There has been much debate about and ink spilled and sometimes blood spilled over what the Eucharist really is about. Whether we call it the eucharist, holy communion, the Lord’s supper it is all the same thing, but how we interpret it, perform the ritual for it, and what it means have often been widely divisive.
For instance, what happens when the words of institution are spoken? Do the elements, the bread and the wine, become real flesh and blood? Do they somehow contain the flesh and blood of Jesus but remain bread and wine? Is there no change at all and the meal is simply a reminder or memorial? Differences here have led to splits in both beliefs and practices. In case you were wondering, in the Lutheran church we talk about “Real Presence” that when the words are spoken Christ is present “through, with, and under” the elements, that his flesh and blood are present, but the bread and wine don’t literally turn into flesh and blood. While you may think the idea of them literally turning into flesh and blood is silly, early Christians were sometimes accused of cannibalism because of the eucharist and how it was described.
On the other side some countered that if Jesus is God, and God is everywhere, what makes communion any more special than any other meal? Luther responding to Zwingli (a contemporary theologian in his time) on the real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament, writes that “God is as present in your cabbage soup as in the sacrament. The difference is that God is hidden in the soup and revealed in the sacrament.” (retrieved from: https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/42) If you recall from before, sacraments consist of an earthly element, a promise from God, and a command to use them. So God and God’s promises get revealed to us in the bread and wine when the words of institution are spoken. This is what makes it special and set apart from every other meal, it is the promise that God promises to be revealed in it. It has nothing to do with our ability to approach the sacred without sin, it has nothing to do with only reserving it for special times, it has nothing to do with the quality of the bread or the wine, it has nothing to do with the quality of the one presiding over the ritual.
In the past there has been much to do made about how one can approach in a worthy manner. Some churches required confession beforehand, even individual confession. Some churches required a talk with the pastor, to ensure that a person believed the right things and could testify to the right faith. There are some denominations that still require these checks. There has also been a new discussion on whether one needs to be baptized first or should the eucharist be offered freely as a “radical welcome”, which is a topic for discussion and dialog, not great material for newsletters. The check on worthiness that has been shared with me, and I find the most helpful is not one’s interpretation of the event, nor one’s ability to recite the orthodox perspective of a certain denomination, but rather belief in two particular words of the ritual: “For you”. The power of the eucharist and the measure of our worthiness to receive it hinges on those two words. That the action and efficacy is not from us, but it is from God, and we have not made ourselves worthy to receive it, but it is God who deemed us worthy, while we were still sinners. This is what makes communion the embodiment of grace for us. This is why we need it as often as we can get it, because the world and the devil tells us every day, we don’t deserve it and we aren’t worthy of it. In the eucharist God says, “Here is my grace, given freely, FOR YOU.”
Image retrieved 9/13/2017: By John Snyder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Pastor Jarrod Schaaf has been ordained as a minister in the ELCA and was the past Pastor at St. Paul in North Robinson.