Friday, February 14, 2014

Matthew 26: Lord's Supper-Memorial, Magic or Medicine?

Matt 26:17-29 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, 'The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'"  And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.   And as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me."  And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?" He answered, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.  The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born."  Judas, who would betray him, answered, "Is it I, Rabbi?" He said to him, "You have said so." 
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

Note that it was at the end of the Jewish Passover supper that Jesus instituted what is now called "The Lord's Supper" or Holy Communion. The Roman Catholics call this the Eurcharist (Thanksgiving). The reason given for the New Passover Feast has ranged from memorial to medicinal to magical. At one end of this spectrum is the view of the Lord's Supper as nothing more than a memorial feast (Baptists/Methodists). The biblical justification is in Luke 22:19 where Jesus himself said: "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Paul also repeats it in 1 Cor 11:23-26, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."   In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." So, for some churches, the Lord's Supper is a memorial feast to remind us of what Christ has done for us.

At the other end of the spectrum is the view is the "magical" view that in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the bread and wine is transformed into actual body and blood of Christ (Catholic & Orthodox understanding). This is not without biblical justification too. Paul himself warns that whoever eats the bread and drink the cup in an "unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" almost suggesting that the bread and wine are more than symbols but have become actual Christ's presence in them. Furthermore in John 6:53-56, Jesus seemed to refer to the Lord's Supper when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." After Communion, the bread and wine are transformed into actual body and blood of Christ and so cannot be disposed of.

The Anglican and Presbyterian view is somewhere in between the magical and the memorial, viz., when taken in faith, the bread and wine become more than symbols of Christ's presence but become for the communicants the actual presence of Christ's body and blood. So, when the person partakes of the elements of the bread and wine, he spiritually feeds on Christ's flesh and blood. However, nothing magical has happened to the bread and wine. The have become "means of grace" because the feeding on Christ is spiritual, not physical. The spiritual feast takes place only in the context of the ministry of the Word and Worship. The elements cannot are not transformed into anything other than bread and wine. Without the spiritual context, it's no more than just physical bread and wine.

Paul uses this principle of context when he discusses meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. He argues eating meat offered to idols but sold in the market or served in the homes has no spiritual meaning but plain food: "Food [offered to idols] will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do." However, in the context of the idols' temple, it's no longer just food but feast: "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22  Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor 10:19-22)

So, the context defines the meaning of the food: if eaten  in the temple, we are participating in the feast to demons. The food remains unchanged but the environment of demonic worship makes the eating a communion with evil spirits. Similarly, the participation in the "cup of the Lord" is communion with the Lord when taken in the context of Christian assembly of worship. So, it's the context that determines its spiritual power. The elements themselves have no power outside of the context. Nothing magical has happened to the bread and wine. Its meaning and power to communicate Christ's life to the communicants is found in the context of communal worship.

There is another view of the Communion that falls between magical and memorial--I call that the medicinal view of the Communion. Believers are encouraged to take communion "once daily" to promote health, wealth and success. While I'm not fully convinced that we can justify this medicinal view of the Holy Communion from Scriptures, I do not want to prejudge this practice, except I've known young believers taking this practice to extreme. One sales manager (a young believer) told me she brings communion to her office daily to take it by herself and for herself. She said it has blessed her in her sales. But sadly, despite her daily intake of this spiritual medicine, she was dismissed by the management for some perceived unethical sales practices. I felt sorry for her that she lost her job, but I felt even more concern about her view of the Lord's Supper. I'm sure the church she attends does not teach this simplistic view, but that's how she understood and practised it.

We need to beware of theology that cannot be justified by Scriptures. We need to carefully examined everything we hear whether it accords with Scriptures and not just swallow everything "by faith" because it may lead to the shipwreck of our faith.

Father, may Your Spirit grant us wisdom and revelation to discern what is true and what is half-true. Amen.

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