Eucharist for Newbies

Photo credit: Lifeteen

Photo credit: Lifeteen

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

A light look at 10 things you should know before Sunday.

When American evangelicals think of worship what generally comes to mind is song and sermon. But for most of the Christian era and for most in the Christian era, “worship” has meant Scripture and Sacrament…in other words, Communion…the Eucharist.

1. “Eucharista” is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” You can thank Paul for that: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

2. Interestingly, there is only one instance when Jesus used the phrase “New Testament” or “New Covenant” (diatheke). He used it, not to describe a book, but the Eucharist. This comes from the earliest historical record of the last Supper, written within perhaps twenty years of the event: “In the same way [Jesus] also [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’” (1 Cor 11:25; emphasis added). So, according to the New Testament, the Eucharist is the New Testament. Long before anyone assembled a book called the New Testament, Jesus had given the chalice as the New Testament in his blood (see Lk 22:20).  (Scott Hahn, The Eucharist in the New Testament)

3. The Eucharist, though, is not just in Paul, there are explicit references to the Eucharist in all four Gospels, Acts, Jude, and Revelation. Over the last fifty years Protestant scholars (John Koenig, Geoffrey Wainwright, Arthur Just, John DelHoussaye) have described a “Eucharistic Provenance of the New Testament.”  These are Protestant scholars recognizing that the New Testament was written to be read aloud in the context of the assembly (Rev 1:3) – and Christians assembled for the meal we call the Eucharist.

4. There are five views of the Eucharist: At the top is the Roman View – The elements incur a essential change, transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, becoming a “Magic Cracker” that appears to be bread, but is, in fact the body of Christ. On the bottom is the memorialist view, in which nothing happens, it is just a “Happy Meal.”* In between, from bottom to top are the views of Calvin (Nothing happens to the elements, but Jesus is present as we lift our hearts in faith), the Lutheran view (the elements become both/and: Jesus and bread/wine), and the Orthodox view (the elements become Jesus, but how and what exactly happens to the elements is a mystery humans cannot define).

5. In Anglicanism there is room for all five views, although very few are memorialists. At the beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth was called on to decide whether or not England would remain Catholic, as it had been under “Bloody Mary,” or continue along toward Reformation Protestantism, as was occurring on the continent. As most religious disputes of the day were fought over communion, the clergy reportedly asked, “Which is it, (literally) the ‘body of Christ‘ or (a memorial) ‘The bread of heaven‘?” As the story goes, Elizabeth said something to the effect, “I will not be in the business of peering into men’s souls. When you deliver communion you will say, ‘The body of Christ comma the bread of heaven.'” Basically she was saying, “Communion will be what the person receiving believes it to be.” It is the origin of Anglicanism’s “majoring on the majors”…or “Anglican fudge,” depending on your perspective.

6. The early church repeatedly describes the elements as becoming and being the “body of Christ.” They said, in effect, “Jesus is really here.” But they refused to over-define what that meant. “Transubstantiation,” the word Roman Catholics use to  indicate that the elements truly become the body and blood of Christ, is a word that doesn’t appear until the 11th century. Seminary students are aware that over-definition can be a particular charism of scholasticism. Because both scripture and the unbroken testimony of the early church insist on it, I personally believe in “real presence.” Memorialism ignores far too much scripture and the consistent testimony of the early church (1 Cor 11:29-30) …Why were people getting ill and dying if it is just a reminder? Although the argument could be made that the McDonald’s “Happy Meal” will probably kill you also. Transubstantiation is more specific than can be proved from scripture and causes some significant real world problems – If a frat boy snags a wafer in a prank and runs, do we really have the God of the universe in a prankster’s pocket?

7. The Eucharist is a Sacrament (Yes, Protestants too have Sacraments). Sacrament is Latin for oath…or promise. Simply put: we are promised that we experience Jesus when we obey Jesus…especially when we obey Jesus in the ways Jesus commanded…which is why Protestants traditionally recognize two Sacraments: Baptism & Eucharist, and refer to the rest as “sacramental rites” – permitted and edifying, but not mandated. Btw, for Protestants bugged that Catholics invented the “T word” in the 1100s, Baptists came up the word “ordinance” in their Confession of 1689 to avoid the word “sacrament.”

8. This is not a new sacrifice: Scripture is clear: “Christ…suffered once for sins.” (1 Pet 3:18) The re-presentation of Christ is a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” (BCP, 363)

9. Eucharist is the original Christian altar call: We come forward, we kneel in humility, we hold outstretched hands as the needy ones we are, and we receive, not grab, the Lord. We receive his grace in humility. We come to receive afresh the grace of God given at the Father’s initiation and at Christ’s expense. All baptized Christians are welcome at the family meal of the Body of Christ. As Cyril described in 400, we make a throne with our hands to receive the body of Christ.

