Eucharistic Meditation

“When he had fasted forty days and forty nights.” You see, brothers, that the forty-day fast is not a human invention. Its authority is divine. … The God and man in you fasts, starves for your sake—you, who do not know how to eat and therefore cannot even starve. Therefore, when Christ fasts for your sake, he starves for your sake. … Feeling hungry and overcoming hunger are human work. There is no hunger in God’s power. Therefore Christ did not faint from fasting or starve. He was hungry so that the Devil would have a reason to tempt him.

Hear what the Devil offered to the hungry one: “Command these stones to become bread.” He offers stones to the hungry. Such is always the nature of the enemy. This is how the originator of death and envier of life shepherds. “Command these stones to become bread.” Devil, your foresight failed. He who can change stones into bread can also turn hunger into abundance. You wretch know how to be evil but you are not able to tempt with vessels, and are unable to offer the hungry something fine rather than something austere.

… See, Tempter, how all your tricks have been destroyed in the presence of Christ. He who turned water into wine is surely able to turn stones into bread. But signs are performed for faith, not for plots.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord.” Hear and understand the word of the Father, to eat for your hunger the words of our salvation instead of bread, so that man may live forever.

Peter Chrysologus (c. 380—c. 450), Sermo XI

Eucharistic Meditation

False in every respect are those who despise the entire dispensation of God, and deny  the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if the body indeed does not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man—which the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He moistens our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter II

Eucharistic Meditation

According to its substance, therefore, the mass is nothing but the aforesaid words of Christ: “Take and eat, etc.”, as if he were saying: “Behold, O sinful and condemned man, out of the pure and unmerited love with which I love you, and by the will of the Father of mercies, apart from any merit or desire of yours, I promise you in these words the forgiveness of all your sins and life everlasting. And that you may be absolutely certain of this irrevocable promise of mine, I shall give my body and pour out my blood, confirming this promise by my very death, and leaving you my body and blood as a sign and memorial of this same promise. As often as you partake of them, remember me, proclaim and praise my love and bounty toward you, and give thanks.”

From this you will see that nothing else is needed for a worthy holding of mass than a faith that relies confidently on this promise, believes Christ to be true in these words of his, and does not doubt that these infinite blessings have been bestowed upon it. Hard on this faith there follows, of itself, a most sweet stirring of the heart, whereby the spirit of man is enlarged and enriched (that is love, given by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ), so that he is drawn to Christ, that gracious and bounteous testator, and made a thoroughly new and different man. Who would not shed tears of gladness, indeed, almost faint for joy in Christ, if he believed with unshaken faith that this inestimable promise of Christ belonged to him? How could he help loving so great a benefactor, who of his own accord offers, promises, and grants such great riches and this eternal inheritance to one who is unworthy and deserving of something far different?

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 36: Word and Sacrament II, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 36 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 40–41.

Eucharistic Meditation

It was highly necessary to instruct the people that the true worship and honour of Christ and of his Holy Sacrament does not consists in such external gestures or services alone, also that our dear Lord Christ did not institute this venerable Sacrament for the sake of seeing and worshipping or being present there for that purpose, but so that we would partake of it, as the Lord’s words say, “Take, eat; take, drink,” etc. These words have power and avail so much as to say, “This is My body; this is My blood; this do in remembrance of Me.” … Therefore, the Word is most important, through the power of which, from the institution of the Lord, the true body and blood of Christ are there. The Word teaches us what kind of treasure we have there, what we should use it for, and why Christ is there, so that true invocation and spiritual worship are enkindled in us.

Now, here we are not saying that one should not worship our dear Lord Jesus Christ in this Sacrament, being present, or that one should not hold this Sacrament with all honour and reverence. On the contrary, since these divine, almighty, true words are believed, all of this follows of itself, and not only in external gestures but also both externally and, first and foremost, in the heart, spirit, and truth. On account of this, such adoration of Christ is not thereby cancelled, but much rather, confirmed. For where the Word is rightly seen, considered, and believed, the adoration of the Sacrament will happen of itself. For whoever believes that Christ’s body and blood are there (as there is plenty of evidence so to believe, and it is necessary so to believe), he cannot, to be sure, deny his reverence to the body and blood of Christ without sin. For I must confess that Christ is there when His body and blood are there. His words do not lie to me, and He is not separate from His body and blood.

Georg III von Anhalt, Fourth Sermon on the Sacrament of the Altar. Translated in The Treasury of Daily Prayer

Eucharistic Meditation

Let us then return from that table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil; thinking on our Head, and on the love which He has shown for us. Parents often entrust their offspring to others to feed. “But I,” says He, “do not so: I feed you with My own flesh, desiring that you all be nobly born, and holding forth to you good hopes for the future. For He who gives out Himself to you here, much more will do so hereafter. I have willed to become your Brother, for your sake I shared in flesh and blood, and in turn I give out to you the flesh and the blood by which I became your kinsman.”

