Until He Comes
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Theme: The Lord’s Supper.
This week’s lessons remind us of the privilege and responsibility of partaking in Communion.
It is a pity that the Lord’s Supper and our interpretation of the Lord’s words should have become such a cause of division within the Christian Church. The chief cause of trouble here is what the Lord says about the bread: “This is my body.” This has been the cause of at least four major interpretations. The Roman Catholic church, at the time of the Reformation, took these words in the most literal of ways. They believed that the bread and wine used in the Sacrament are changed into the literal Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The theological word for that is the word transubstantiation. It means that there is a literal change. And in Roman Catholic theology that happens at that moment in the mass where the priest lifts up the host and says, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” At that moment, a bell rings in the Roman Catholic service. It’s understood that the transformation literally takes place. When the bell rings, the worshipers kneel because now they are adoring the host, the bread and the wine which have been changed into Jesus Christ.
Now, the Reformers thought that was wrong. And I believe it is wrong, though I believe there are strong Christians in the Roman Catholic church who don’t understand it necessarily that way and recognize that Jesus Christ did die once for all for their sin. But as theology, it is wrong. And I would say that even as an interpretation of the historical circumstances of the Lord’s Supper, it’s obviously wrong because when our Lord first pronounced those words, saying, “This is my body which is broken for you,” his body was right there. They would have merely understood it at the very least in a mystical sense, and perhaps in a symbolic sense.
The Reformers said that rather than the elements’ actually becoming the body and blood of Christ, something else is involved. Moreover, they said, it is never the case that the sacrifice of Christ is repeated again and again as it is claimed that it is repeated in the Roman Catholic mass. Rather, Jesus Christ died on the cross once for all our salvation. Our salvation comes from faith in what he has done, not in some continuing arrangement that is maintained in the church by priests.
But the difficulty is that the Reformers themselves couldn’t quite agree on what was happening. The view that was most antithetical to that of the Roman Catholic church was that of Zwingli from Zurich. Zwingli said, “You make a big mistake when you begin to talk of any kind of presence of Jesus there in the Communion service, in the bread or in the wine. Don’t you know that Jesus ascended to heaven? His body is not here on earth. And it’s certainly not in the Communion elements. The body of Jesus Christ is in heaven at the right hand of God. So, when we observe the Communion service, and when we say this is Christ’s body, and when we say this is Christ’s blood, referring to the wine, we’re not saying that there’s anything like transubstantiation. All we’re doing is remembering what he has done and those things are symbols of what was done. They’re there simply to help us remember.” So, the Lord’s Supper is essentially, in the view of Zwingli, a memorial.
Martin Luther had another view. Where Scripture was concerned, Luther was a literalist in the best sense. Furthermore, Luther had a hearty distrust of human reason. Now, he was a rational man and he knew how to use reason, but he was well aware that in our sinful state our reason often leads us astray. So, when Luther came to these words and read, “This is my body,” he certainly wanted to take them in some literal sense, to uphold the idea that there is some way in which those elements actually become the body and blood of Christ. There is a fourth alternative however, which we will consider in tomorrow’s lesson.
How does the Roman Catholic church interpret Christ’s words, “This is my body”? What are the problems with this interpretation?
How does Zwingli interpret our Lord’s words? How does Luther?
Transubstantiation: the belief that the bread and wine used in the Communion service are changed into the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ upon the priest’s invocation.
How do you understand the Lord’s Supper?