10. At St. Jude’s we use a Eucharistic prayer adapted from the Prayer of Hippolytus written in 315CE. We are following a pattern that was explained as standard Christian worship by Justin Martyr in 150CE. Think about that: What Christians do in the Eucharist is so old that it was already described as the standard and assumed worship pattern of Christians as close to the closing of the NT canon as the writing of the New Testament was to the Lord walking on earth.

Do you want to worship like the early Christians? Try worshipping Eucharisticly. It will bless you.

As Augustine said, “Be what you see; receive what you are.” (Augustine, Sermon 272) -The body of Christ.

So, if you have not before, this Sunday join a celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

The Lord be with you!

*The terms “Magic Cracker” and “Happy Meal” were used in a friendly debate over beer. My Roman Catholic friend insisted, “It is indeed ‘magic cracker.'” My memorialist friend replied, “No. It is only a ‘Happy Meal.’ Fun, but no nutritional value is present.”


35 thoughts on “Eucharist for Newbies

  1. Hey Matt- This is a terrific rundown of history, “sides” etc. Ok if I use this for a class I am teaching on the Eucharist? You will receive full marks for compiling the info, of course. Cheers!

  2. I love this thing about the Eucharist that’s sometimes also attributed to QE1 (and sometimes to John Donne!):

    He was the Word, that spake it:
    He took the bread and brake it;
    And what that Word did make it,
    I do believe and take it.

    Great post….

    • Thank you, Barbara.

      I was actually going to include that poem but was hitting the 1000 word mark and was afraid that if I went any longer that only insiders would endure to the end. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Eucharist for Newbies | Wonderings of aSacredRebel

  4. As a Lutheran pastor (ELCA) not sure I’d agree with your assessment of Luther’s view on the Eucharist. Lutherans confess the ‘real presence’ of Christ’s Body and Blood ‘in, with and under’ the bread and wine of the Eucharist. ‘In, with and under’ sounds like Christ is ‘physically present’ to me.

    Pastor George W. Loewer
    Zion Lutheran Church, Bristol PA

    • Right you are! Although I think that Lutherans and Anglicans have historically attempted to channel the Orthodox view in their recovery of the early and unbroken tradition of the church…and I did not do justice to the position (as pastor George pointed out) in a rush to publish. Many more Americans know “real presence” as a Lutheran belief than an Orthodox one…even if the Orthodox are the ones who have articulated it from antiquity. 🙂

  5. Thanks for posting this important reminder. With Pr. George (and I guess the author?) I would only add that Luther did not question that the whole Christ, Soul and Divinity, Body and Blood, are given, distributed and eaten in the Eucharist. “We are talking about the Living Christ,” we read in the ELCA’s Statement on the Means of Grace. In the words of another old song: HOW this can be, I live to thee, your word alone assures me, I trust its truth, unfailing.

    • You are probably more correct than I, Brian. Quitting Rome and dissolving monasteries for financial gain was not the same as throwing in with Luther or Calvin. And outside of royal supremacy, some of the reforms he did allow he later backpedalled on (like English language Bibles in churches).

    • Hello mindfuldisciple,

      Thank you for commenting. Many Protestant denominations use the term “sacrament” (Latin “promise”). My understanding is that the word “ordinance” was coined in the early 1800’s out of a desire by Reformed wing Anglicans to avoid the “Oxford Movement” within Anglicanism that sought to re-establish some Medieval Catholic practices, and that the term was picked up by Baptists as a convenient way to avoid complex discussion by simply saying, “We don’t have those…we have things Jesus ‘ordained’ rather than things Jesus ‘set apart for holy use.'” But I could be wrong on that.

      Btw, I have not heard your “commonly used definition”…and I am clergy in a church that has had sacraments since 1549, but, I would say that your “conveyor of grace” would depend on your definition of “grace” (Protestant or Catholic) and on your definition of “conveyor”.

      Our definition of sacrament is: “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” (BCP)

      The meaning of that (for Protestant leaning Anglicans) is fleshed out in Article 28 of the 39 Articles of Religion, “The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the mutual love that Christians ought to have among themselves. Rather, it is a sacrament of our redemption through Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and similarly the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. Transubstantiation (the change of the substance of the bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord cannot be proved from Holy Scripture, but is repugnant to the plain teaching of Scripture. It overthrows the nature of a sacrament and has given rise to many superstitions. The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper only in a heavenly and spiritual manner. The means by which the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is by faith.”

      Many Anglicans would say that view (a Calvinist one) is far too low.