This blood causes the image of our King to be fresh within us, produces beauty unspeakable, permits not the nobleness of our souls to waste away, watering it continually, and nourishing it. The blood derived from our food becomes not at once blood, but something else; whereas this blood does not so, but immediately waters our souls, and works in them some mighty power. This blood, if rightly taken, drives away devils, and keeps them afar off from us, while it calls to us Angels and the Lord of Angels. For wherever they see the Lord’s blood, devils flee, and Angels run together. This blood poured forth washed clean all the world; many wise sayings did the blessed Paul utter concerning it in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This blood cleansed the secret place, and the Holy of Holies. And if the type of it had such great power in the temple of the Hebrews, and in the midst of Egypt, when smeared on the door-posts, much more the reality. This blood sanctified the golden altar; without it the high priest dared not enter into the secret place. This blood consecrated priests, this in types cleansed sins. But if it had such power in the types, if death so shuddered at the shadow, tell me how would it not have dreaded the very reality? This blood is the salvation of our souls, by this the soul is washed, by this is beautiful, by this is inflamed, this causes our understanding to be more bright than fire, and our soul more beaming than gold; this blood was poured forth, and made heaven accessible.

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 46 on the Gospel of  John, Chapter 6

Maundy Thursday: Eating and Drinking Life

Preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on 17 February 2014. You can listen to a recording of the sermon here.
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23–32

We have heard read tonight the institution of the Holy Supper of our Lord, as narrated by St. Paul to the church in Corinth, and with our own mouths we have confessed what this Sacrament is, does and signifies. Let us spend a few moments longer contemplating the great divine mystery, which we will not only study but receive before we leave this place.

It is not an exaggeration to say that God in the Holy Scriptures is extraordinarily focused on our eating. The first thing we are told about the Garden in Eden, the home of the first man and his wife, is that “out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” The very first commandment had to do with eating:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

In the middle of the Garden was the Tree of Life, which was the source of eternal life. For after the Fall, in order to prevent from fallen mankind to live forever under the curse, God placed cherubim with flaming swords to guard the Tree of Life and to keep man from eating from it.

And since man is what he eats, death began its reign. Cultivating a cursed ground for his food, he remained under the curse. Eating dead food, he himself was destined to be consumed by death.

But since God was determined to remain true to His loving purposes and be faithful even when we were faithless, He continued to provide life-giving food for the people.

When Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of God Almighty and the king of Salem who foreshadowed the true High Priest of God and the King of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, Melchizedek blessed Abraham and gave him bread and wine.

When the Lord redeemed Israel from the yoke of slavery in Egypt, He sent the people into their freedom fed with the meat of the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread.

In the wilderness, when the people were perishing for want of faith when food and water were scarce, God sent them bread from heaven and water from a rock.

When the Lord gave Moses the Law, He provided a sacred meal, the peace offering, so that the worshippers gathered in the tabernacle might sit down and eat the meat of the sacrifice in table fellowship with God Himself.

Through His prophets, God promised a time of restoration when there would no longer be a curse on the ground, when creation would be freed from its bondage to sin, when death would die. The people would once again eat the fruit of the land in all its abundance. “Open your mouth wide,” says the Lord, “and I will fill it.” (Ps. :)

* * *

However, not everything was suitable to eat. There was food that was unclean: food that came from things that had been distorted by the fall, and perpetuated the fallenness of creation—such as beasts that ate not the grass of the field but one another.

But there was one eating prohibition that stood above all others. Unlike the laws about clean and unclean food, which were given to Israel through Moses at Sinai, this prohibition was given through Noah to all mankind: “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. :)

This commandment was repeated when the Law was given through Moses, not once but six times, and the whole of chapter  of Leviticus is devoted to it. Why was it such a terrible thing to eat blood? Because the blood was the life: eating the blood was to eat the life. Israel’s pagan neighbours would eat and drink blood, or pour it over their crops, to benefit from the life-force of another, whether an animal or a human.

To Israel God said,

If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. (Lev. :–)

Life comes from God and it returns to God. You are not to take what is God’s for yourself. Nor should you seek to gain anything for your life, except from God, who has created you and numbered your days. The only use of another’s life is for the sake of atonement, one life for the sins of another, as commanded by God: hence the Passover Lamb and the sacrifices of atonement.

* * *

Today, we share the condition of Adam and Eve, of Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Israelites. Today, we still live off a cursed ground, in mortal bodies, eating dead food and being consumed by death. Our sins and the sins of others are still destroying us, until the wages of sin is paid out to us.

But today, we too are fed by God. Like Melchizedek, Christ brings us bread and wine and His blessing. But the bread and wine are not mere bread and wine, mere signs and symbols without a power of their own.

No, this bread and wine are combined with the all-powerful words of Christ. By the power of Christ’s words, the words of institution, we are given the flesh of Christ to eat and His blood to drink, hidden in, with and under the bread and wine. That’s right: we eat flesh and we drink blood. Only now the drinking of blood brings with it not punishment but blessing. Why? Because the blood is the life. The blood of atonement that was made once for all, the blood of the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, is now given to us so that our sins might be covered, that the angel of death may pass over us, and that we might have in us the life of Christ, who overcame death and hell and lives forever.

Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53–57)

We eat Christ and we drink His life—the flesh with its blood. Not dead food that nourishes a dying body for a moment, but living food that nourishes the body and soul to life everlasting. Really and truly—hidden but undoubtedly present.

