The cup for the laity

The communion practice of the Roman Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, was for the priests to drink the wine.  Laypeople were only given the bread.

Brian Stiller, writing on the Christianity Today site, reflects on Luther and the Reformation as he sits in the City Church of Wittenberg.

He sees a detail in Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece–one that I hadn’t noticed before– that gives him a flash of insight into the Reformation.

Now Luther would not be happy with all of what the author says about Holy Communion, since Stiller believes that the Lord’s Supper consists of symbols rather than the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Stiller even extrapolates his conclusions into meals in general.

But he does pick up the detail that Luther is sitting around the Table at the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples.  And Luther gives the cup to a servant–a layman, not an apostle.  Stiller explains why this is so significant and why offering the cup to laypeople–imaged here on the altar–is so expressive of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Reformation.

UPDATE, FURTHER THOUGHTS:  We shouldn’t take this privilege for granted.  John Hus was burned at the stake largely because he insisted on giving laypeople the Blood of Christ. For us laypeople to receive the Cup means that we are all priests (the doctrine of vocation) and that there is no spiritual superiority of one caste or another in Christ’s Kingdom. And that He poured out His blood for all.

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The search for Christ’s DNA

492px-DNA_Structure+Key+Labelled.pn_NoBBForensic archaeologists have been extracting the DNA that can still be found in old bones and on ancient artifacts.  Some are aiming at the big prize:  the DNA of Jesus!

We may have found the bones of John the Baptist.  He was a cousin of Jesus, so they would share some DNA patterns.  We may have found the ossuary that contained the bones of James, Jesus’ brother.  And there is genetic material on the Shroud of Turin.  And there are other relics that purport to be connected to Jesus.  Scientists are studying all of this stuff.  Read Oxford geneticist George Busby on this quest, excerpted and linked after the jump.

What would that mean if Jesus’s DNA could be extracted?  Would it have only His mother’s genetic information?  Presumably God created a Y chromosome, since Jesus male.  But could DNA data shoot down the doctrine of the Virgin Birth?  Or give evidence of Christ’s divinity?

And if we could reconstruct His DNA would there someday be an attempt to clone Him?  And what would that give us?  We might have information about His human nature, but without His divine nature, He would seem like any other ancient Jew, though of the House and Lineage of David.

First of all, this isn’t going to happen!  You can’t identify anyone from the past based on their DNA.  And attaching a name to bones and relics is itself highly speculative.  The quest to find Christ’s DNA is surely a wild goose chase.  But still, it sends the mind reeling. [Read more…]

The day that God suffered and died

Crucifixion_GrunewaldA powerful Good Friday devotion would be to read Article VIII of the Formula of Concord: “The Person of Christ.”  It will help you to appreciate even more the magnitude of what happened on the Cross.

Luther’s dispute with Zwingli went beyond their disagreement over Holy Communion and whether “this is my body” is a fact or a figure of speech.  They had different understandings of Christ.

This question arose:  Can we say that on the Cross “God suffered” or “God died”?  No, said Zwingli.  God is “impassible.”  He cannot suffer or die.  Christ has both a divine and a human nature.  So on the Cross only His human nature suffered.  Zwingli dismissed scriptural language to the contrary as, again, a figure of speech.

Luther said that while it is true that God, in Himself, does not suffer or die, in Christ something else is going on.  In taking on human nature, God the Son could experience what human beings experience.  By virtue of the incarnation, the unity of the Trinity, the communication of the attributes, and the personal union of Christ’s two natures, we can say that God suffered and died.

Later, Chemnitz would explain it using this analogy (and it is only an imperfect analogy, since the Son of God was not simply a deity in a human body, but rather took on a human soul as well):  A human being has a spiritual and a physical nature.  If you cut your finger, it isn’t just your body that suffers.  You suffer because your two natures come together in your person.

After the jump, read how this is treated in one of the key confessional documents of Lutheran theology.  I know I trot this out every few years around this time, but it bears repeating.

