Lord’s Day 28 (Q/A 75-77): THE MATTER OF THE TABLE AND WHY IT MATTERS

75   Q.    How does the holy supper
                remind and assure you
                that you share in
                Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross
                and in all his benefits?

A.    In this way:
Christ has commanded me and all believers|
to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup
in remembrance of him.
With this command come these promises:

First,
as surely as I see with my eyes
the bread of the Lord broken for me
and the cup shared with me,
so surely
his body was offered and broken for me
and his blood poured out for me
on the cross.

Second,
as surely as
I receive from the hand of the one who serves,
and taste with my mouth
the bread and cup of the Lord,
given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood,
so surely
he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life
with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

76   Q.    What does it mean
                to eat the crucified body of Christ
                and to drink his poured-out blood?

A.    It means
to accept with a believing heart
the entire suffering and death of Christ
and thereby
to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.^1

But it means more.
Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us,
we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body.^2
And so, although he is in heaven^3 and we are on earth,
we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.^4
And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit,
as the members of our body are by one soul.^5

^1 John 6:35, 40, 47-48, 50-54
^2 John 6:55-56
^3 Acts 1:9; 3:21; 1 Cor. 11:26
^4 Eph. 3:17; 5:29-32; 1 Cor. 6:15, 17-19; 1 John 3:24; 4:13; John 14:23
^5 John 6:56-58; 15:1-6; Eph. 4:15-16

77   Q.    Where does Christ promise
                to nourish and refresh believers
                with his body and blood
                as surely as
                they eat this broken bread
                and drink this cup?

A.    In the institution of the Lord’s Supper:^1
“The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed,
took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and said,
‘This is my body that is [broken]* for you.’

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood;^2
do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me.’^3

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death
until he comes.”

This promise is repeated by Paul in these words:

“The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body,
for we all partake of the one bread.”^4

^1 1 Cor. 11:23[-26]; Matt. 26:26[-29]; Mark 14:22[-25]; Luke 22:17[-20]
^2 Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:20
^3 Exod. 13:9
^4 1 Cor. 10:16-17

*The word “broken” does not appear in the NRSV text, but it was present in the original German of the Heidelberg Catechism.


 

LORD’S DAY 28 (Q/A 75-77)
“The Matter of the Table and Why it Matters”

The congregation I serve in New Jersey for almost 11 years combined its two Sunday worship services six years ago and with that merged service came the discussion of whether and how to celebrate the Lord’s Table every Sunday. The earlier service celebrated weekly; the second service celebrated the first Sunday of the month. It became clear in discussions and reflection that we would go the way of weekly celebration. The matter now turned to what to call it.  There was a current in the congregation that naming it “Eucharist” sounded too “Catholic” for some.  More on that later.

This was a teaching opportunity. So I put in the worship bulletin the following:

“Lord’s Supper-Eucharist-Communion”

The dashes, I explained, captured in some way the multiplicity of meaning and significance of what is enacted at the Table.

The Table is the Lord’s Supper: it is the Lord’s, not ours. The Lord Jesus Christ has prepared it, invited us; He is the One who is promised by the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. He is the both the content of the action, and the One who is given to us “for the life of the world” as the late Orthodox liturgy scholar Alexander Schmemann described.   It’s a Supper because we are fed, we are nourished; it is a feast. What is provided is “bread from heaven,” Jesus Christ who is the manna from heaven, in whom everlasting life is provided, fullness of life, that truly in Him, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  Methodist liturgy scholar Don Saliers describes it as “foretaste of glory divine,” a description that bears the subtitle of one of his seminal works on liturgical theology.  It’s a foretaste because what is displayed and enacted at the Table is akin to the heavenly, marriage banquet described in Revelation 19:9 or the gathering of all nations to sit at Table described in Luke 13:29. We gather at the Table to live into the already accomplished vision, that there is more than meets the eye, a “fourth dimension” reality as the in-breaking of the kingdom reality and God-vision expresses itself among us and in us.

