30 March 2011

Life in the Sacrament of the Altar

In the Holy Supper of our Lord He gives us life and salvation. His life. The salvation that He has earned by the shedding of His holy and innocent blood and His bitter suffering and death.

Avoiding all secular arguments about precious metals, alcohol content of the wine and even medical studies, the question is this: Can or would Jesus as He is pouring His very medicine of immortality into our bodies also give or allow us to receive human sickness or even death?

Can the Blood of Him who died to all sin, death, devil and hell even contain or be contaminated by these things of man's illnesses as the Chalice is moved from one forgiven sinner to the next?

Are the concerns about being infected or passing infections concerns because of either unbelief or weak faith or are they legitimate concerns that can be born out in historic example?

Although individual cups have crept into the Church because of unbelief first on the part of those who do not believe in Christ's true physical presence in the bread and the wine, they have also made their way into the churches of confessing congregations. Must they remain for the sake of the weaker brethren or may they be removed after appropriate teaching, visitations, and example?

As Celebrant, I always consume all the relique and although there are those who drink who are ill, have sores on or in their mouths, I have never gotten ill. Does it not truly come down to the truth of what it is that we are receiving? The very blood of Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary! I do not believe that He can or would give me illness or even death in the eating and the drinking of Him. Yes, because of sin in the world and my own sin I will sometimes be ill and I will die unless He returns in glory first. But to believe, teach or confess that in the Holy Supper of the Lord one could or would be made or allowed to become ill or die is not something I am able to fathom because of what it is that we receive.

Please, speak to me if I am wrong, correct my teaching if it is in error. Thank you brothers. Blessed Lent to you all.

19 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You ask: Can or would Jesus as He is pouring His very medicine of immortality into our bodies also give or allow us to receive human sickness or even death?

I will say, "Yes, if it is His will - but that's not something we really need to worry about."

If it is the Lord's Will that for whatever reason I become ill, that I end up being brought to death - even this is His working good for me....

Of course, when people ask questions about the health risks of the chalice, they aren't really looking for an answer about submission to God's will and rejoicing in suffering... they want a health answer.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or to put it this way - would God let His children be harmed in the place where He preaches them His Word of life? Well, ask the Churches who have bombed... it happens.

Christopher Esget said...

Wonderful - entirely agreed. I wrote a little something along the same lines a couple of years ago: http://www.esgetology.com/2009/07/29/poisoned-chalice/

Tapani Simojoki said...

To quote a pastor older and wiser than me, when insisting on the common cup during the AIDS epidemic in East Africa:

"It's the medicine of immortality. The blood of Christ won't make people ill. But it might cure them."

Christopher Esget said...

It just happens that I'm covering a section of the sixth chief part in tonight's catechism class, and came across this beautiful quote from the Large Catechism contained in the Synodical Explanation of the SC (Q296):

"We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefitted also." (LC V 68)

And then, just for good measure, they throw in this gem from the Apology: "We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that 'death no longer has dominion over Him'" (Rom. 6:9). (Ap X 4).

The very idea that this medicine from our Great Physician will make us sick boggles the mind.

Christopher Esget said...

To Tapani Simojoki: That is a beautiful, wonderful quotation. Thanks for sharing it.

Pastor Foy said...

Tapani and Chris, thank you so much for not only words of truth but also practical application of that truth. I must still sort out your comments Eric but thank you for them.

I have been blessed with be communed 3 times this day and yet I sin and need forgiveness. Where else but at the foot of the cross in the Cup that we bless as one flesh and one blood in CHrist and His blood.

Pastor Foy said...

To Rev. Brown's comments: If it is the "will" of God to give illness or death along with life, is there really a Peace that passes all understanding that can co-exist with the potential fear of dying or becoming ill?

Although we know not the day nor the hour when our soul will be required of us, the life we receive in the Sacrament followed by our death must of necessity be two seperate things. Each, God's will but one does not and cannot follow from the other.

I believe this teaching must be very clear or the confidence that comes from the eating and the drinking is lost or at a minimum compromised.

