1036) Holy Communion– Mystery and Obedience

There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us:  baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names– Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.

If you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day.  That is why daily prayers and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life.  We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.  Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind.  It must be fed.

–C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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More from C. S. Lewis (compiled and edited from various sources, primarily Letters to Malcolm):

      The very last thing I want to do is to unsettle in the mind of any Christian, whatever his denomination, their belief about what is happening when they receive the bread and wine…  

     Some people seem able to discuss different theories of Holy Communion as if they understood them all, and needed only evidence as to which was best.  This light has been withheld from me.  

     I do not know and can’t imagine what the disciples understood our Lord to mean when, His body still unbroken and His blood unshed, He handed them the bread and wine, saying they were His body and blood…  I can find within the forms of my human understanding no connection between eating a man– and it is as man that the Lord has flesh– and entering into any spiritual oneness with Him…  My effort to do so produces mere nursery thinking…  (I can not agree) with those who tell me that the elements are mere bread and mere wine, used only symbolically to remind me of the death of Christ.  They are, on the natural level, such a very odd symbol of that.  But it would be profane to suppose that they are as arbitrary as they seem to me.  I well believe there is in reality in appropriateness, even a necessity, in their selection.  But it remains for me, hidden.  

     I am not saying to anyone in the world, “Your explanation is wrong.”  I am saying, “Your explanation leaves the mystery for me still a mystery.”  Yet I find no difficulty in believing that the veil between the worlds, nowhere else (for me) so impenetrable to the intellect, is nowhere else so thin and permeable to divine operation.  Here a hand from the hidden country touches not only my soul but my body.  Here the prig, the don, the modern in me have no advantage over the savage or the child.

     I hope I do not offend God by making my Communions in the frame of mind I have been describing.   The command, after all, was ‘Take, eat’; not ‘Take, understand.’   

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Alvin Rogness, The Word for Every Day, Augsburg Publishing House, 1981, page 35:

     Obedience makes sense when you understand that disobedience will get you into trouble.  You obey the speed limit, when to disobey may get you arrested.  You observe the IRS regulations; if you don’t, you pay a fine.  It can be demonstrated that to disobey the commandments, “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is to invite all sorts of unpleasantness.

     There is another kind of obedience that does not rest on understanding at all.  It rests on trust.  This is the kind God asks of us.  We don’t honor God very much by not killing someone; it simply doesn’t pay.  But when we obey God in matters that we cannot understand or that have every chance of giving us trouble— that’s obedience out of sheer trust.  We honor God most by this kind of obedience.

     When they were small, my boys were quite different.  One, when I asked him to do something, would irk me by asking, “Why?”  The other didn’t bother to ask; he simply went ahead and did it.  I suppose I should have been pleased with the curiosity and caution of the first son, but I confess I was more pleased with the second— with his obedience in trust.

     God cannot be displeased when his children try to find out why they ought to do something he has asked.  But he has asked us to do many things for which there are no obvious reasons.  I think of Baptism, for instance.  Who can explain to anyone’s satisfaction what occurs in Baptism?  To be sure, we speak of the washing of regeneration, the grafting of a child into Christ, the gift of faith.  But these are “explanations” that at best satisfy only the believer.  We baptize, simply because Christ commands it.  We obey in trust.

     What do I receive through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper?  I am told that my sins are forgiven and that I have communion with my Lord.  The more the churches have tried to give theological explanations for what the Lord’s Supper means, the more separated from one another they have become.  Many of us may agree with C. S. Lewis that it is enough that the Lord has told us to come, and we come!

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Luke 22:19  —  (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Matthew 8:8-10  —  The centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Matthew 28:19  —  (Jesus said), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

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As the night-watchman waits for the morning, so do we wait for you, O Christ; come with the dawning of the day, and make yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread; for you are our God for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Author unknown

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