Then there’s the matter of Communion. As with baptism’s counter-cultural claim of us as individuals being joined by the triune God to be in a binding community with one another, the Table is Communion: communion with the triune God, communion with God’s people in all times and in all places. The Holy Spirit uses the ordinary elements of bread and cup for extraordinary means: joining us to the very life of God in Jesus Christ, a binding union into His risen and ascended life that we can say truly and really, that we are eating of His body and of His blood; in other words, we have truly and really become one with our Lord, a full-proof unity. Such unity, accomplished and made efficacious by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, appropriates the fullness of God’s love for us, but we are joined to Christ’s own agenda: to delight in the Father’s will and to do the will of God, which is the reconciliation of the world.  We are brought into the life of God, and are anchored in God’s own heart, and, thereupon, take up what Jesus Christ cares about, take up who Jesus Christ cares about.

The Table, and the prayers offered at the Table, goes by several other names:

-Canon of the Mass: canon, because it is lawful to do so; it is a rule of faith (think, measuring rule or rod).

-Mass: the English derivation of the Latin “Missa” – the final benediction a priest would proclaim “Ite missa est” (Go now or You are dismissed) – emphasizing the sending of the gathered assembly to go out into the world to testify of what you have seen, tasted, received the Good News of God in Jesus Christ

-Anaphora: in Eastern Christianity – the prayers of the Table, depicting offering up to God, the bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ, our lives

-The Liturgy – from the Greek leitourgia meaning public work; what the gathered assembly does at the Table is a public act of service – serving God, serving one another; God’s act in Jesus Christ was the grand Liturgy – Christ work of salvation was a public act.

What captures the fullness of what are displayed and enacted at the Table is Eucharist. Far from being too “Catholic” sounding for many Presbyterian/Reformed sensitivities, Eucharistia is the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” used at least 15 times in the New Testament.  Earl Palmer, senior pastor emeritus of the University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, unlocked for me the depth of that term in this way:

-Eucharistia is composed of two parts: the prefix eu- (epsilon/upsilon) and –charist

-Charist shares the etymological root of chara, which is the Greek word for “joy”

-Joy is a surprise

-The Greek word for grace is charis, sharing the root for joy. Grace is a surprising gift of joy.

-Charismata, from which we get the word “charisma” is the word for “spiritual gifts” as 1 Corinthians 12

-The prefix eu- means “good.”  For example “eu+logos” or eulogy, a good word.

-Eucharistia is a good, surprising gift of joy.

Eucharistia is “thanksgiving” for God’s good, surprising gift of joy, Jesus the Christ.

Q/A 75 speaks vividly of the promises of Christ’s body and blood given for us. Christ has given Himself to us; that is God’s promise.

Q/A 76 speaks powerfully of not only forgiveness of sins and being joined to Christ’s own suffering, “but it means more” – the communion aspect because of the Holy Spirit, being joined to Christ.

Q/A 77 speaks communally to our being joined one to another, sharing in Christ’s body (His risen and ascended body) and His body, the Church, the fellowship of believers in every time and place.

As a Filipino American, Pacific Islander, born on the island of Guam, my family enjoys parties, dancing, singing, and food. We make a distinction between eating, dining, and feasting. Eating is the mere function of putting food in your mouth. Dining is eating, but with etiquette and protocols, white tablecloths and utensils properly placed. Feasting, which is what we do, is bringing your whole self to the party, eating with utensils but more often with your hands, bringing the messiness and beauty of your life, family, and faith to the community, allowing the gathered community, the party attendees to hear you, embrace you, laugh with you, cry with you and with one another.

The Table is the Eucharistic feast. We bring our whole selves, even as God as the Lord Jesus Christ has given Himself fully to us. God did not withhold anything of Himself to us. God’s love is poured out, given, offered, shared, at the risk of being rejected, ignored, taken for granted. Love is risky business.

This, and so much more, is why we give thanks to God for Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Eucharistia. Thanksgiving. For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup.

That’s why the Table matters.

 

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