Is There A Mystical Encounter With The Lord Jesus Christ In The Sacrament Of The Holy Communion, Pt. 3

A.  The Christian’s communion with Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament of the Holy Communion

         

      1.   The meaning of the Holy Communion with Christ.

    

In that Divine action of regeneration, we are brought into union with the Christ of the Godhead. As we grow in Grace and begin to discover the means, or the conduits of continual supplies of His Grace, we enter into a greater facet of relationship with the Lord. We learn to “get closer” to Him by availing ourselves of His appointed means.

 

One of those appointed means is the Holy Communion. Even the name itself bespeaks its mystery. What is this rite? How is it a conduit of grace? In what manner does it enable us, or help us, grow closer to the Lord?

 

Hear Bishop Slattery as he explains,

 

Life is filled with outward acts that mean

deep, unseen realities. A bow to a man on

the street means respect; the grasp of the

hand means friendship; the mother’s kiss

means love. The citizen takes off his hat

when the flag is carried by; he stands when

he hears the national anthem: these simple

acts proclaim his loyalty to his country. A

boy goes into his mother’s room and sees

her kneeling by her bed; he goes out quietly

knowing that she is praying: the outward

act tells him what she is doing in her inmost

heart...The Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion,

is only the greatest of the outward acts by which

we reach up into the mystery and

reality of life.[1]

 

     Hear also John Calvin in this regard,

 

God, regenerating us, engrafts us into

the society of his church and makes us

his own by adoption, so we have said,

that he discharges the function of

provident householder in continually

supplying to us the food to sustain

and preserve us in that life into which

he has begotten us by his Word.[2]

 

The Lord has given His people a wonderful provision in the Eucharist. Apart from Holy Baptism, no rite or doctrine in the Christian Church has ignited more controversy and debate than that of the Holy Communion. Transubstantiation? Consubstantiation? Simply a memorial rite to remind us of our blessed Lord? It is not our goal to seek to answer those questions that were argued by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others. It is the focus of this study to examine not so much what the Eucharist is, but rather, what it does.

 

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, chapter 24, verse 28 and following, we find ourselves in the middle of a meeting with the risen Lord and two of His downcast disciples. They are downcast because they, at this point, do not know what to make of the reports concerning the missing body of the Lord.

    

On their way to Emmaus, seven miles outside of Jerusalem, they are approached by someone, to their eyes, is a stranger. We know that it is the risen Christ. In entering into their conversation and without at this point revealing His identity, He gives a lesson from Scripture on the nature of the Messiah according to all that was written concerning Him. Verse 27 reads, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself.”

    

As the day wears thin, it begins to become dark. The risen Messiah is invited to stay with these interested travelers. Verse 29 informs us that, “And He went in to stay with them.”

   

The three are seated and ready to partake of their evening meal. The risen Lord takes the initiative in offering the blessing. As He takes the bread, He breaks it as He has so often done in the past. Having broken it, He hands them each a portion. As He does so, verse 31 exclaims, “Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him;”.

   

How did they know Him? Perhaps it was the familiar manner in which He broke the bread. Perhaps it was the words He used for the blessing. Perhaps as He handed the bread to them, there were the tell-tale open wounds of the nail scars in His hands still freshly gaping from the trial of execution of but three days earlier.

    

Whatever it was, Scripture says, “their eyes were opened and they knew Him”. What happened immediately after this eye-opening prayer is fascinating as well. The verse states “...He vanished from their sight.”

    

Could it be that in vanishing from their sight, precisely at that point, that the Christ of God is saying something about the Eucharist? Again, John Calvin is helpful with his remarks,

 

...this mystery of Christ’s secret union with the

devout is by nature incomprehensible, he shows

its figure and image in visible signs best adapted

to our small capacity. Indeed, by giving guarantees

and tokens he makes it as certain for us as if we

had seen it with our own eyes. For this very familiar

comparison penetrates into even the dullest minds:

just as bread and wine sustain physical life, so are

souls fed by Christ. We now understand the purpose

of this mystical blessing, namely, to confirm for us

the fact that the Lord’s body was once for all so

sacrificed for us that we may now feed upon it,

and by feeding feel in ourselves the working of

that unique sacrifice; and that his blood was

once so shed for us in order to be our perpetual

drink.[3]

 

     And John Owen brings interesting thoughts to bear concerning the emphasis of the Holy Communion,

...it is Christ’s human nature ‘as distinguished

into its integral parts, - into body and blood’,

which ‘are not only considered as distinguished,

but as separate also...faith penetrates to the

cause of this separation – the moving cause of

the Father’s love, the procuring and efficient

causes in the work of Christ.[4]

 

     Although what Christ did in vanishing from the sight of His disciples is mysterious and indeed, the Scriptures give us no clear interpretive answer to this question. However, it is in what He left them with that enables us to at least glimpse the purposes of the Lord.

    He left them with bread. He left them at table. If they were going to experience future fellowship such as this time, they must do so according to His stated means. The reminder is here and elsewhere, “Remember Me in the breaking and eating of the bread.”

    Again, Bishop Slattery,

 

Now when He gives His Body and Blood, His

inmost Life, He wills that we be fed thereby,

that we may live indeed. Our bodies must be

fed, or die. Our minds must be fed, or wither...

He said that He would be the food which should

nourish the soul of man. So we feed our souls

with Christ...as we remember Him, as we give

thanks to Him, as we obey Him, as our faith

glows with confidence in Him, then our hearts

are opened wide, we receive as from His own

hands the pledges of His love, - and our lives

are filled with Him. We are body of His body,

blood of His Blood, heart of His Heart, spirit

of His Spirit, soul of His Soul, life of His Life.[5]

 

 

To Be Continued Soon......................

 

 

 

[1] Slattery, Charles Lewis. Holy Communion: What It Means And How To Prepare For It.[Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company: 1936]. Pp.1-2

 

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion John T. McNeill, ed.; Ford Lewis Battles, trans. (from the 1559 Latin Text edited by Peter Barth and Wilhelm Niesel [Ioannis Calvini, Opera Selecta Vol. III, IV, V. Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1926-1952] including collations from the earlier editions of that text and versions of the Institutes). The Library of Christian Classics, Vols. 20 and 21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960) 4. 14. 5, 1360.

 

 

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion John T. McNeill, ed.; Ford Lewis Battles, trans. (from the 1559 Latin Text edited by Peter Barth and Wilhelm Niesel [Ioannis Calvini, Opera Selecta Vol. III, IV, V. Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1926-1952] including collations from the earlier editions of that text and versions of the Institutes). The Library of Christian Classics, Vols. 20 and 21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960) 4. 14. 5, 1361.

 

 

[4] Ferguson, Sinclair. John Owen On The Christian Life.[Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987], p.221

 

[5] Slattery, Charles Lewis. Holy Communion: What It Means And How To Prepare For It.[Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company: 1936]. P. 9

 

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