Monday, June 7, 2010

"Feeding on Christ" isn't a helpful phrase

Thirty Nine Articles; Article 28 'Of the Lord's Supper'
“partaking of the blood of Christ” … “Transubstantiation … is repugnant” “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.”
Westminster Confession; Chapter 29:7  'Of the Lord's Supper'
"Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, ..."

So we're all keen, like everyone else except weird Fred who lives in a cave, to avoid a purely cannibalistic reading of communion.  With all the Christians eating communion around the world it'd get pretty silly, sort of like relics of the true cross adding up to be more then one true cross!  But the phrase "feeding on Christ," even if intended spiritually, can also get us into trouble, if we think that we actually eat Christ at communion, albeit spiritually, then these three problems present themselves:

    a) What is the actual difference between feeding on Christ physically and spiritually?  If there are any parallels, aren't all the complications of a cannibalistic reading repeated?  If not, how can eating, chewing and digesting be retained in the phrase?
    c) If it's feeding on Christ, why wouldn't we be permanently at the table?  Why would we tolerate even a week's break or day's?  
    b) What is gained by feeding on Christ that our union with Christ hasn't already achieved?

This is why participation in the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16) needs to be understood as an expression of the broader soteriological category of union with Christ and the way we'd interpret John 6.  This explanation also makes better sense of God's objective activity.  “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:15)  The parallels with Passover are clear, God's objective saving activity remains a historical reality with or without an annual reenactment.  Furthermore "feeding on Christ" in a narrow sense implies we need to do or experience something.