This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (ESV)
| || |
Life and Salvation
Monday of Lent 5
7 April 2014
How different we are from the believers of the ancient church. What they treasured, revered, and died to preserve among them, we think of a nuisance or a waste of time. Carthaginian Christians called baptism simply "salvation" and the Lord's Supper simply "life." Wow. What powerful simplicity. For the early Christians these sacramental gifts were substantial receptions of salvation itself and life itself. They trusted the clear Word of God that conferred these attributes on the sacred acts given by God to His church.
We think so little of these things in our day. Even people who are the church become impatient when the communion goes a little too long, or when a baptism lengthens the service by five minutes. Are we really so busy that we can't patiently wait on the distribution of things that previous Christians called salvation and life. What? Do we want less of salvation or less of the divine life? Which of these is too much of a good thing for us? Which could we do without? This attitude reminds me of the reaction Martin Luther experienced when, while saying mass in Rome, he was badgered by the local clergy, "Passa, Passa!" Hurry it up! Luther was appalled that masses were said as swiftly as possible, with no concern for the content of the service or due reverence for the gifts of salvation or life. Can't you preachers hurry it up?! How disillusioning this is.
Some years ago, I was involved in a meeting with a group of church leaders that was discussing the Bible's teaching on the sacraments, at which a participant pointed out that the Lord's Supper was the gift of holy things given by God to the church. On hearing this one of the other people at the meeting burst out saying, "I am so sick of hearing about holy things! We aren't going to talk about that again, are we?" Well, what should we talk about instead? What is better than talking about the things that are in themselves salvation and life? If this kind of impatience with divine gifts is exhibited by "church leaders" it shouldn't surprise us to see this kind of impatience among God's people in the pews. The problem for all of us, church leaders included, is that in our perverted hearts we doubt that God gives holy things at all. This is because holy things are not "us." Every sinner desires to take God's place (Gn 3:5). If holy things must be given to us by a gracious God it tells us that holiness is not our possession or accomplishment but rather the gift that God gives. Old Adam rebels against this fact.
Holy things make all the difference in heaven and on earth. Holy things bring and confer the holiness of Christ Himself. The situation is changed decisively by holy things and it is changed outside of us; in the things and by the things which He confers through the Word. It has to be this way because those who are under sin must receive a liberation that comes from outside themselves. This is the whole message of the church to the world, that there is a God who generously and graciously confers His holiness and the forgiveness of sins through the blood shed by Christ the Savior. This blood which grants forgiveness is given by the things which ancient believers called "life" and "salvation."
Augustine of Hippo
"The Christians of Carthage call baptism nothing other than 'salvation,' and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing other than 'life.'How did this arise but from the ancient, and as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ held as firmly established, that without baptism and participation in the Supper of the Lord it is impossible for anyone to reach either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and eternal life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. For how does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: 'He saved us by the washing of regeneration?' (Tit 3:5) or from Peter's statement: 'Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you?' (1Pt 3:21)."
"Consequently, if it is only sins that separate persons from salvation and eternal life, there is nothing else in infants which these sacraments can be the means of removing, but the guilt of sin, about which guilty nature it is written, that no one is clean, not even if his life be only that of a day (Job 14:4-5
Vul). Therefore there is also that exclamation of the Psalmist: 'Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me'(Ps 51:5
). This is either said in the person of our common humanity, or if of himself only David speaks, it does not imply that he was born of fornication, for he was born in lawful wedlock. We therefore ought not to doubt that even for infants yet to be baptized was that precious blood shed, which previous to its actual pouring out was so given, and applied in the sacrament, that it was said, 'For this is my blood of the testament, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins' (Mt 26:28
). Now those who will not allow that they are under sin, deny that there is any liberation. For what is there that men are liberated from, if they are held to be bound by no bondage of sin?"
Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism of Infants, 1.34
Most gracious God and Father, whose only-begotten Son instituted the blessed Sacrament of His body and blood, grant that all who eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ may rejoice in the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation given to them in this Sacrament; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Joyce Backs, that she might be kept in the care of her Savior
For the students, faculty, and staff of Concordia University Chicago, that they might be kept in the merciful care of a gracious God
For the faithful people of God, who are brokenhearted by the churches' failure of nerve and lack of confidence in the divine Word, that they would not despair of God's grace
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014