Posts tagged Sacraments
Holistic Communication Through the Sacraments

A few weeks ago, I was people-watching at church. I observed a father place his arm around his daughter. After this, he leaned over and kissed her on her head. A father’s deep affections materialized to communicate to his daughter how he felt for her in his immaterial soul. I asked myself, is the body merely a megaphone for one’s innards? No, this was not a reductionistic sender-channel-receiver transaction.

Receiving the materialization of her father’s affection in the body, the daughter will process the act further immaterially. Perhaps she records a memory, or simply basks in the moment. Perhaps her insecurities are assuaged as she nestles safely under his arm, or maybe she experiences again what she has known all her life: my daddy loves me. The communicative act goes soul through body to body into soul.

God loved the world. He communicated this love bodily through the incarnation of his Son, Jesus (John 3:16). Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). He died in the flesh and rose in the flesh (Luke 24:38–39). We know this. But what I am afraid we have missed is that he implemented a way to recommunicate this to us through the sacraments.

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’" (Mark 14:22–25)

A sacrament is a material symbol, perceived sensorily, which–when joined with faith–communicates God's covenant promises. In the enactment of the Lord's Supper, we see the bread, representative of Christ’s body, broken. We see the cup, representative of his blood, poured out. We are not sidelined to observe only; instead we are invited to partake freely. For what purpose? The Lord’s Supper is mnemonic[1], catechetical[2], ecclesiological[3], and eschatological[4]. The Lord’s Supper is God’s love for his children communicated materially through the elements to be received materially and internalized immaterially. God created us as holistic beings: material and immaterial in psychosomatic union. We need not bifurcate what God has joined together.

  1. The sacrament is the Word of God enacted. Partaking in the bread and cup assists us in remembering the Son’s salvific act on our behalf.  ↩

  2. The table teaches us about atonement, propitiation, our union with Christ, and God’s omnipresence, i.e., extra Calvinisticum.  ↩

  3. God’s table is reserved for God’s people, the church. Therefore, only baptized believers may enjoy the fellowship and nourishment of the sacrament.  ↩

  4. In Ephesians 2:6, Paul writes that by the Spirit’s power we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (experientially). So, too, the invitation for God’s sons and daughters, heirs to the throne, to come and dine with their sovereign King. But we do so with the anticipation of the final feast on the last day, when his kingdom is finally and fully realized (Revelation 19:6–9), and all things are reconciled and brought into subjection of the Son.  ↩

Calvin On The Proper Celebration Of The Lord’s Supper

Although the Genevan Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Ordinances which were revised by Calvin suggest the Supper ought to be taken once a month, Calvin, in his Institutes says that the Supper would be “administered most becomingly if it were set before the church very often, and at least once a week.” (4.17.43) He then proceeds to list (what I counted) a twelve step procession of the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper. 

  1. The service should begin with public prayers.
  2. After this, a sermon should be given. For the Supper must always be accompanied by the preaching of the Word.
    1. Elsewhere, he writes: “The bread is a sacrament only to those persons to whom the word is directed; just as the water of baptism is not changed in itself, but as soon as the promise has been attached it begins to be for us what it was not before.” (IV.XVII.15)
  3. The bread and wine should be placed on the table.
  4. Then, the minister should repeat the words of institution of the Supper.
  5. “Next, he should recite the promises which were left to us in it…”
  6. “At the same time, he should excommunicate all who are feared from it by the Lord’s prohibition.”
  7. “Afterward, he should pray that the Lord, with the kindness wherewith he has bestowed this sacred food upon us, also teach and form us to receive it with faith and thankfulness of heart, and, inasmuch as we are not so of ourselves, by his mercy make us worthy of such a feast.”
  8. Here, either believers ought to sing a psalm or read something.
  9. Then, “in becoming order the believers should partake of the most holy banquet, the ministers breaking the bread and giving the cups.”
  10. “When the Supper is finished, there should be an exhortation to sincere faith and confession of faith, to love and behavior worthy of Christians.”
  11. “At the last, thanks should be given, and praises sung to God.”
  12. “When these things are ended, the church should be dismissed in peace.”

John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. Mcneill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Paperback (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), IV.XVII.43, 2:1421-22.