Dear Friends in Christ,
A highlight of Holy Week is the institution of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. For the next three issues we will be focusing on the nature of the Eucharist as shared by Rev. Christopher Brown of Albany, New York:
PRESENCE AND REMEMBRANCE: DO WE REALLY HAVE TO CHOOSE?
Week by week we break bread in the name of Jesus. We do so not because it “feeds us” spiritually – which it does. Nor because there is more to worship than three hymns and a sermon – which there is. We do it as an act of obedience.
“Do this,” Jesus said. And we do.
Presence or Remembrance? Jesus said two things about what we call the “Eucharist.” He said, “This is my body,” and he said “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Some Christians stress the words, “this is my body.” Others focus on “remembrance.”
For some Christians, the bread and wine of the Eucharist convey a direct and tangible encounter with the Risen Christ-the Eucharist for them conveys the “real presence” of Jesus.
To others, the bread and wine simply function to jog the memory. They are a sort of visual aid to assist the Christian believer in reflecting on the sacrificial death of Christ. They certainly do not convey the immediate presence of Christ, except in so far as he is spiritually present whenever his Word is preached and his people are gathered.
This distinction breaks down along Catholic-Protestant lines. There is not, however, a clean break between the two. Varying views on the Eucharist lie at different points along a continuum, with the Roman Catholic emphasis on presence on one side, and a purely memorial notion of the Lord’s Supper on the other. The Baptists strongly advocate a strict memorial emphasis; Presbyterians and Methodists lean toward the middle. Lutheran and Anglican views are closer to Roman Catholicism, though with some important distinctions.
It is one thing to catalogue various views on the Eucharist, and quite another to express with clarity and conviction what we actually think we are up to when we break bread in the name of Jesus. Yet scripture calls us to give “a reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3: 15). If we wish to articulate a faithful and coherent understanding of the Eucharist, we must remember that Jesus said two things and not just one. Christians have spent a lot of energy setting “this is my body” over against “do this in remembrance,” emphasizing one, and functionally negating the other. Our understanding of the Eucharist needs to embrace both.