Perichoresis and the Temple of the Holy Spirit

Perichoresis and the Temple of the Holy Spirit March 10, 2015

Pentecost ceiling San Marco Milan 782 x 4111 Corinthians 10:14-22

You are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, which means that God has chosen to dwell with you.

But how this happens is a mystery.  I can’t explain how the Holy Spirit could overshadow Mary and so incarnate the Second Person of the Trinity.  I can’t explain how the Holy Spirit could live with me, not only since I’m a mere man but also a sinful one at that.  And I can’t explain how Jesus Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper and gives Himself to me so that I really partake of Him in it.

And yet I know that all these things are true.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (verse 16.)  St. Paul believes that partaking of the Lord’s Supper makes us a partaker of Jesus Christ Himself, especially in His Body and Blood.  He argues that among Israel and the Gentiles, those who eat of the sacrifices are partakers of the altar.  If this is true, then it must also be true (even more true) that Christians who eat the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are made partakers of Christ.  Those who partake of the sacrifice of demons are having fellowship with them (verse 20), and so Christians who partake of the sacrifice of Christ have fellowship with Him.

Rather than raising up our defenses about centuries’ old arguments about exactly how Christ is present in His Supper, we should all affirm what St. Paul and the Church until the 16th century universally taught: that Christ is truly present in the Sacraments.  And this has wonderful consequences for our lives – if we eat faithfully.

The blessings that God brings to us through feeding off His Son are numerous and immeasurable.  The most important blessing is, of course, that God truly gives us Himself.  Again, don’t ask me how this exactly works.  For that matter, don’t ask me how it exactly works at Baptism or when I say the Sinner’s Prayer.  But God gives Himself to His people at His Supper, and we are to faithfully feed off Him.

If we do, then we truly become a part of Him, and He becomes a part of us.  This isn’t so strange, since Paul has already taught this before, in relation to our being the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  If you’ve been reading Give Us This Day for a while, you might remember my discussion of the doctrine of perichoresis, which is that in the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all inter-penetrate each other and participate in each other’s person.  In Jesus Christ, we could say the there is a perichoresis of God and man, and with the coming of the Holy Spirit to live with us, there is a perichoresis between God and us.

This actual participation in the life of God and being united to Him, brought to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is our salvation.  God and made are made one: God with us, “Immanuel.”

Paul uses a wonderful illustration of how we are made one: since we are all partakers of one bread, we are all one body, even though we are many (verse 17.)  The Didache, a mid to late 1st century Christian work that is the oldest outside of the New Testament, elaborates this idea.  The Didache says that “As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom.”  (For those of you familiar with the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, see hymn #195 – “Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted.”)  St. Augustine takes this and runs with it and explains that the separate grains of wheat we all once were are only made bread after a certain amount of crushing (which he relates to fasting but which I liken to our sufferings) and being joined with water (baptism.)

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Mass indeed presents a sacrifice of which we partake.  I don’t believe it is a re-sacrificing of Christ, but I do believe it is a re-presentation of that once for all Sacrifice of Christ’s.  Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the world is truly present with His people who faithfully partake of the Passover.  Being made one with him, by the grace of the Sacraments, we receive the blessing of union with Him.

Again, bread is a good picture of this participation.  When we eat earthly bread, our bodies digest it until we are able to absorb it, and the bread physically becomes a part of our body.  When we eat the heavenly bread which is Christ, our souls digest Him, and He becomes a part of us.  By this one common participation in Christ, we are not only made one with Him but also one with each other, for there is only one Body.  And so this perichoresis, it turns out, extends even to us, so that you and I are truly part of each other.  For this reason, St. Luke often records that the early Church was of “one mind” and “one accord,” for this kind of visible unity should flow from the actual but invisible unity we have as the Body of Christ, which we become through a faithful eating of the Body and Blood of Christ.

 You are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  As St. Ambrose said, “Every soul which receives the bread which comes down from heaven is a house of bread, the bread of Christ, being nourished and having its heart strengthened by the support of the heavenly bread which dwells within it.  Hence Paul says: ‘We are all one bread.’  Every faithful soul is Bethlehem.”

What a wonderful idea – that you and I, especially together, are Bethlehem, the “House of Bread” which is made a fit home for God by partaking of Jesus Christ through His Body and Blood.  You and I, each time we faithfully partake of the Lord’s Supper, are once again “Bethlehem,” the House of Bread, the place where Jesus Christ is born to save the world!

What other response could there be than Eucharist, “Thanksgiving,” which is shown by going out and living with Jesus Christ and living as Jesus Christ?

Prayer:  Almighty and everliving God, we thank You that You feed us through the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ and through them assure us of Your favor toward us.  For these gifts make us truly thankful, and through them make us truly the House of God, the Body of Christ, that we might live in love and unity with both You and all the saints.  Amen. 

Resolution and Points for Meditation:

I resolve to meditate more faithfully on the Lord’s Supper, especially the day before and the minutes before (and after) I partake of Jesus Christ.

Some of the things you might meditate on are:

  1. The work of Christ, especially His Crucifixion and Resurrection
  2. that you are an actual partaker of Jesus Christ and made one body with Him
  3. that God actually dwells with you
  4. the remission of sins that God offers
  5. the grace and benediction that God gives
  6. that you are a member of the Body of Christ
  7. that He preserves your body and soul
  8. that you are an heir of salvation
  9. the holy fellowship and unity you are to have as Christ’s Body
  10. the communion with the Saints of all times and places that comes through Him
  11. the grace to do the good works that He has prepared beforehand that you should walk in
  12. the peace of God that passes all understanding

Pentecost, San Marco Milan – By permission of copyright holder

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