What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD! (ESV)
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Friday of Advent 2
11 December 2015
Luke's figure of speech for the Lord's Supper, "the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46
), seems to have resonated in the early church. Perhaps church leaders like Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-108) were most influenced by Luke's Gospel, either because they loved its elegant story or they had greater access to the third gospel than the other three. In any case, Ignatius encouraged the Ephesian Christians to "break the bread" as though it were quite clear what he was referring to. Indeed, if the Ephesians had been working only from the epistle which Paul addressed to them, we might wonder how they would have known either of the sacrament or Luke's name for it; "the breaking of the bread."
Eucharistic practice seems to have been established very early in the ancient church in contradiction of the modern view of the apostolic and post-apostolic church as a disordered and charismatically-organized community. We think of the early Christians as worshipping seated on bean bag chairs, arms swaying, singing meaningfully "Kumbayah," and sharing communal meals. Yet here in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch we are confronted by a number of elements that are characteristic of a highly organized ecclesial community, with obedience to leaders enjoined, a unified confession of faith, and a high sacramental theology, including describing the Lord's Supper as a medicine of immortality and an antidote to death. So much for bean bag chairs and "Kumbayah"!
What a wonderful figure of speech "the medicine of immortality and the antidote to death" is! It speaks of a power in the Lord's gifts; a power given to those who receive the bread broken for them. How different this view is from our modern mauling of the divine Word, which converts a divine gift into a human work. Christ gives His body to us under the bread. We turn around and offer God our obedience in taking it. "See what a great good work I am doing for you, O Lord, in following Your ordinance by taking the Supper!" There is no need to turn this gracious gift into your work in God's presence, indeed such an approach returns to the law that which is the purest gospel gift. What if you had been bitten by some deadly serpent and a quick thinking doctor administered the antidote to you, would you then crow about how you had saved yourself from death? If some researcher found the "immortality pill" and began to dispense it to people who wanted it, who among those who took it would consider it a good work on their part to receive it? Would they not focus on the value of the medicine in giving an unspeakably great gift? Of course! This shows our monstrous perversity, that we turn God's gift into what we offer to God.
Ignatius of Antioch
"Stand fast in the faith of Jesus Christ, and in His love, His suffering, and His resurrection. By grace come together, both as a group and personally, in one faith of God the Father and of Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, who is 'the firstborn of all creation' (Col 1:15),
and 'who was descended from David according to the flesh
' (Rm 1:3
). Being under the guidance of the Comforter, in obedience to the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind (1Co 1:10
), break one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote which prevents us from dying. It is a cleansing remedy driving away evil, so that we live in God through Jesus Christ."
Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 20
O Lord, in this wondrous Sacrament You have left us a remembrance of Your passion. Grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of Your body and blood that the fruits of Your redemption may continually be manifest in us. Grant that we might rejoice in Your medicine of immortality and antidote to death. Amen.
For John Meyer, that the Lord would continue to grant him strength and healing
For all those who will approach the altar of the Lord Sunday to receive the medicine of immortality, that they would approach with their sin-sickness, and receive the antidote to death from the physician of body and soul
For all church workers that they might be strengthened during Advent
Art: VOUET, Simon Annunciation (1640s)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015