78 Q. Do the bread and wine become
the real body and blood of Christ?
Just as the water of baptism
is not changed into Christ’s blood
and does not itself wash away sins
but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, ^1
so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper
does not become the actual body of Christ,^2
even though it is called the body of Christ
in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.^3
^1 Matt. 26:[28-]29; Mark 14:24
^2 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:26-28
^3 Gen. 17:10, 14-19; Exod. 12:27, 43-48; 13:9; 24:8; 29:36; Acts 7:8; 22:16; Lev. 16:10; 17:11; Isa. 6:6-7; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21; 1 Cor. 10:1-4
79 Q. Why then does Christ call
the bread his body
and the cup his blood,
or the new covenant in his blood,
and Paul use the words,
a participation in Christ’s body and blood?
A. Christ has good reason for these words.
He wants to teach us that
just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life,
so too his crucified body and poured-out blood
are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.^1
But more important,
he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge,
that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work,
share in his true body and blood
as surely as our mouths
receive these holy signs in his remembrance,^2
and that all of his suffering and obedience
are as definitely ours
as if we personally
had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.
^1 John 6:51, 55
^2 1 Cor. 10:16-17
Lord’s Day 29 (Q&A 78-79)
“MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE”
In a recent group discussion on the church’s liturgy and a gathered assembly’s participation in worship, there was a distinction made between “meaningfulness” and “meaning-making.”
Here’s the hypothetical scenario. A baptized child walks up to receive the bread and the cup and then tugs on his mother’s leg, “I get it! This is the body of Jesus.” The astounded parent and equally astonished communion servers and congregants in the queue think to themselves, “The Lord’s Table is meaningful. Worship is meaningful.” Unspoken in these thoughts might be accompanying sentiments of affirmation: “Our church gets it right. We must be doing something right with our worship, that even a child comes to faith here and realizes what’s happening.”
Take a second, far too common scenario. A baptized child walks up to receive the bread and the cup, but no vocal recognition of its significance. The child does this with her parent maybe quarterly, or first Sunday of every month, or maybe even more frequently. This goes on for years, with still no vocal recognition of its significance. Was this less meaningful than the first scenario.
Compound either scenario with:
-increasing, dwindling, or stagnant numbers of worship attendees
-increasing, dwindling or stagnant numbers of candidates for baptism
-increasing, dwindling or stagnant financial giving
-an aging congregation
-a more youthful congregation
Was worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper less or more meaningful with any one of these scenarios and complexifying metrics?
“Meaningfulness” is a value judgment. It comports well with our human desire for results, amplified by an American spirit for progress. Connected to efforts and strategies to evoke, provoke, or invoke “meaningfulness” from our experiences is the related anxiety of “relevance.” An over-anxious spirit that wants the metrics to correspond directly with and confirm/affirm “meaningfulness” will attend to things that are “relevant.” Meaningfulness speaks to our aesthetic sensibilities, to an inward impatience, to our interior threshold capacity for repetition and what appears as mundane and unimportant or insignificant. The value judgment of meaningfulness seeks a sense of satisfaction, attainment, that a certain gap or deficit in us has been met or will be fulfilled.
This means that absent any sense of meaningfulness and apparent purposefulness, I will withdraw, not attend, not participate, or, at least, watch, wait and see.
“Meaning-making” is an altogether different enterprise. “Meaning-making” is formational, is enduring, is durable, and requires patiently waiting. Meaningfulness may occur and be realized as like a sudden epiphany.
In the first scenario above, the child comes to realize the significance of the communion table because of formation that has occurred. Perhaps she was taught at home some Bible stories. Her friendships with other kids as they ate at pre-school tables, or the singing of songs, or praying before bed — all of these were places and events where God was shaping a heart, carving a soul, and renewing a mind.
Meaning-making involves God’s initiative, God acting upon us, and we being the recipients, sometimes the respondent, more times the recipient of God’s action. This dynamic relationship occurs throughout our lives. It’s slow going as we plod through crests and valleys of the everyday.
What God does is free us to choose to not be bound by our preoccupation with instant gratification and desire for fulfillment and meaningfulness, and rather to choose the long, narrow, but fruitful road of following the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself by the Holy Spirit, accompanies us, enables us, prays for us and with us, perseveres with us, and preserves us.
One primary way the Lord offers this assurance/this pledge is the visible action of the Lord’s Table. Eberhard Busch observed that at the Table “Christ keeps fellowship with us sinners and brings us sinners into fellowship with him.” (Eberhard Busch, Drawn to Freedom: Christian Faith Today in Conversation with the Heidelberg Catechism. Trans. William H. Rader. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2010; p. 251).
Lurking under Q/A 78 and 79 is the expected anxiety of meaningfulness, of truth in advertising. The answer that is given is a No and a Yes.
No, the bread and cup do not become the real body and blood of Christ.
Anxiety, then, emerges: well, if the bread and cup do not become the real body and blood of Christ, then how can what we partake be effective, efficacious, and, therefore, meaningful? Q/A 78 anchors its response to “assurance.” It’s a “trust me” kind of an answer. It’s a “there is more than meets the eye” activity going on.
Q/A 79 gives the clincher, consistent with prior sections of the Catechism. The Holy Spirit is the key to the assurance. The eating of the bread and drinking of the cup are not empty activities, they are not meaningless; in fact, on the contrary. What appears like a routine activity is actually quite meaningful, very significant, having cosmic importance, otherwise, our Lord would not have given it to us as a gift of God for the people of God. The Holy Spirit assures us that by the event of eating and of drinking, we are joined to the very body and blood of Christ, a mysterious union with Christ that is unassailable, undefeatable, indivisible, and final. And with that union comes the assurance of forgiveness of sins, freedom to live for God, freedom from our anxieties and preoccupation, freedom to love and serve the world.
The Lord’s Table becomes meaningful in the meaning-making that is occurring in every moment of our lives, in our worship, our singing, our praying, our confessing the Creed, in fellowshipping, in serving, in studying, in reading, in meditating.
Meaning-making, and the sense of meaningfulness that emanates from that, are not contrived or something that human beings can manage or control. We can try to make a prayer meeting or a worship service as relevant as possible, but what is relevant to you may not be to another. If the aim is to evoke and create meaningfulness, then we will be disappointed, frustrated, and anxious at every turn. If, on the other hand, we attend to meaning-making, then it becomes more about participating, partaking, and doing.
This means (no pun intended!) confessing the Creed, even if we don’t understand it or don’t get it.
This means praying the Lord’s Prayer even when our spirits are downcast.
This means eating the bread and drinking the cup of our Lord even if we don’t fully understand the mystery of the how (as if we will every fully know and understand).
There is more than meets the eye, precisely because God is the one who is at work. It’s always been that way. A word to Noah to build an ark, a word to Moses to undertake a grand adventure, a promise to a shepherd-boy-king David, a word to child-barren Hannah, a word to a frightened pregnant Mary, the manger, the cross, the tomb, the upper Room.
Because the Holy Spirit abides and transcends time and space, we are joined to the triune God and to one another, and to the activity of the God who acts and has acted in Jesus Christ.
What the Lord has us embarking on since our birth is an adventure of discerning the Lord’s work, the Lord’s Good News in the midst of it all, all the while, the Holy Spirit apprenticing us with the trifecta gifts of faith, hope and love.
So, whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. There is more than meets the eye.