Thursday, April 01, 2010

John Calvin on the Lord's Supper

The first Communion meal was celebrated by Jesus and his disciples on the night in which our Lord was betrayed, or "Maundy Thursday". John Calvin wrote with great insight on the Lord's Supper. He viewed Communion in the light of the believer’s union with Christ. The risen Jesus is bodily in heaven, but we receive the saving benefits of his body and blood through the Holy Spirit. In the Lord’s Supper we have real communion with Christ by the presence of Spirit. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we feast upon the Saviour by faith.

The sacraments are defined by the Word and made meaningful in the light of the Bible’s teaching. The Lord’s Supper was given as a visible representation of the body and blood of Jesus. What is taught in Scripture concerning Christ is richly symbolised in the bread and the wine. As the people of God eat bread and drink wine together at he Commuion meal the Lord accommodates himself to our weakness to assure us of his love and increase our faith.

Calvin was concerned that Zwingli’s view of the Lord’s Supper focussed too much on the human side. Zwingli emphasised the importance of our faith, our remembering what Christ has done for us. For Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is much more about Christ communicating his life to us. He said, “the flesh of Christ is like a rich inexhaustible fountain, which transfuses into us the life flowing forth from the Godhead itself. (Institutes Book IV, XVII, 9). He reflects on the Lord’s Supper,

But though is seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Spirit passes all our conceptions and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive – namely that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. The sacred communion of the flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by here exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils the promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude beneficially receive it. For this reason the apostle said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (Book IV, XVII, 10).
In Calvin we have a rich and deeply biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26).


Canadian said...

It was novel to Calvin to have the believer soar into heaven to feast on Him there. The scripture does not imply the absence of Christ IN the supper but rather the presence...and not only by the faith of a believer, but in judgement which is associated with the act of eating and drinking unworthily. The unworthy did not soar to heaven to partake unworthily. It should be no problem to have Christ fully present in the supper because this is not just any ordinary flesh and blood-—BECAUSE OF THE UNION of that flesh with a divine Person who is pleased to extend properties to that flesh that are not natural to it. (See the transfiguration where his flesh exceeds the brightness of the sun.)
Can the Divine 2nd Person of the holy trinity ever be present anywhere without his human nature? Is the Alpha and Omega strapped to a chair at the right hand of the Father?

Exiled Preacher said...

Your conception of the Lord's Supper sounds a little Lutheran to me, Canadian. I don't believe that due to the union between Christ's divine and human natures that divine properties were communicated to his humanity. His natures are united in his divine Person, yet they remain distinctly divine and human.

The Son is always and everywhere the incarnate Son, but part and parcel of his taking flesh is that his humanity is finite and is not therefore omnipresent. Due the communion of attributes in the person of the Son it is appropriate to say that the 2nd Person of the Trinity is present everywhere as the incarnate Son. But that does not imply that his humanity is omnipresent any more than saying that the Son of God was crucified means that his divine nature was nailed to a cross. The Son was crucified in his humanity. Similarly the incarnate Jesus is present everywhere in his divinity.

Chalcedonian Christology holds good even in Christ's exalted state.

Canadian said...

Thanks for your response.
I am not Lutheran but a disfunctional Baptist :-)
His humanity remains distinctly human but is it naturally human to walk through the wall into the upper room to chat with the apostles? Is it naturally human to rise from the dead? Is it naturally human to glow like the sun? Or transport from heaven to earth at will? The iron and fire analogy of the father's is pertinent. Iron is by nature always iron, but when fire interpenetrates the iron it shares properties unnatural to it.
This does not violate Chalcedon's meaning of "without change".
The council of Ephesus stresses that the unbloody worship offered in the churches is not flesh as of an ordinary man but because of the union in the person of the Son, his flesh itself becomes life-giving. He is personally present which necessarily means in both natures. We can say "God died" knowing he did not suffer in his divinity, but did suffer personally as the Son--our one Lord Jesus Christ. Distinction does not necessitate separation or restriction. Wow! It is a good thing I wasn't responsible to sort out all this stuff in those centuries, thank God for his providence.

Canadian said...

And Jesus took bread and gave thanks and said "this isn't my body, my body is over here."

Exiled Preacher said...

I grant you that Jesus' resurrection body had properties that it did not possess before like the ability to suddenly appear in a room. But it was still a body that was either in one place or another.

Canadian said...

Jesus body was a fully human body entirely received from Mary.
But even before his resurrection, his humanity was the vehicle for divine activities un-natural to it: walking on water, healing, raising the dead, turning water into wine, said "this is my body" (before the crucifiction), seeing Nathaniel under the tree when not present, knowing men's thoughts, arriving at the shore "immediately" when having left after the disciples, physically transfigured by divine glory, etc.
How much more, post-resurrection is he able to give his life giving flesh any way he pleases.

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