The tree of the cross is for us the new tree of life, from whose fruit we eat so that we might live eternally in an imperishable Paradise. The blood shed on that cross brings us atonement, covering our sin and washing us so that our scarlet sins are made white as snow. Our garments, soiled by transgression, are purified and made white in the blood of the Lamb, and now we can stand with confidence before the throne of Almighty God, and His Son who will judge the living and the dead.

Thus though we don’t see our Bridegroom now as He is with our eyes, He is not far from us. Rather, He comes to us in a most intimate union, making Himself one flesh with His bride, the Church, and with each of her members. We are not left only to think about Him, whether in remembrance or in anticipation—no, He lives within us in His body and blood.

In this way, the miracle of the incarnation is echoed at Christian altars each time the words of institution are spoken over bread and wine: the Son of God makes His dwelling among us in the flesh of the Son of Mary. This is why Christians bow or kneel during at the consecration, to recognise and reverence the great mystery: that Jesus, our Immanuel, is with us. This is why Christians sing the Agnus Dei, the hymn to the Lamb of God, not to the backs of their eyelids, or up to the ceiling, but to the altar where the Lamb of God to whom we sing is present.

And this is why also the Church exercises great care in admitting people to this most holy meal: whoever eats such sacred food and drinks such sacred drink without recognising in faith what is being offered and for what purpose, profanes the holy mysteries and thereby incurs judgement rather than forgiveness, wrath rather than blessing.

And so, dear friends of Christ, we have come to the Holy of Holies, to the presence of יהוה of Sabaoth, the God of Israel. The benefits of the sacrifice of Golgotha are being delivered to us tonight, and Christ is giving us His immortal body and the blood of His eternal life to us to eat and to drink.

Examine yourselves, therefore: Are you a sinner in need of forgiveness? Are you weak, and in need of strength? Are you starving and in need of feeding, parched and in need of refreshment? Are you a sojourner, longing for your true home? Are you dying, in need of life?

Here is forgiveness and life; here is strength for the pilgrimage; here is food and drink; here is a foretaste from the banquet prepared for every prodigal son and daughter by the Father, a full token of Christ’s love for His beloved bride.

Come, open your mouth, and it will be filled!

The entire Gospel embodied and presented to us

Grunewald: LambTherefore also it is vain talk when they say that the body and blood of Christ are not given and shed for us in the Lord’s Supper, hence we could not have forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament. For although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel? But now the entire Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc., are by the Word embodied in this Sacrament and presented to us. Why, then, should we allow this treasure to be torn from the Sacrament when they must confess that these are the very words which we hear every where in the Gospel, and they cannot say that these words in the Sacrament are of no use, as little as they dare say that the entire Gospel or Word of God, apart from the Sacrament, is of no use?

via The Large Catechism – Book of Concord (V.31–32)

Give her something to eat

Standing over the lifeless body of the daughter—the only-begotten child—of Jairus, Jesus brought her life back by his life-giving words. Wonder of sonders and miracle of miracles.

Now what? How do you follow that up?

“He told them to give her something to eat.”

Death to life to being fed. That’s resurrection life in a nutshell.

The Full, Final Sacrifice

One of my favourite 20th Century English anthems is Gerald Finzi’s Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice (Here’s a Spotify link, and here’s a YouTube link, both performed by the outstanding choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge). I have sung it a few times and listened to it many times more. But, in a way that is very typical of many choral singers, I have only paid partial attention to the words.

Well, for slightly complicated reasons, I decided to delve into the words recently. And I found out that Finzi took as his text selected (and re-arranged) extracts from a long paraphrase of Thomas Aquinas’ “Lauda Sion Salvatorem”, as well as from a paraphrase of Aquinas’ “Adoro Te” by the 17th century English metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw (c. 1613–1649).

What a find!

Crashaw was son of a noted puritan theologian, but ended up converting to Catholicism. We can only assume that “Lauda Sion” comes from the latter period.

I offer a longer extract from Crashaw, which I’m hoping might be included in a forthcoming collection of hymns, set to a completely new tune. More on that project another time.

XI.
So the life-food of angells then
Bow’d to the lowly mouths of men!
The children’s Bread, the Bridegroom’s Wine;
Not to be cast to dogges, or swine.

XII.
Lo, the full, finall Sacrifice
On which all figures fix’t their eyes:
The ransom’d Isack, and his ramme;
The manna, and the paschal lamb.

XIII.
Iesv Master, iust and true!
Our food, and faithfull Shephard too!
O by Thy self vouchsafe to keep,
As with Thy selfe Thou feed’st Thy sheep.

XIV.
O let that loue which thus makes Thee
Mix with our low mortality,
Lift our lean soules, and sett vs vp
Con-victors of Thine Own full cup,
Coheirs of saints. That so all may
Drink the same wine; and the same way:
Nor change the pastvre, but the place,
To feed of Thee, in Thine Own face. Amen.

 

Love

Wonderful lines from George Herbert, on the eve of Trinity 2 (Luke 14:15-24)

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.