      In any event, most Christians these days speak of the Lord’s Supper blessing them in tangible ways…we speaks to more than my memorialist friends, “Happy Meal.” 🙂

  6. One quibble: Roman Catholic theology does not posit a physical change; in fact that is specifically rejected, and part of the doctrine is that the appearance, touch, taste, and even chemical composition are unchanged. These properties are, in Aristotelian philosophy, known as the “accidents,” and what is changed is the “substance,” i.e. the “bread-ness” is replaced by the “Body of Christ-ness.”

  7. Nicely done Matt. I would argue that Anglicans can hold the Calvinist/Lutheran/Orthodox spectrum. The Memorialist and Romans postions are not Anglican and both are denied in the 39 Articles. Roger Beckworth, an Evangelical Anglican, sums up of the Calvinist Anglican position (which I hold) of the real presence from an article in the Churchman.The reason is rooted in the 39 Articles which Richard Hooker articulates in his famous quote.

    “The real presence is not in the elements, in such a way that those who
    receive the elements necessarily receive the body and blood of Christ. Rather, the real
    presence is in the administration of the sacrament, in such a way that those who with faith
    receive the sacrament receive Christ’s body and blood. Article 28 states it as follows: ‘The
    Body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper only after a heavenly and spiritual
    manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is
    Faith.’ One may compare the language of the Catechism: ‘the Body and Blood of Christ,
    which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful [Old English for believers] in
    the Lord’s Supper.’ One may also compare the language of Hooker: ‘the real presence of
    Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in
    the worthy receiver of the sacrament,’ that is, the one who receives with faith (Ecclesiastical
    Polity 5:67:6). One may add that, earlier in the same section (5:67:2), Hooker says that the
    widest division in Christendom is between those who affirm a real participation of Christ in
    the sacrament and those who deny it (as Zwingli came close to doing), and not between those
    who affirm or deny a change of substance in the elements. Nevertheless, he does go on to
    deny this change, and is faithful to the Articles in doing so.”

    Click to access Cman_105_1_Beckwith.pdf

    • Hi Shane,

      Thank you for the comments. Very helpful for our Anglican family.

      You are surely correct from a doctrinal perspective. In the non-doctrinal (some would argue “anything goes”) world of TEC, we do have some Memorialists and many full-on Roman Sacramentalists. I was more describing the breadth on the ground. I appreciate your willingness to share from Hooker. In what could snarkily be described as “typical Anglican fashion,” he reads clearly Calvin-like one moment with a nod to Luther the next. Surely both the highest and lowest views are off limits in the 39 Articles, to which I subscribe…I find them to be brilliant and balanced at the beginning but veering a bit into culture bound jots and tittles at the end – civil magistrates, sermon lists and men’s oaths aren’t really the stuff of overarching import for timeless doctrinal statements.

      Thanks again for commenting. Blessings in your work at St. George’s.

  8. Thanks, great collection of thoughts concerning the Last Supper / Eucharist. One minor objection: only three of the four gospels, namely the synoptics, have the Eucharist. The fourth Gospel has got the foot washing, instead. Which is not to say, that John does not make reference to it (when he has Jesus say “I am the bread of life” or “I am the true vine”, some aspects of chapter 2, also in some way the post-resurrection meal ch 21 etc), but there is no “explicit” description.

    • Hi Moruti, you are correct that only the Synoptics have the last supper scene. I was referring to the long “bread of life” discourse in the end of John 6…see 53-56 for example. Surely this is the product of decades of Eucharistic reflection in the time from the middle until the later end of the first century before John is assumed to have been written. Most would say that John 6 is by far the most explicit description of the meaning of the eucharist.


  9. O Jesus, protect and bless all of us, grew within in the fear of God. God be with us, hear our prayers that day or hour, in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, always to pray with our Godly spirit for our intercession in your Holy Name the life of Jesus into our lives.

    Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in words that taught us in the form of the Holy Spirit that we might turn to Him we repent and ask God to forgive us of our sins bless us that we can have good communication which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

  10. O Jesus, protect and bless all of us, grew within in the fear of God. God be with us, hear our prayers that day or hour, in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, always to pray with our Godly spirit for our intercession in your Holy Name the life of Jesus into our lives.

    Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in words that taught us in the form of the Holy Spirit that we might turn to Him we repent and ask God to forgive us of our sins bless us that we can have good communication which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

    • Hi Dona,
      I am with you, that Jesus is the source of the Eucharist. But for evangelicals who say, “Communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” I was holding up the idea that the name “Eucharist” is from the very source that evangelicals look to first, as Paul is “the interpreter of Jesus.”

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