinity was formulated and defended during this time, and it began to be incorporated into various rites of both liturgies.  In the East, Basil the Great (d. 379) emphasized the single operation of the Trinity in the sacraments, and adjusted his anaphora accordingly.  He also began to emphasize the “epiclesis,” or, invocation of the Holy Spirit as the One Who transformed the elements of bread and wine into agents of communion with Christ.  The Apostolic Constitutions, a late-4th century Syrian text, documents one such Eastern Eucharistic liturgy.  The anaphora progressed as follows:
•    Remembrance of creation
•    Remembrance of the Old Covenant
•    Sanctus
•    Remembrance of the New Covenant
•    Remembrance of the Last Supper
•    A statement of offering in light of this remembrance
•    Epiclesis

At this point, a summary of the Eastern Orthodox understanding can be put forth and then left, as this branch of the Christian Church has not changed significantly in the last 1500 years.  Schmemann defines the Orthodox Church as any church that celebrates the Divine Liturgy.  There are actually two liturgies (Basil and Chrysostom), and the chief difference is their anaphora.  The Eastern idea of worship is always ascending into heaven’s worship, rather than God joining their earthly worship.  Schmemann says “It is not “grace” that comes down; it is the Church that enters into “grace,” and grace means the new being, the Kingdom, the world to come.”   Therefore, when the Orthodox Church speaks of the Eucharist, it is from a heavenly perspective.  Schmemann explains: “Only in the Kingdom can we confess with St. Basil that “this bread is in very truth the precious body of our Lord, this wine the precious blood of Christ.”  What is “supernatural” here, in this world, is revealed as “natural” there.  And it is always in order to lead us “there” and to make us what we are that the Church fulfills herself in liturgy.”   Communion, in the Orthodox understanding, is inseparable from its context within the Divine Liturgy.
In the West, Ambrose (339-397) of Milan wrote that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ “by the word of prayer.”  Leo I of Rome, in the 5th century, states during an Ascension Day sermon “What was conspicuous in the Redeemer has passed over into the sacraments.”  Augustine, however, tends toward the symbolic or spiritual transformation of the bread and wine.  He explains:
“My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped…So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful:  ‘You are the body of Christ, member for member (I Cor 12:27).’  If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table!…When you hear ‘The body of Christ’–you reply ‘Amen.’  Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your Amen may ring true!

Remember:  bread doesn’t come from a single grain but from many.  When you received exorcism, you were ground.  When you were baptized, you were leavened.  When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were baked.  Be what you see:  receive what you are.”

These three Western thinkers seem to contradict one another, but “their fundamental interest is in the reality of participation in the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, rather than the transformation of the bread and wine.”   Augustine used the word Sacrementum to unpack the way in which “things or actions could have the extra dimension of a sacred meaning.”   He conceived of a two-fold link between the visible and the invisible, according to VanderZee.  The first link was that the sacrament had to hold a likeness to what it signified.  The second link was that the Sign had to be identified as a sign by a spoken word about it.   Because of his great influence, Augustine’s overemphasis of the invisible over the visible sent his successors down the path of separating the physical from the spiritual.  Thus, the deity of Christ overshadowed the humanity of Christ in their thinking.  This, coupled with the previously mentioned priest-centered worship, eventually led to an inflated view and abuse of the authority of the Church.

By the time of the Great Schism (1054) when Orthodox and Roman Catholicism officially separated, Western attention had shifted to questions about the transformation of the bread and wine.  The Western (Catholic) Church had effectively divided Communion into two parts: the sacrifice (consecration and transubstantiation) and the Communion (the meal is distributed and eaten).  Michael Welker summarizes the division.  “Is Christ charging the Disciples to keep the shared celebration of the meal, or to consecrate bread and wine?”   He notes that if it is the later, then the priest performs the central event in Communion.  This opened the way to the practice of missa privata (mass held for private devotion) and missa solitaria ( priest alone), completely eliminating the community from Communion!
By the 11th century, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) used the term “transubstantiation” to describe the change of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.  Originally, it is believed that this view was put forth to “combat the overly realistic view of the Eucharistic presence.”   The Platonist thinking of Augustine, however, was not sufficient to explain this new understanding of transubstantiation, so Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) employed Aristotelian philosophical categories.  Aristotle divided all things into substance (a thing’s essential reality), accident (that which is perceptible), and matter.  According to Aquinas, in transubstantiation the accidents of the bread and wine do not change, but the substance is transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  These philosophical nuances were difficult to put into common terms, and the original intent of counteracting an overly realistic view of the transaction was completely overshadowed by the thought of the actual presence of the body and blood of Christ.    This incredible mystery caused the table to morph into an altar of sacrifice, and it was subsequently moved farther away from the congregants.  A second result was that people took communion less often, and there was great superstition that surrounded the consecrated elements.  Instead of consuming the elements, some kept them, perhaps as a sort of good-luck charm.

