5. November 2017

Hoc Est Corpus Meum – This is My Body

Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton | Series: The legacy of Martin Luther

The church of Luther’s day imposed itself upon the people according to the discipline of the sacramental system. Through the sacraments God’s grace was mediated to the worshipper, but without the sacraments there would be no opportunity for the believer to experience God’s grace, that which was necessary to maintain the believer in a relationship with God. So awful were the consequences of living a life outside of the grace of God the believer was impelled to engage in the sacramental system. There were 7 sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick. Luther, having argued that the Bible was the sole source of authority as far as the church was concerned concluded that only 2 of the 7 were valid, because only 2 of the 7 were actually commanded of the church by Jesus: Baptism and Eucharist (what we know as Communion – the Lord’s Supper). But because Luther was so dependent on the Bible to justify his argument he found himself forced to accept the literal truth of the text and so ‘This is my body’ really is ’my body’. But in a different way. He denied that the Priest, when celebrating the Eucharist, was making a sacrifice – Luther argued that Scripture requires us to believe in the ‘once for all’ sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross – and so the ‘Real Presence’ had to be understood in another way. In so doing he prefaced an argument that has consumed every generation of the Church since. When we celebrate Communion what is it that we do? And however we answer that question we should do so with great humility, mindful of this…
“the very last thing I want to do is to unsettle in the mind of any Christian, whatever his denomination, the concepts – for him traditional – by which he finds it profitable to represent to himself what is happening when he receives the bread and wine. I could wish that no definitions had ever been felt to be necessary; and, still more, that none had been allowed to make divisions between churches.” (C. S. Lewis, ‘Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer’).
For us, the text that best illuminates our understanding is that which we read from 1 Corinthians where Paul paraphrases Jesus’ words @ the Last Supper & then supplies his own interpretation – ‘As often as we eat this bread and drink this wine we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’ – and so for us the emphasis is not so much on the elements in themselves but rather what they represent, they represent for us and to us the body and the blood of Jesus, His broken body and His shed blood, His death precisely because we believe that within the whole of human history there has been no more significant event than the death of Jesus. Jesus’ death on the Cross is the defining moment of the whole of human history; only from the perspective of the death of Jesus can any sense be made of the unfolding drama that is the history of humankind. But because the history of humankind embraces the stories of every one of us, and because no two stories are the same – itself a miracle of grace that we should celebrate – each one of us ought to understand the significance of Jesus’ death for ourselves; each one of is encouraged to appropriate the moment as defining our own personal history, the only means by which our life makes sense for us…
“We should pray that God would enrich his ordinance with his presence; that he would make the sacrament effectual to all those holy ends and purposes for which he hath appointed it; that it may be the feast of our graces, and the funeral of our corruptions; that it may not only be a sign to represent, but an instrument to convey Christ to us, and a seal to assure us of our heavenly jointure [union].” (Thomas Watson).
And because we appreciate that as individuals we come, with our own stories, we would not deny this Table to anyone, but all who would come should beware lest they fail to realise that in coming to the Table they must do so in sincerity. Sincerity is all that is required of anyone who would share in this Communion. There will be differences in the way we understand what we do, why we do it, how we do ‘it’, how often we do ‘it’, who does ‘it’ but none of this should preclude our doing ‘it’. In preparing for today I came across this, and I am bound to confess that I am not sure I am where I ought to be…
”I believe the church should recognize, as a matter of biblical and Christian obedience, that it is time to put the horse back before the cart, and that we are far, far more likely to reach doctrinal agreement between our different churches if we do so within the context of that common meal which belongs equally to us all because it is the meal of the Lord whom we all worship. Intercommunion, in other words, is not something we should regard as the prize to be gained at the end of the ecumenical road; it is the very paving of the road itself. If we wonder why we haven’t been travelling very fast down the road of late, maybe it’s because, without the proper paving, we’ve got stuck in the mud.” (N.T. Wright: ‘For All God’s Worth, True Worship & the Calling of the Church).
It is ironic that that which Jesus meant to unite His followers – baptism and communion – have, over the centuries proved to be the stumbling blocks to any such unity. However, the phrase, ‘until He comes’ suggests that any such unity is reserved for a time not of our choosing, and until that time comes, we are called to represent the continuing relevance of Jesus’ death to the world in the hope that whilst we may continue to differ concerning the form that such representation might take, we are as one in proclaiming its vital significance to each and all alike, to you, to me, to all of us…
 

