Calvin on: The Sacraments, part 2

In like manner, in baptism we put on Christ, (Galatians 3:27) we are washed by his blood, (Revelation 1:5) our old man is crucified, (Romans 6:6) in order that the righteousness of God may reign in us. In the Holy Supper we are spiritually fed with the flesh and blood of Christ. Whence do they derive so great efficacy but from the promise of Christ, who does and accomplishes by his Holy Spirit what he declares by his word? Let us therefore learn, that all the sacraments which men have contrived are nothing else than absolute mockeries or frivolous amusements, because the signs can have no truth unless they be accompanied by the word of the Lord. Now, since we never sport in this manner with sacred things, without wickedly pouring contempt on God and ruining souls, we ought to be most carefully on our guard against those stratagems of Satan.  John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel  According to John, 20:22.


Eucharistic Meditations

14Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 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 Corinthians 10:14-22   ESV

The Lord’s Supper is an occasion to reflect upon the sacrifice that the Lord Jesus Christ made on behalf of His people. When we partake of the bread and wine, we are given assurance of our salvation, and of God’s goodness towards us. But more often than not, we do not think of the Lord’s Supper as a reason to pursue purity and holiness. Let me explain.

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we thank God that He has forgiven us of our sins in Christ, and we commune with Him in our hearts by faith and thanksgiving, and are renewed to live a life worthy of the cross, a life that is holy. But when we come to the Lord’s table we tend to view it as the place where we can come to get cleansed from sin, and renew the terms of the covenant, and then on that basis, we seek to live a holy life. The Lord’s table in a sense becomes the jump off point, or the starting line, the re-starting line from where we take off and begin running the race again. This is good and true, because we always need to be rejuvenated and invigorated, and re-energized to keep running the race, and to keep fighting the good fight of faith. But I think that this passage of Scripture in   1 Corinthians 10 puts a slightly different slant on it.

Paul seems to indicate the opposite view; That the Lord’s Supper is not the starting, or re-starting line, but a finishing line. For Paul, the Lord’s Table is the goal and the reason why we ought to pursue righteousness, and holiness, and brotherly love, and to flee from sin and idolatry, because when we partake of the bread and the wine, we are participants in the body of Christ and in the Blood of Christ. For Paul then, when we eat, we are eating in the presence of Christ himself, which should then spur us on to holiness, so that we do not defile our communion with Christ at His table.

Now the really interesting thing about Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 10 concerning the Lord’s presence, is that he doesn’t even make an argument for it to try and prove his point, but He assumes it. It is a presupposition for Paul, one that serves as the basis of his argument for the Corinthians to not eat the food which is at the tables of the pagan gods, and to not drink of their cups. Why? Because, when they partake of the table of the pagan gods and partake of their cup, they become participants with demons!  What do I mean by “participants”? The NASB translation says, “sharers in demons.” The King James version says, “I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons.” Ah, we can understand the term fellowship. Sometimes after Church, we have meals together, and we talk with one another, and what not. And we call that, “fellowship.” Well Paul is saying to the Corinthians, when you eat at the feasts of pagan tables, in which their foods were sacrificed to idols, you are fellowshipping with demons.

And so, when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are fellowshipping with Christ, who is indeed there among us. So Paul exhorts the Corinthians to not eat of those tables because demons are there, and Christ is indeed at His table. And, As Paul says, you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. When we do that, we provoke the Lord to jealousy.

But, that is not all. There is indeed something deeper that transpires when we partake of the Bread and wine at the Lord’s Table.

We are not only eating in the presence of Christ who is spiritually and mystically there among us, but we are partaking of Christ Himself and are being united to Him, and He to us. There is a mystical union that takes place between the person and the Lord Jesus. And the only way we can understand this is by way of the Incarnation.

Jesus Christ, through His life and especially His death and resurrection, which was performed in His human nature, in His human body, accomplished all that was necessary for the salvation of mankind. And since Christ worked out our salvation through His human body and human nature, the only way that we humans can receive the benefits of His saving work, is if we come into some kind of communion and union with the human nature, and indeed with the human body of Christ, in which all the work of our salvation was performed and accomplished.

And since it is impossible that we become participants in the benefits of Christ’s saving work without actually becoming participants with His person as well, when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are engaging in the only way that this union can be attained, by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. And by doing this we are united to Christ Himself, and thus all His saving benefits of the New Covenant are ours.

And what happens when we eat of His flesh and drink His blood? What is the main benefit of the New Covenant? We are given eternal life. The Church is the Body of Christ is she not? And Christ is her head. But like a human body, what is the one thing that Body needs to survive? Blood. The Life of the body is in the blood, as Leviticus 17:11 says. So, Christ’s body, when it was broken, poured forth blood which is for the life of the body. So when we break the bread and drink the wine, we as the one body, because there is one bread, are kept alive spiritually, and are kept in communion with each other and with our Head when we drink the blood of Christ and eat His flesh.

And so, the Eucharist then, should not just be a starting line, but should be for us a finishing line, a goal to look forward to, our ambition to be pleasing unto Him, the aim of our daily lives,  in order to keep us pure, because it is at the Lord’s Table, in the Eucharist, we are actually receiving Christ Himself and His saving benefits via His flesh and blood.