Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What does Christ say?

One of the things that I hold to as a theologian, perhaps more doggedly than some, is that where the Word is silent, we must be silent, and where the Word is clear, we must be clear. Theology is simple - it is simply what God has declared to us. Now, things may be derived, some logical conclusions followed - but again, simple things.

A debate has been going on over the "leftovers" (note how I use the technical term - which actually is "reliquae" or something akin to that - my Latin spelling is bad - and it simply means leftovers or remains, so might as well type that!) of the Lord's Supper. Does it remain Christ's Body and Blood, and if so, in what cases? What ought we do with it?

First, let me sum the positions:

1 - Hardcore receptionist - It's nothing, because the Supper isn't Christ's Body until someone eats it and isn't His blood until someone drinks it. This position is now quite rare in Lutheran Circles (and rightfully so!)

2 - "Servicist" (which is am coining as a term, because I don't know of an accurate one for this really common position. This holds that the elements are no longer the Body and Blood of Christ after the service is over (some would say after the distribution is over, some might lengthen it to the Benediction, but after the service being the key) - but yet they should be treated with respect because they once were indeed Christ's Body and Blood. The safest treatment is to simply consume them, that way there is no lingering doubt as to what they are or chance that they will be handled disrespectfully or idolatrously. Also, the remains may be used for shuts ins but they must be reconsecrated.

3 - I will call this the "Practical Reservationists" - The leftovers may indeed remain as Christ's Body and Blood if they are set aside for consumption at a later date. Normally this may be simple consumption afterwards (where those consuming are indeed receiving Christ's Body and Blood). However, it is conceivable that the remains, as the Lord's Body and Blood, may be taken and rightly distributed to the sick or shut-ins as such. For a later distribution most would also have the Words of Institution respoken so that the later communicant would know what he or she is receiving - although some would say that this is not necessary, if the reservation is done for the precise act of distributing. The other predominate position in modern Lutheranism.

4 - "Reservationists" - Your typical Roman Catholic position. Christ is Body present in His Supper, and it is respectful to keep that which is consecrated in a tabernacle within the Church for the purpose of adoration. Generally eschewed by Lutherans.

5 - What I will call "Hyper-Reservationists" - the folks who are convinced that church mice who have somehow found crumbs of the supper will be amongst the highest beings in heaven. Okay - this one is sort of made up, but there are some reservationists out there that make Roman Catholics blush - but thankfully not many.

So, what do we do with this? I say - let's be simple and look at our Lord's Words.

"Take and Eat, this is My Body. . . Take and Drink, this is My Blood."

This eliminates 1, 4, and 5 as right positions. It eliminates 4 and 5 because the purpose of the Supper is to be eaten and drank. To avoid this is a violation of what Christ instituted - and we don't have the power to use God's Word against Him for our own purposes. It eliminates 1 because Christ declares the Bread to be His Body before it is eaten, the wine in the chalice to be His Blood before it is drank. Besides, 1 goes against the passive grain in Lutheran Theology - for it puts the focus on the action of man as being definitive rather than the Word of Christ.

So, that leaves us with 2 or 3. Which fits better with the Lord's Words? Both affirm that the Supper is the Supper because Christ says it is. The question is - how long does the Supper last?

On the basis, simply of Scripture, I believe three is the stronger position - because our Lord does not say "Take and eat this very moment, because for the next 15 minutes this will be My Body". I would probably be even more hardcore on three than most, arguing that it would be a fine, salutary practice if the pastor and elders of the congregation divided the shut-ins and ill amongst themselves, took bulletins, church materials, and the Supper to them, and distributed Christ's Body and Blood to them. I have a few old people in the back who don't walk forward, the Elder and I walk back to them. Not much difference rather than it's not practical to stop the service and do home delivery with folks sitting in the pews. I think it would be a wonderful practice to do it that way.

However -- and don't you love howevers -- that's not how it is practiced here, and I doubt it ever will be. We practice a low number 2 - where the leftovers are held aside. I don't even consume anything here - because I'm in the bible belt and drinking that much alcohol weirds people out.

So I will use the remains for shut-in visits, or the first to be used next communion on Sunday - but they are consecrated (not reconsecrated).

So, how can this be? How can I believe 3 but practice 2? Because 2 also follows our Lord's Words of "Take and eat, this is My Body." They are not reserved for the purpose of distribution - so I would not claim them to be Christ's Body any longer apart from this proper usage. Christ is where He has promised to be FOR OUR BENEFIT. Think of the emphasis Luther puts on the Words "FOR YOU" - and rightly so. Without the intent of bringing Christ's Body and Blood to the sick and shut-in - whom is that Christ's Body and Blood for?

So while I think we cannot speak out against a Practical Reservationist position, and indeed, ought to considering using it (even though it would mean more work for me on Sunday afternoons when my mind is typically worn out from service), I do not think holding to a ceasation of the Presence does damage either to the Lord's intent or His Words.

As long as we are working towards giving Christ's Body and Blood to His people as He instructed, that is fine. But don't make rules that are in Scripture, nor reach above what your people know and cause doubt in their minds.


Paul McCain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I have deleted a long comment by Rev. McCain - not because it was bad, per se - but it was long, and basically a copy of what he has put on his site and in the comments he put over at "Dropping the Ball".

I like short things - it's a product of Scaer classes. However, in his post, he mentions one thing of great importance -"Intended usage."

When the intended usage and planned distribution is over. . . it's over. . . there is no more "for you."

However, I do not think that extending the intended usage beyond the concrete Sunday service on into the communion of Shut-ins or the ill violates the idea of intended usage - or even the context of worship (at all times and in all places). While not the majority custom, it isn't a bad practice, and I think it might even be preferable.

Steven said...

Luther seems to be quite clear that within the sacramental action, the body and blood of our Lord remain. Luther himself defines the end of the action with two conditional clauses "until all have communicated" and "until the people have been dismissed and [the priest] has left the altar". He further clarifies the first "until" clause with the phrases "have emptied chalice" and "have consumed the hosts". Therefore it seems that if there are hosts and wine that have been consecrated are left, which are going to be given to others "to eat and to drink", what remains is the Lord's body and blood.

Basically, I agree with you 3 seems to be more in line with Scripture and the Confessions.