As to submission to God's will and rejoicing in suffering, these are again not to be commingled with the benefits of the Holy Supper.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

To Rev. Foy - You ask, "If it is the "will" of God to give illness or death along with life, is there really a Peace that passes all understanding that can co-exist with the potential fear of dying or becoming ill?"

Death is destroyed. Death is vanquished. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, though I die, yet shall I live. Why should this sort of death have any fear for me?

You key in on the point - with the fear of dying or becoming ill. Our hopes are not for the temporary cures of this life... the supper is not the medicine for a longer mortal life - it is the medicine of immortality -- it attaches me and gives me Christ's resurrection.

As this is true - who cares when death may overtake me? To the person who says, "But what if I were to catch something" I would say, "It's more likely that your heart seizes up as you walk across the parking lot to your car - therefore come, for all things are now ready."

+ + + + + + + +

Of course, when it hits actual theology - I am hesitant to say that one can never, ever, ever become ill via communion. There is no promise to that in Scripture. The Scriptures tell me that it is Christ's own Body and Blood for my forgiveness, that it is a participation in Him.

That being said, I'm not going to worry -- going to the Supper is a defiance of death anyway - for as oft as we eat and drink, we do show forth the Lord's death until He comes... we show Death itself a reminder that it is defeated, and our Lord who defeated is coming again.

Also - one other thing. Even if someone were to become "ill" after communing - how do they know it's from communing. Did you shake anyone's hands? Did anyone around you sneeze or cough? These are much more likely sources of illness - it's foolhardy from a medical standpoint (I know, you didn't want medical arguments) to try to pin it on the common cup.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One more thought - as you end by saying, "correct me if I am in error." What I will say is this - it is a pious opinion, and I'm not going to say it must be wrong, but because there is no clear derivation from Scripture, I can't say it is right.

It would have to be opinion, a fine opinion, that could be used in a secondary way to allay fears about communion... but not the primary argument. So I would not correct, just advise caution on how much weight and authority you put on it. Does that distinction make sense?

Pastor Foy said...

"It's the medicine of immortality. The blood of Christ won't make people ill. But it might cure them."

Although God wills or allows various trials or temptations to befall us for our good, for the purification of faith; and although He allows death because of sin and He knows the day and the hour of the same; and although it would be wrong to speak as if God had more than one will; what He wills that we receive in the Chalice is entirely mercy, grace, compassion, love, forgiveness and life.

The other things of His will such as chastisement or tempering cannot be by definition within the Blood of Jesus which is Grace and Life. And although we have via Baptism, died to sin, and also no longer fear death, it would seem to be a profound contradiction even inconsistency if one were to say that via Jesus' blood which is life itself, He would also communicate disease or death. God does not contradict Himself and it would be wrong to strain consciences in such a manner as to cause them to be concerned that at one and the same time they would receive life and death. We are dying and yet we live. One and the same, both at the same time this is true. One due to our sin the other due to God's mercy in Christ Jesus. One from inside of us and one from outside of us. One native and one alien. Not a contradiction or dilema but truth.

"Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood you have no life in you." This is hope, this is certainty, this is grace, this is life and not death, disease, chastening, tempering or any such other thing which are also part of God's will for His children.

The devil had already entered Judas and yet the Lord did not forbid him to eat and drink. Is the Lord evil that He would allow His "friend" to eat and drink judgment upon himself in this very first Holy Supper?

Eric, I think you are confusing these things (not that you are confused for that is not true) and blending them together in a way that is not correct such that a person would never receive the blood of Jesus with complete confidence in God's love and mercy, His giving of life. Granted it is not for life eternal here, in this body, but it is to sustain in life here until the time the Lord calls one home to Him in heaven for eternity.

Certainly it is proper to say that the Lord's Supper does not keep you from dying here on earth but it does not communicate that death to you for it already exists within you by conception and what you have added to it.

Other pious opinions please along with correction if needed.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

I'll just interject what I see as a point needing clarification: I don't believe anyone thinks that there could be anything harmful actually in the blood of Christ--I don't hear Rev. Brown saying that, and I think anyone who would say that is wrong.

