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|Why the Lord’s Supper matters|
Apr. 13th, 2008 at 5:17 pm
Notes from a lecture, delivered March 25, 2008.
Start with that first clause, and remember that though it has been simplified and ritualized, the Lord’s Supper is first and always a meal. Why is this important?
Paul’s is the earliest description of what such a service actually consisted of; listen as he chastises the Corinthians for abusing his instructions:
Paul knows that meals are important. They are a sign of fellowship, of equality, and friendship – and the Lord’s Supper is nothing if not that. And when we read the New Testament for them, suddenly they are everywhere. Jesus visits a wedding feast and there turns water into wine to bless the event; he dines with publicans; he feeds the five thousand (six times over four gospels). Why does he do these things? Because he knows that bread and wine – that eating and drinking – are important, and that giving is an act of service. And of course, what he gives is more than merely food. The feeding is an instrument of grace; a means to gain the Word wrapped in the material. Listen to him after he feeds the five thousand with fish and bread:
Jesus is the Word of God; the bread of life. He feeds his disciples, the five thousand, Christians everywhere; he passes the bread from one to another, spreading its nourishment over the table, down the mountain, across the world. And the bread, in a real sense, is him.
And on baptism:
The language here is profound: We are baptized into, not merely in the name of, Christ. We are one body. The Lord’s Supper can be read to the community what baptism is to the individual; it clothes us in Christ, to use another of Paul’s phrases, it makes us collectively anew, and we pass that sanctification to each other, lifting each other into Christ’s Body.
How do we do this? Let’s look at the scripture again:
Gregory Dix noted this pattern: What does Christ do? He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives.
Again the pattern.
Dix argued that these four actions were the shape of the liturgy; that is, they are the ritually significant actions which the administration of the Lord’s Supper should imitate. I want, however, to offer a Pauline interpretation; that is, we can read these four actions as ways in which we take upon ourselves Christ; the ways in which Christ interacted with his humanity.
We see, then, that the Lord’s supper teaches us to remember not only Christ’s death, but his life, and our life in him.
The body is broken, but also born; slain, but also raised. Note the odd phrase which Christ uses in the Book of Mormon – which is not, however, in our sacramental prayer:
“Which I have shown unto you.” Christ here emphasizes the fellowship of the meal; his living presence and fellowship with his disciples. As Kathleen Flake has noticed, the JST of Mark emphasizes this as well:
That living interaction with Christ, then, the vital presence of him in our life – Paul’s greatest theme – is what the Lord’s Supper teaches. And our ritual actions in the Supper drive it home. The teachers, every Sunday take the bread to the table, as Christ did when he sanctified the human condition by showing us its potential for forgiveness, gentleness and mercy. The priests, every Sunday break the bread. So do we all, for we all sin, and they represent us. But the also bless it, and not only the deacons but we also pass the sacrament to each other; we offer each other the hope of grace and forgiveness, and bring one another into the body of Christ. We should remember that, then, as we eat at the Lord’s table.