Participation in the Body

Holy Thursday
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
April 13, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, the many will be one body, for the many partake of the one bread.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

Since the rediscovery of the Gospel in the Reformation, there has been a progressive attempt within the Christian Church to disembody the faith. Not that it was new at the time of the Reformation, though. There has always been a struggle between biblical theology and the philosophy most often associated with the Greek philosopher Plato, who divided all of existence into an ideal, or spiritual realm, and a real, or material realm. The goal of this philosophy was to escape the material (which was imperfect and corrupted by evil) and ascend into the spiritual (which was were everything good and true and beautiful existed).

Thus, the philosophical quest for holiness and communion with God must necessarily be a departure from the body. And in the history of Christianity this has happened in three ways: an attempt to sanctify the will by moralism; an attempt to sanctify the intellect by understanding; an attempt to sanctify the emotions by mysticism. It would take an entire book to deal with each of these individually, but the big take away is that any philosophical approach to communion with God reduces us human creatures to what goes on in between our ears. The body is at best an unnecessary compartment for the mind; at worst it’s a detrimental nuisance that must be escaped.

But the story of creation paints a much different picture. Every other creature is called into existence with a Word of God. God breathes out His Word and the bodies form, and in this sense, the creatures are said to have a nephesh, or a soul. But the first man is different. God takes time and care to first create a body out of the earth. He forms it and shapes it. Then He breathes into His nostrils the breath of life and he becomes a living nephesh. The woman, likewise, began as the body of Adam, and derived her soul from his. All other creatures in their own way can be called embodied souls, but only human creatures are ensouled bodies.

This becomes even more understated when you consider God’s plan of salvation. He doesn’t simply reveal a moral code, or provide a book of information out of heaven, or provide emotional, spiritual experiences. Although all of these are true, they are all secondary and dependent upon the Word of God become flesh. God embodies Himself. This is not the will of the flesh, St. John writes in the prologue to his Gospel. St. Paul calls it the foolishness of God that the wise can’t understand. And the epistle to the Hebrews says that the experience of Christ is what is common to man.

The fact that Christ is the incarnate, embodied Word of God, who was born and grew in wisdom and knowledge, who ate and slept, who rejoiced and mourned, who had actual hands that were pierced with nails and bled the same blood that pumps through our bodies is a testament to God’s love of the body. You are more than a brain on a stick.

And this has important implications for faith as well. Faith isn’t something that happens just between your ears. If faith is simply an intellectual exercise, or the discipline of the will, or the stimulation of the emotions, then the intellectually challenged and mentally disabled are excluded from salvation. However—and you may also know this from your experience—when the capacities of the mind are diminished, very often the heart is enlarged with love that is not conditioned. Some of my greatest joys in the pastoral office has been witnessing the faith of the disabled, which resides deep in the heart, in the gut, in the bones.

But even if you are of sound, developed, and fully exercised mind, if you reflect on your life you will realize that there is very little you do that is the result of rational decisions. Much of your life is simply bodily habit, which is conditioned by your loves. Unfortunately, most of the time, and by nature, your loves are disoriented and you love what you ought not. This is Paul’s point in his great chapter on love. If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have prophecies and I know all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith such as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:1-2). Love is what orients the mind and faith. And love resides in the body.

1.

As heady as St. Paul’s epistles can be, as intellectually stimulating as his arguments and logic are, he also does not deny the bodily aspect of the faith. Communion with God is not a meeting of the minds, but a meeting of the bodies. It is this aspect of faith that St. Paul calls a koinonia. A participation. To the Corinthians he also wrote, The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, the many will be one body, for the many partake of the one bread.

Communion with God takes place precisely on the bodily level, and it happens when the cup is blessed and the bread is broken. It is the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the altar. The communion that happens there is a bodily participation. Not a picture, or a metaphor, or a symbol, but a real participation of your body with the body of Christ.

In our adoption training, we’ve had to spend a lot of time learning about attachment. Attachment is the recognition of the bodily nature of the relationship of parents to children, and that children learn to depend on their parents through bodily contact, not an intellectual, rational decision (adoptive parents start out at least nine months behind, which is why we need to give extra attention to it).
But where attachment grows less and less as children age and mature into more autonomous humans (though it never entirely goes away), the bodily attachment that happens in the Sacrament of the Altar is the opposite. Instead of becoming autonomous bodies, we are incorporated into the body of Christ. The Supper of Jesus means that the Church can never be a collection of individuals. We are all connected to each other. But just your little finger isn’t connected to your knee bone, except that both are connected to the common body, so also you are not connected to your fellow Christians, except by the common participation in the one body of Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is the necessary reorientation of your body and your love. St. Paul cannot write the great chapter on love until he has thoroughly taught on the Supper. This reorientation takes place in two directions, as the post-communion collect so simply extols: in faith toward God, and in fervent love for one another.
The only problem is that since this takes place on a level deeper than the mind, most people find the Sacrament to be of limited use, and prefer the intellectual stimulation of the sermon or Bible class (or maybe intellectual sedation, depending on the sermon). But just because you are not immediately aware of what’s happening doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Like much of your life, which happens apart from rational decision or intellectual engagement, the reorientation of the bodily aspect of faith that happens in the Supper is not something that you’re going to notice all the time.

And because of this, hunger for the Sacrament wanes. What should you do if you feel no hunger for the Sacrament? It just so happens that this was the last question that our newly confirmed youth so boldly answered on Sunday. What’s the first thing you do, guys? To such a person no better advice can be given than that, in the: first place, he should put his hand into his bosom, and feel whether he still have flesh and blood. Then he should by all means believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. The first thing you do is check to see if you still have a body. And if you still have a body, believe what the Scriptures say about it.
This hunger was revived in the Reformation. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the confessors write, “Among us many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. They do so after they have been first instructed, examined, and absolved” (Ap. XV.41). The rigorous instruction and catechesis of the children that was characteristic of the Lutheran churches bore the fruit of a love for the Supper. Can we still confess that, among us, many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day?
I think we can reclaim our Reformation heritage and rekindle a hunger for the Sacrament very easily indeed. I propose that we begin by simply offering the Sacrament to those who wish to receive it on non-communion Sundays after the service. This would be good and beneficial for our congregation because it takes nothing away, but adds immensely.

In our meditation this evening on the Sacrament, I hope that in addition to receiving some information about the Supper, you’ve also grown a bit in your love for it, to see it as a centerpiece of your life with Christ and our life together, because

The Lord’s Supper Is Your Bodily Participation in the Body of Christ

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA