Sunday, April 25, 2010

Understanding the Lord's Supper: framing the question

I'm still struggling to wrap my head around the theology of communion.  John over at Bibliophile has been helpful however Wilson in Mother Kirk, didn't provide enough detail and Calvin, normally a reliable source of theology, is confusing (as Michael Bird pointed out),  Mikey over at Christian Reflections was tantalizing, but then again we were unable to finish the conversation, so maybe it wasn't deliberate.

Once the core issue is sorted out, surrounding questions of frequency, style, leadership and language will fall easily into place.  In Roman Catholicism, the Priest holds up the consecrated elements and there in a particular sense is Christ.  Now if I saw Jesus, I would, as far as the barnacles on my sinful heart would allow, worship him.  And this historically has been the centre of the argument; is Jesus present in the bread and wine?   This was the sticking point in Luther and Zwingli's debate at Marburg.  Historically the debate is complex with the positions today not corresponding exactly with the individuals identified with such positions. Here are a couple of ideas, none of them my own, I'd like to use them to frame what to do about Communion:

  • Is "presence" the wrong question, instead should our focus should be on "proclamation" (1 Cor 11:26)?
  • As Protestants we a quick to avoid any link between John 6 and Communion, but since no-one even the Roman Catholics, are cannibals, union with Christ should be the dominate framing theology of the Lord's Supper?
  • Is the "blessing," unique to communion (1 Cor 10:16) or is there like grace, differences between 'common' (the stuff that prevents everyone from becoming a serial killer) and 'saving' (turns serial killers into Christians) grace? 
  • Is there something special and spiritual about "remembering?" (In other words there is no such thing as "just a memorial" or "just a marriage" or "just a child.")


Jill said...

I think the theme of proclamation is central to an Anglican understanding of the Lord's Supper "Therefore we do as our Saviour has commanded: proclaiming his offering of himself...".

For me, the most helpful approach to the question of presence is that of Cranmer. I assume that as an Anglican minister wrestling with this question you have read Cranmer?

Re 1 Cor 10:16, I think it's important to understand blessing in it's Jewish context - this is the cup (symbolising the saving work of Christ) for which we bless (ie. give thanks to) God, and by which, symbolically, God blesses us with the benefits of salvation.

Also important to note that anamnesis is an act of rememberance that involves calling to mind and reappropriating the benefits of an historical act (e.g. Passover, Anzac Day?), not remembering as in not forgetting to pick up bread and milk.

I'd love to discuss this further - maybe over a coffee one day, if you'd like to.

Luke said...

Yes, I think "proclamation" is important, Writings and Disputations of Thomas Cranmer Relative to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is on my reading list, I'll blog about it later.

I don't think Passover or Anzac Day are good examples for trying to get my head around "anamnesis." They certainly have an important epistemological function but I'm not sure what they do ontologically. The non-memorialist Reformed position seems to indicate that unlike Passover there is some sort of spiritual involvement going on with communion.

I'm also not convinced there is such a thing as just remembering to do something, even mundane tasks have a spiritual component/aspect. (So maybe a pure memorialist position doesn't exist!)

Jill said...

Fair comment about Anzac Day. Passover, however, does have an ontological/spiritual dimension, as I understand it. The key point, on which I think we agree, is that the 'remembering' involved in the Lord's Supper does have a spiritual dimension, and engages us in a profound way with that which we remember.