I can’t say I’m all there yet on Calvin’s perception of the Lord’s Table, but I think I’m getting along. Reading Horton’s Systematic Theology has helped a bit. I read this part:
In our Western (Greek) intellectual heritage, “remembering” means “recollecting”: recalling to mind something that is no longer a present reality. Nothing could be further from a Jewish conception.
It brought to mind an English (British) turn of phrase,” Remember me to your mother” (or whatever person to be visited) and what that really means to me, though I’m apparently not entirely correct in my definition. I read this to mean something more than just greeting someone. It’s more like re-vitalizing or reuniting through a person (or thing) a distant relationship. If I get this rightly, I think I can understand the Supper in this way:
The Spirit is, through the Supper, remembering us to Christ and Christ to us in the sense of unifying and revitalizing us. At least this is an incomplete way of describing the whole thing.
What is important here is that I’m searching to understand the teaching that there is more to Communion than just a commemoration or “memory.” I’ve been working to meditate on this concept from whatever angles I can digest. And this thread has a spark of inspiration.
The memory thing drives home the point. How in the world does one “remember” the crucifixion or Christ by eating and drinking. We weren’t there, we only have a book. So the prevalent belief of communion as memorial supper, where there is a bunch of doing on the part of the believer and none on the part of God is just unacceptable. God must be acting in order for us to “remember.” And isn’t it a little difficult to chew (no pun intended) on God just giving us enough to bring up the past? Nah, I don’t buy it. There is more acting on God’s part going on here, and it just can’t be some sort of visitation that gives us visions of the cross.
We are united to Christ; Us in Him and He in us. So Paul gets it when he talks about remembering, proclaiming and discerning all together. Discerning is a big one. And it doesn’t have to mean head-knowledge. Knowing Christ, knowing the Body of Christ is knowing, you know? Intimately, understanding, as in that sort of knowing that is only achieved by abiding in.
Wrapping it around: We abide in Christ through the Spirit. The God uses the Supper through the Spirit to sort of invigorate or bring vitality, literally the vitality – aliveness – Christ-ness of Christ to us. It still doesn’t make sense in any way, to me, to eat his flesh and drink his blood unless this is figurative (which Reformed and Lutheran theology do not support). But I can get it if it’s figurative. If by eating and drinking we mean that Christ is sustaining us through the Spirit because of and through His death on the cross – pierced flesh and bleeding body. It wraps up fairly nicely in my view, anyway.
It’s a sign of a thing signified. I’m sure I have a relatively unsophisticated, or primitive grasp of the concept, but I don’t think I’m wrong. When we are given a sign, especially a participatory sort of sign, we are actively identifying or identified with the thing signified. In this case, we’re eating a covenant meal. As a unified group (church), not as individuals. And we are more than just making a declaration. The language in the N.T. (and O.T.) doesn’t permit us to say we’re solely testifying or proclaiming. We’re really, really identified with Christ here, which is like ratification of being. Not just being and then talking about it, but being something and assenting, acting like it, being it in the process of acting. God is literally conveying what He intends in the Supper, which is Christ. No way round it as far as I can tell.
So this was rambling and probably not much truly intelligible, but here we are.
Facts I accept about the Supper:
- It is not only commemoration.
- It is not literally the Body and Blood of Christ.
- It is a sustaining and refreshing meal graciously provided through the Spirit by Christ.
- It is literally essential to healthy living as a Christian in that it unites us to Christ and his Church.
- It is aberrant to neglect or minimalize the supper to the extent of never practicing or “monthly/quarterly” service.
- It is an integral part of the Lord’s Day, and should be incorporated in each one (weekly).
- It is not flippantly or carelessly attended. As bad as eating and drinking without discerning the Body is to serve it without discerning. A minister is the one, for he presides over, presents the other means of grace (Word, Baptism, Prayer). All of these are “Holy Stuff” and it is tragic and dangerous to treat them otherwise.