God Between Body Parts

We often begin in the wrong place. Too many begin eucharist discussions with the debates between the Lutherans and the Catholics and the anabaptists, and ask how Christ is present (and they disagree and miss the point). It turns eucharist blurry instead of offering clarity.

The place to begin is when God walked between body parts in Genesis 15. He made the covenant with Abraham by doing something that put the promises into reality. He enacted the promises.

That solemn ceremony was when God made it clear that the divine promise and divine commitment were so reliable that God said you can dismember me if I am unfaithful to my promises.

The Lord’s Supper then is first and foremost an act of God’s promise to you and to me, an offer to take and eat and accept and participate in and enjoy the promise of God to be with us, to be for us and to make us God’s people. The Lord’s Supper, and so also baptism, is a “performative utterance” by God to us. It says “You can count on me. I’ve got your back. Dine with me because I’m dining with you. This is my promise. I do this for you.”

So A.C. Thiselton in his new book, Life after Death. What Thiselton does here is offer to those who are doubting, those who wonder if there’s more beyond death, to listen to what God says in offering the essence of divine promise and commitment, God himself, to us in the eucharist. We can face death with the eucharist in our hand and say to God “I’ve counted on you.”As Abraham’s sign of the covenant was circumcision. This Abrahamic promises runs right through the New Testament, from John Baptist to Paul and Hebrews. We know that covenant got its upgrades in Moses and David, and its anticipations of the ultimate upgrade with Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then Jesus is the enactor of the new covenant. God’s promise had become one of us and he did for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Eucharist, then, is an effective, performative sign of God’s covenant. Thiselton dips into the last supper and Passover, and observes that the Passover meal was a promise that God would liberate Israel from slavery.

In faith we eat and drink as we accept the divine (performative) word at work in the bread and wine.

Hope beyond death is about trusting God’s promise, and God’s promise is “signed” to us in eucharist. Eucharist is God’s pledge to us. Take, eat.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jerry

    Good stuff, Scot. One of the reasons I embraced eucharistic worship is the objective “receiving” of God’s grace. I once was pastor of a Methodist church in NJ and the rector of the Episcopal church told me he gave an altar call every Sunday–Come, receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is God’s pledge that, as we receive him, we also receive grace to believe, behave, and become what he wants us to be unto eternity.

  • Diane

    I very much like the idea of communion as a sign of God’s covenant.

  • Richard

    Agreed. And fits with emphasizing doing this in “remembrance” of Christ’s work – what he has done.

    Point for clarification. You said, “That solemn ceremony was when God made it clear that the divine promise and divine commitment were so reliable that God said you can dismember me if I am unfaithful to my promises.”

    but I was under the impression that the ANE ritual in mind was dismemberment for the covenant being broken, not assigning responsibility for who broke it. Am I inaccurate in this or is this phrasing not what you intended? It seems this reading in the original post could imply God is allowing Jesus to be dismembered for God failing to uphold his covenant with Israel.

  • John W Frye

    I think that with the loss of the value of “meal together” in our fast-paced, eat-on-the-go culture, the theological implications and spiritual energies of the Eucharist are lost on us. Consumption, not communion is generally the overriding value when we eat. We eat for “fuel,” not fellowship (communion) with God. I often wonder if when I, as a pastor, raise the cup and quote Jesus, “This cup in the new covenant in my blood”, the people have a clue of the depth of the words and “performative utterance” of the sacred meal.In an over-consuming, throw extra food away society, the value of eating food as relationship-building matters that much.

  • John W Frye

    Oops! I left out “I wonder if” in the second half of the last sentence in comment #4.

  • Amos Paul

    While I agree that there’s a lot to be said and gained by discussing the Eucharist, I still find Lewis’s statement most noteworthy when considering the subject:

    “I do not know and can’t imagine what the disciples understood our Lord to mean when, His body still unbroken and blood still unshed, He handed them the bread and wine and said *they* were his body and blood…

    I hope I do not offend God by making my Communions in the frame of mind I have been describing. The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand. Particularly, I hope I need not be tormented by the question ‘What is this?’–this wafer, this sip of wine. That has a dreadful effect upon me. It invites me to take ‘this’ out of its holy context and regard it as an object among objects, indeed as part of nature. It is like taking a red hot coal out of the fire to examine it: it becomes a dead coal. To me, I mean.”

  • Steve Sherwood

    And Gen. 15 is a key “atonement theology” text, in my opinion. In my teaching undergrads, I start here rather than in Paul.

  • Steve Sherwood

    #3 Richard. It seems to me that the ironic power of Gen. 15 is that Abraham should have been made, as the weaker party, to pass between the animals, but God does in his stead. In so doing, God says, I’ll bear the responsibility of YOUR (Israel’s) inability to keep the covenant. 400+ years before the Law, and 1000+ years before Jesus. Would you agree?

  • EricW

    ISTM that removing the “Eucharist” from the meal setting, of which “eucharisteôing” (synonymous with “eulogeôing”) was simply a part and not the whole, irreparably damaged the understanding of the Lord’s Table/Supper, which only worsened when it became a priest-confected-and-administered “sacrament.” Also, if it derived from or related to the Jewish zikkaron prayers, then the “remembering” was to be more a prayed remembering/reminder to God of His Son, Jesus, than a reflection by us on what Jesus had done. As the thief asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom, we, too, ask God to remember His Son’s shed blood and broken body so that we who are His and have covenanted with Him can appropriate His death and life and thus be part of His kingdom.


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