 

Hoc Est Corpus Meum – This is My Body

The church of Luther’s day imposed itself upon the people according to the discipline of the sacramental system. Through the sacraments God’s grace was mediated to the worshipper, but without the sacraments there would be no opportunity for the believer to experience God’s grace, that which was necessary to maintain the believer in a relationship with God. So awful were the consequences of living a life outside of the grace of God the believer was impelled to engage in the sacramental system. There were 7 sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick. Luther, having argued that the Bible was the sole source of authority as far as the church was concerned concluded that only 2 of the 7 were valid, because only 2 of the 7 were actually commanded of the church by Jesus: Baptism and Eucharist (what we know as Communion – the Lord’s Supper). But because Luther was so dependent on the Bible to justify his argument he found himself forced to accept the literal truth of the text and so ‘This is my body’ really is ’my body’. But in a different way. He denied that the Priest, when celebrating the Eucharist, was making a sacrifice – Luther argued that Scripture requires us to believe in the ‘once for all’ sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross – and so the ‘Real Presence’ had to be understood in another way. In so doing he prefaced an argument that has consumed every generation of the Church since. When we celebrate Communion what is it that we do? And however we answer that question we should do so with great humility, mindful of this…

“the very last thing I want to do is to unsettle in the mind of any Christian, whatever his denomination, the concepts - for him traditional - by which he finds it profitable to represent to himself what is happening when he receives the bread and wine. I could wish that no definitions had ever been felt to be necessary; and, still more, that none had been allowed to make divisions between churches.” (C. S. Lewis, ‘Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer’).

For us, the text that best illuminates our understanding is that which we read from 1 Corinthians where Paul paraphrases Jesus’ words @ the Last Supper & then supplies his own interpretation – ‘As often as we eat this bread and drink this wine we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’ – and so for us the emphasis is not so much on the elements in themselves but rather what they represent, they represent for us and to us the body and the blood of Jesus, His broken body and His shed blood, His death precisely because we believe that within the whole of human history there has been no more significant event than the death of Jesus. Jesus’ death on the Cross is the defining moment of the whole of human history; only from the perspective of the death of Jesus can any sense be made of the unfolding drama that is the history of humankind. But because the history of humankind embraces the stories of every one of us, and because no two stories are the same – itself a miracle of grace that we should celebrate – each one of us ought to understand the significance of Jesus’ death for ourselves; each one of is encouraged to appropriate the moment as defining our own personal history, the only means by which our life makes sense for us…

“We should pray that God would enrich his ordinance with his presence; that he would make the sacrament effectual to all those holy ends and purposes for which he hath appointed it; that it may be the feast of our graces, and the funeral of our corruptions; that it may not only be a sign to represent, but an instrument to convey Christ to us, and a seal to assure us of our heavenly jointure [union].” (Thomas Watson).

And because we appreciate that as individuals we come, with our own stories, we would not deny this Table to anyone, but all who would come should beware lest they fail to realise that in coming to the Table they must do so in sincerity. Sincerity is all that is required of anyone who would share in this Communion. There will be differences in the way we understand what we do, why we do it, how we do ‘it’, how often we do ‘it’, who does ‘it’ but none of this should preclude our doing ‘it’. In preparing for today I came across this, and I am bound to confess that I am not sure I am where I ought to be…

I believe the church should recognize, as a matter of biblical and Christian obedience, that it is time to put the horse back before the cart, and that we are far, far more likely to reach doctrinal agreement between our different churches if we do so within the context of that common meal which belongs equally to us all because it is the meal of the Lord whom we all worship. Intercommunion, in other words, is not something we should regard as the prize to be gained at the end of the ecumenical road; it is the very paving of the road itself. If we wonder why we haven't been travelling very fast down the road of late, maybe it's because, without the proper paving, we've got stuck in the mud.” (N.T. Wright: ‘For All God’s Worth, True Worship & the Calling of the Church).

It is ironic that that which Jesus meant to unite His followers – baptism and communion – have, over the centuries proved to be the stumbling blocks to any such unity. However, the phrase, ‘until He comes’ suggests that any such unity is reserved for a time not of our choosing, and until that time comes, we are called to represent the continuing relevance of Jesus’ death to the world in the hope that whilst we may continue to differ concerning the form that such representation might take, we are as one in proclaiming its vital significance to each and all alike, to you, to me, to all of us…