Thursday, October 1, 2009

Supernatural Supper?

How far are we to take the "supernatural" elements presented in the Christian faith? Some of us are more comfortable with portions of these truths-beyond-reason than with others. Of course, there are many directions this question could lead, but one such direction is what happens within the worship moment in general, and within Communion, specifically.

I have been thinking in this regard because of a statement written by the late, Robert Webber in his book, Ancient-Future Worship:

"I believe music-centered worship has indeed become a common
way of thinking about the presence of God. However, it is an
extremely limited understanding of God's presence...The church
has always believed that God is everywhere but also that he is
made intensely present to his church at worship. God is there in
the gathering of the assembly, in song, in Scripture reading, in
prayer, and especially at bread and wine. Jesus told his disciples
that there is a way to remember him (the force of anamnesis
is 'to make me [Christ] present'). He is right there at the broken
bread and the poured-out wine."

Of course, there are churches who practice those apparent supernatural sign-gifts (so called) in their worship, actions like glossolalia and the like, but Webber was not referencing those practices. Specifically, he is answering the question, just what occurs in our participation at the LORD'S Table -- the Eucharist,

and he is making the argument that with the rationalism of the Enlightenment many (read: evangelical) churches have lost the ancient understanding of Christ's presence in the bread and the cup, opting instead for only a memorial understanding: "do this in memory of me." He writes: "Far from being a mere memorial or empty symbol, the ancient fathers saw bread and wine as a disclosure of Jesus Christ..."

He goes on to say:

[This] "should not be interpreted as transubstantiation -- a view that
was not affirmed until the thirteenth century by the Roman Catholic
Church. Rather, it would be more appropriate to describe the ancient
view of God's presence at the bread and wine this way: an incarnational
and supernatural dimension is attributed to the bread and the wine.
When bread and wine are received in faith, we are transformed. Bread
and wine nourish our union with Jesus. It transforms us into his image
and likeness.

Communion, then, is something God does for us (transformation), and not something we do for God (remembering). If this is true, and I have found it to be so, then we of the low church tradition may have deprived our people of the primary fountain of faith and practice!