The Reformers
Some of the main abuses of the Roman Church had to do with the theology and administration of Communion.  Communion had become a priestly function in which the congregation participated by observance, actually eating the meal only once per year.  Rather than being a joyful action, it had become an additional sacrifice of Christ.  Whereas the Early Church Fathers focused on what the covenant meal did to the Believers, the Medieval church focused upon the transformation of the meal itself.
Luther (1483-1546) attacked the Mass as a sacrifice of Christ.  He explained that that “we do not offer Christ as a sacrifice, but that Christ offers us.  And in this way it is permissible, yes, profitable, to call the mass a sacrifice; not on its own account, but because we offer ourselves as a sacrifice along with Christ.”    He maintained the concept of the presence of Christ at the Communion table, utilizing the term “Consubstantiation.”  This is the belief that the body and blood of Jesus Christ coexist in the consecrated elements with the natural elements of bread and wine.  His formula of Christ’s presence declared that Christ was present “under the bread, with the bread, in the bread.”
A colloquy was held between the various leaders of the Reformation in the year 1529, in Marburg, to discuss their mutual understandings on 15 separate issues.  The one issue they could not agree upon was what happened at the Communion table.  Luther’s chief opposition was Zwingli (1484-1531), who thought the Reformation had not gone far enough.  According to Zwingli, “the Lord’s Supper was only the congregation confessing its faith in obedience to our Lord’s command.”   His views form the underpinnings to the view of Communion as an Ordinance, rather than a Sacrament.
The chief debate had to do with how to interpret the word “is,” (“est” vs. “significant”) from Jesus’ phrase “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26).  While Luther took the phrase literally, Zwingli took it to mean, “This signifies my body.”  He contended that the elements memorialized the Christ event; that bread and wine were mere signifiers, rather than the work of God in the recipient’s soul.  Some consider this view to reflect the Enlightenment’s separation of matter and spirit, while others regard this to be an appropriate application of Holy Spirit-inspired anamnesis.  Suffice it to say that good Men do not agree.
John Calvin (1509-1564) took a mediating position between Luther and Zwingli by loosely aligning with both the Augustinian and Orthodox concept of Christ’s presence.  Though his intent was unity, both Luther and Zwingli rejected his view.  Calvin took the phrase “This is my body” as a promise from God that He would be present, and considered “Communion as God’s way of bending to our weakness”   Calvin insisted there was some form of real presence of Christ at the table, but (unlike the Roman Catholic position) did not try to explain what or how it happened.  “How this is done, some may deduce more clearly than others.  But be this as it may, on the one hand we must, to shut out all carnal fancies, raise our hearts on high to heaven, not thinking that our Lord Jesus Christ is so abased as to be enclosed under any corruptible elements.  On the other hand, not to diminish the efficacy of the sacred mystery, we must hold that it is accomplished by the secret and miraculous virtue of God.”   Calvin saw the Supper much the same as he saw the Word of God, and said the elements had no power apart from this Word.  He explained in his Institutes of Christian Religion, 4. 17.
-“…the Lord also intended the Supper to be a kind of exhortation for us, which can more forcefully than any other means quicken and inspire us both to purity and holiness of life, and to love, peace, and concord.  For the Lord so communicates his body to us there that he is made completely one with us and we with him.  Now, since he has only one body, of which he makes us all partakers, it is necessary that all of us also be made one body by such participation.”

-“…the right administering of the Sacrament cannot stand apart from the Word.  For whatever benefit may come to us from the Supper requires the Word….”
-“…the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God:  to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace…”

In England, the Reformation was embodied in the Anglican Church, with Archbishop Cranmer (1489-1556) taking leadership of the Church after King Henry’s death in 1547.  His main tool of reform was The Book of Common Prayer, which he published in 1549.  The title indicates that worship was to be communal, rather than a performance of the priest.  He retained much of the Roman rite, but changed the Eucharistic language to reflect the reforms of the time.  References to transubstantiation were omitted, and the sacrifice was of “praise and thanksgiving” rather than of the body and blood of Christ.  The offertory was now the congregation, who offered themselves “as a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God.”

The spectrum of belief regarding the sacraments is wide, and sometimes difficult to articulate.  The Orthodox and Roman churches operate under ex opere operato, meaning that the Sacraments communicate grace apart from the presence or lack of faith on the part of the recipient.  Luther insisted on the presence of Faith within the believer, while maintaining the concept of consubstantiation.  Calvin took a mediating position by teaching the real presence of Christ at the table without explaining how it happens.  Zwingli insisted the covenant meal to be a memorial feast and an act of obedience, in line with Ordinance Theology.  Not mentioned until now are the Society of Friends and the Salvationists, who do not observe the rites at all, believing them to be done spiritually rather than physically.


In regards to the study of Sacred Action, this has been an invaluable class for me.  The early part of my life was relatively unchurched.  After conversion, I was discipled in a parachurch organization, then served in several Free-Church denominations whose theology was largely Baptist.  I was steeped in an ordinance-experience of baptism and communion, but was devoid of Ordinance and Sacramental Theology or training.
When I began this study, I was deeply intrigued by Calvin’s view of  the “Real Presence” of Christ in the sacraments, and anticipated converting to this perspective.  Unfortunately, I was never persuaded that God had promised to act in the sacraments.  My question regarding the efficacy of the Sacred Actions remains: it is not “do they do anything?” but “must they do anything?”  As a result of these studies, I have become personally convinced of the “Ordinance” point of view, and emphasize a full-bodied celebration of  anamnesis and prolepsis as I lead and participate in communion.
The differences between the various traditions depend heavily upon the cultural perspective taken by each.  The lens of culture and context through which each perspective looks dramatically affects their sacramental understandings.  I was especially amazed at the way a fundamental doctrine like Original Sin could, because of context, waylay the Church for a millennium.
I am what might be termed a sacramentalist, in that God often pours out a sense of his grace to me through his Creation.  I have a deep and consistent devotional life, and present myself daily at the intersection of time and eternity, hoping to drink from the river of life.  Sometimes I taste the water, sometimes I swim in it, and sometimes I just know it is there.  As in baptism and communion, these experiences are unpredictable, and are always subject to the Sovereignty and grace of God.


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