A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Lord's Supper in Wesleyan Perspective #7

Eschatology and the Celebration of the Lord's Supper

The eschatological aspect of the Lord's Supper is crucial to a biblical understanding of Communion. It is inextricably intertwined with the christology and ecclesiology. If Christians are to be a peaceable people and if the Eucharist is a meal of peace, Holy Communion must be understood eschatologically, as there can be no hope for peace if this world is to continue on in its present condition. In the Lord's Supper we affirm the hope for peace because in Christ God has made peace, and he has formed and is forming after his image, a new nation known as Church, that stands as an alternative to all other nations. It is in and through this nation that God is leading history to its fulfillment; and no earthly nation can take satisfaction in determining God's providential care of his world.

At the Lord's Table we confess that we are part of God's Kingdom (clearly an eschatological concept), and the church (the foretaste of the Kingdom) is a continuing witness to God's presence and peace as a living reality. This reality continues to be proclaimed by Christians even in the midst of a violent world. Thus not only is Holy Communion to be understood eschatologically, it is to be construed politically as well. Stanley Hauerwas notes,

The rites, baptism and eucharist, are not just "religious things" that Christian people do. They are the essential rituals of our politics. Through them we learn who we are. Instead of being motives and causes for effective social work on the part of Christian people, these liturgies are our effective social work. For if the church is rather than has a social ethic, these actions are our most important social witness. It is in baptism and eucharist that we see most clearly the marks of God's kingdom in this world. They set our standard, as we try to bring every aspect of our lives under their sway" (The Peaceable Kingdom).

The sacraments are our most fervent prayers since prayer is the way "we learn to make ourselves open to God's presence" (Peaceable Kingdom). Prayer is the way we "let God loose in the world" (Enda McDonagh, Doing the Truth). It just may be that the strongest protest that Christians can make in response to a world at war, is to celebrate Eucharist together and affirm God's rule over this world, that is characterized, not in the image of the sword, but in the portrait of the lion and the lamb dwelling together in peace. Such hope is not an illusion; for this peace is not sealed by treaties and flags of truce, but in the one who made peace on a cross and sealed its reality in his resurrection. We affirm this when we proclaim before the meal, "Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again."

2 comments:

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks Allan, for sharing this. I read it earlier, and want to keep chewing on it. I'd love to be at Calvin College today where N.T. Wright is having morning/afternoon session on the sacraments. Probably most reading this will think me crazy for not being there, and perhaps they're right. Though I'm almost completely sure we'll be able to download it later. (I did get to hear him yesterday there, though in an overflow room:
http://www.calvin.edu/january/2007/wright.htm

Certainly Eucharist (as well as baptism) is to be a witness to the world. And, Allan, what you're saying here, as to our witness, is certainly "spot on". Thanks.

(By the way, Allan, if you were here and wanted me to go with you, we'd be there today!)

Allan R. Bevere said...

Ted:

I love listening to Tom Wright! I have heard him a couple of times. He is quite the breath of fresh air in theological reflection.

And if I had known he was at Calvin, I might have made the trip up there so we could go together.

If he ever comes back that way, let me know.