The Lord’s Supper – Past, Present and Future

My brother Travis has got a lot of gears cranking with a recent Revelife post on the subject of the Lord’s Supper.  His issue is basically that in addition to the presence of Christ, we need to bear in mind the presence of other believers to hold us to ethical and theological account.

Stanley Grenz, in his imminently readable Theology for the Community of God, describes the Lord’s Supper as a reaffirmation of our identity as a community gathered around Christ.  The Supper binds together believes past, present and future, and its significance lies “in its relationship to the future as grounded in the past.”  How so?  Grenz lays it out like this.

Past – The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal.  It is a reenactment of the Last Supper, when we fulfill Jesus’ command to “Do this in remembrance of me.”  In this way, according to Grenz, we symbolically enter into the Jesus story:

We vividly remember Jesus’ significant life.  We sit with the disciples in the upper room and recall Jesus’ teaching about the pathway to life and about his death as the provision for spiritual vitality.  We call to mind the table fellowship he shared with [national traitors] and sinners, which stood as a sign of the kingdom and of the new community he was inaugurating.  We remember as well his sacrificial death, recalling this climax to our Lord’s great example of humble service to others and complete obedience to the Father.
Present – Through our eating and drinking, as well as our sharing, we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes,” as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians.  The bread, of course, represents the body of Christ, broken, while the blood represents the new covenant forged in his blood.  Communion, then, becomes a symbolically charged act of defiance against the very same rulers who do not understand the wisdom of God, “for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  What is more, Grenz observes that consuming the elements becomes “an enactment of our participation in Christ himself.”  It is a reception of provision and an acceptance of the way of Christ.  Finally, in the act of Eucharist we declare Christ’s lordship, and for this reason it “carries grave ethical implications: it is a reminder that we can serve no other gods, that no loyalty dare usurp the place of Christ.”

Future – Unique to Matthew, Jesus issues a promise during the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  He says, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  To Grenz this means that we do not look only to what happened in the past, but are “drawn into the future… There we meet the risen Jesus who has gone before us into God’s eschatalogical kingdom through his resurrection, which we will one day share in.”  But the future isn’t only anticipation, but also an experience we share in the present.  “Through the Holy Spirit,” Grenz writes, “Jesus’ promise becomes a present reality. Our Lord comes among us and communes with us… The celebration is an experience of present community.”

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