Showing items filed under “G: The Font, the Table, the Pulpit”

Where is the Risen Body of Jesus?

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This is a question debated among Reformation theologians, and it may seem an arcane one. Still, it has real implications for our spiritual lives. Jesus was raised bodily, and ascended into heaven.  The Calvinists thought that His body is now on high, removed, in a sense absent, until that day when He shall return.  The Lutherans had a doctrine of ‘ubiquity’, according to which He is now present in an immediate sense in all the cosmos.  The first emphasizes how He has gone ahead, gone on high. The other emphasizes His reign now is over all the universe.  Both accounts take His bodily resurrection seriously.

Perhaps we can say that together these two lens help us see the sacraments. They are tokens and promises of what is to come when He returns. They are also a participation in His changed presence with us now.  Furthermore, while both speak to us, His own, His disciples, they also remind us that He is king, not only of the Church but of the universe. 

We can see both elements in the Eucharist. The orthodox paint the ceilings of their churches blue with stars, to look like heaven. In the liturgy we sing the hymn of the angels before the presence of the Lord whose glory fills the heaven and earth (the Sanctus, quoting Isaiah 6: 2-3).  Where Christ is really present is in the kingdom, right here with us, and throughout the universe, all at once.  These both/and’s help us to grasp the full claim about Him which the liturgy is making. 

Read Eucharistic prayer II D (based on St. Basil’s, from the eastern Church of the 4thcentury) and consider how it understands Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.

Uncovenanted Mercies?

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The expression above originally referred to the possibility that God might be at work in and for unbelievers in ways we cannot imagine, the kind of question we dealt with in the Narthex. But it might equally be addressed to those who do believe in Jesus but don’t choose to go to Church, to partake of the sacraments. Can’t they too be recipients of grace? We all know living breathing examples, perhaps in our own families.

But as we begin to consider such a question, we can readily see the risks that present themselves on each side. On the one hand, we might see the sacraments as a tight system for the dispensing of grace understood as a quantum, a resource, to those on the inside.  Or on the other hand, it might be only a signpost for something true without particular reference to the Church, to be found in the world at large. We might draw up too tight an account of the Church and God’s gracious action, or we might loosen the two completely. Neither conveys the Gospel, a part of which is the divine use of the Church as the place where humanity may meet, enjoy, and share in Christ’s risen life.  We are back to the basic question about the Church- how can we make a strong claim about it, without confusing the Body for the Head, Jesus Himself?

The place to start, yet again, is with Jesus’ real presence in the sacrament. He reaches out ‘in, with, and under’ (as the Lutherans say) the bread, the water, the words, to minister to us. He is at once free (so He could act extraordinarily) but faithful to His promises.  In fact the omnipotent God making and keeping promises, especially in the person of Jesus, is the supreme freedom.  Looking back to His presence is how we can think about the Church as neither extraneous nor ultimate.  And that bears directly on the questions which the flaws and limits of the Church raise for us.

 A little etymology can help. ‘Sacramentum’ in Latin translated ‘mysterion’ in Greek, and the latter term was used by Paul for the surprising salvation history which culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus (so Ephesians 3:3).  The Latin word itself implies an oath and a covenant.  All these are to be found in our idea of a sacrament: the retelling of the Bible’s story of salvation, and as a result promise-making and keeping between us and God, all bound together by the personal presence of Jesus, who is free and faithful throughout.

Read and relate Ephesians 3 to what you have read.


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