For one thing, to believe that God suffered and God died helps us to understand the atonement more deeply.  It isn’t God punishing his kid for what other people did, as mockers and some liberals are saying today.  In the atonement, the Second Person of the Trinity sacrificed Himself for sinful human beings.  And in doing so, He took into Himself, by His omnipotence, the world’s evil and the world’s suffering, our “iniquities” and “transgressions” and our “griefs” and “sorrows” (Isaiah 53, a major passage of Scripture to read for today).  And this has a bearing on the problem of evil and the problem of pain, since we know that, far from looking down on the evils and sufferings of the world and doing nothing, God took them into Himself in His redemption of the world.

Illustration:  The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.  Originally at the Hospital of St. Anthony, where plague victims could contemplate Christ, depicted as bearing their disease.

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Light, darkness, & the Cross

god-1979750_640S. J. Masson, a new Patheos blogger at Hawkeye, has written a wide-ranging, thought-provoking post that you should read for Good Friday.  He begins by pointing out an allusion to the Cross made by J. R. R. Tolkien in a footnote to Lord of the Rings.  He then reflects on the symbolism of this time of year, just after the equinox, when light begins to prevail over darkness.  And he then explores the meaning of the darkness that came over the land when Christ was on the Cross.

I have some excerpts after the jump, but you need to read the whole post.

Photo from Pixabay, CC0, Public Domain [Read more…]

Eating, sacrifice, and the Gospel

640px-Good_Food_Display_-_NCI_Visuals_OnlineWhen a thale cress plant is being eaten by a caterpillar, it responds by sending out mustard oil, which is toxic to caterpillars.  Other stimuli doesn’t trigger this reaction.  Somehow the plant knows when it is being eaten.

Read about the research and watch a video about it after the jump.  One of the scientists who discovered this effect observes that plants have “behavior” just like animals do.  And they must have, in some sense, a kind of awareness.

Which speaks to us about the Gospel.  And Maundy Thursday.  As I have pointed out before, there can be no life without sacrifice of another life.  Another living being must die in order for us to live.  We call this eating.

We cannot be nourished by inorganic chemicals, minerals, rocks, or other objects.  We have to eat other living things.  It doesn’t matter whether we eat an animal or a plant.  A plant is just as alive as an animal is.  Even “fruititarians,” who will not destroy whole plants, are eating the living cells of their fruit.  No one can escape the reality that our life is sustained by death.  Or, rather, that death allows us to live.  And that life comes from death.

What is true in nature is a sign of what is supremely true spiritually.  Our spiritual life depends on God the Son’s self-sacrifice for us.  If we refuse His death for us, we die spiritually.  But His death gives us life and continues to nourish us.  Eventually, we will die physically, but, as with another natural sign that we see in plants, life comes from death.  We will be raised, just as Christ was raised.

And to sustain us with His sacrifice, on the night that He was betrayed,

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the  covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28) 

 

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The Jewish argument for “closed” Passover meals

Seder_PlateMany churches during Holy Week hold a “Seder” meal, a version of the Jewish Passover celebration that was the context for Christ’s “Last Supper” in which He established Holy Communion.

Those Christian seders are interesting in their symbolism.  But there are problems with Christians celebrating a Jewish ritual.  Not only are there Christian reasons not to celebrate the Passover, but there are also Jewish reasons.

This is explained by two Jewish rabbis writing in Christianity Today.  Their fascinating article shows an impressive understanding of both Christian and Jewish theology.  They point out that Jesus did not, in fact, eat a Seder meal.  He ate the Passover, but not the ritual as practiced by Jews and now some Christians today, which was started long after the destruction of the Temple.  They also explain why it is disrespectful for one religion to take over the rituals of another.

Their argument is sort of a Jewish version of what Lutherans take heat for in their practice of “closed Communion,” that those who commune together should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith.  Call this “closed Passover.”

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