At the same time, could there be something harmful in a worldly sense--a virus or bacteria--that is received alongside the blood of Christ? Perhaps that is the way to clarify the question.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Eric, I think you are confusing these things (not that you are confused for that is not true) and blending them together in a way that is not correct such that a person would never receive the blood of Jesus with complete confidence in God's love and mercy, His giving of life. Granted it is not for life eternal here, in this body, but it is to sustain in life here until the time the Lord calls one home to Him in heaven for eternity.

Here I see two ideas being confounded.

1. What the Supper is and what it gives.
2. The possibility that one could be made physically sick from the reception of the Supper.

The answer to question 2 has no bearing whatsoever on question 1. None. The Supper gives Christ's Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. Period. That is always a blessing to the one who receives in faith. Always. Period.

In saying that there is a possibility of illness, I am not denying the first at all. The purpose of the Church and worship is that people receive life and salvation - and yet the foes of the Church can bring violence and death there. Tragedy in a fallen world happens -- so I'm not comfortable saying that it cannot.

Now, if someone is freaked out about question 2, it could, out of fear they might do foolish things with the Supper. In that case, they should be pointed to the promises that the Supper gives - forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. It is not that those things eliminate the possibility of disease in this life, but they vastly outweigh those concerns.

Some of this is our squeemish nature. Could we become ill in visiting and caring for sick? Sure - but as Christians we are called to show love. Our priorities and concerns are out of whack - I'm certainly not going to say something dogmatic simply to sooth misplaced priorities.

Also, part of this is probably influenced by the fact that I'm down in the Bible Belt -- the snakehandlers and the like aren't too far from me - and so I can envision some tom-fool preacher adding poison to the chalice on Sunday morning because, well, it says we'll be able to.

Rather than try to give assurances that I cann't be sure of, I prefer a tact like Jesus to Peter at the end of John - "If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!." Rather than fussing over possibilities of illness and jumping through theological hoops to say it could never happen - what is it to us, we are to follow Christ.

P.S. Gifford was quite eloquent and accurate in his comment.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Rev. Foy, my comment was not intended to end the debate. I am actually really interested in this. I just don't see this as a question of Jesus' blood, in itself, causing harm, but a question of if something harmful (especially in a temporal sense) may be taken alongside--accidentally, so to speak--Jesus' blood. I find myself wanting to agree with you, but I'm looking for a clearer argument that takes this distinction into account.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Also, let me note something - I too *want* to agree as well... it seems fitting. The romantic in me finds great appeal in it -- and it would strongly assert the real presence. But I can't see the Scripture that makes this case.

The only time I can't think of where the Scriptures speak about sickness and death regarding the Supper is when people fail to discern the Body and Blood--- and fall sick.

I think on the question of sanitary nature of the Common cup, the precious metals, alcohol, and the fact that shaking hands is far, far less sanitary need to be the main points against complaints that it "can't" be used. And the fact that for 1900+ years there was no thought that the Chalice "couldn't" be used.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

To quote a brother pastor,
"you ain't gonna catch anything you don't deserve."

pattiyo said...

<>

Like HIV from your rape victim African mother who risked her life to go to a Christian church.... oh- wait....

Rev. Daniel Robert Skillman said...

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Yes, sickness can be spread by contact with saliva and blood. Yes, even if these are found on the communion cup.

I'm not saying individual cups are the way to go. I'm just saying that there is no "magic" in holy communion. Don't leap off the pinnacle of the temple expecting the angels to bear you up.

Dan

Matt said...

If my reception of the Lord's Supper puts me at risk of sickness or temporal death, so much the better! It is good to proclaim with my actions that I put much more weight on the certainty of new, eternal, life in Christ through the supper than I do in the remote, hypothetical risk of illness transmitted on a shared cup.

We are not free to make and attach promises to the Sacrament that Our Lord does not. This temptation to use reason magisterially (even with the best intentions) is the mother of all sorts of false doctrine.