Greater Leap
The Cappadocian Fathers
10 January 2018
Reading the ancient Fathers of the church has been a delightful experience. I have been sharing the results of my study with readers of the Memorial Moment off and on for about fifteen years. During that time, I have found myself responding to this literature in a number of ways. First, I am almost always amazed by the gospel centered interpretations and defenses of the faith offered by these premier teachers of the church. Second, often I find that the church Fathers have interpreted a biblical text or exposed some aspect of Christian doctrine that seems new and fresh to me. That freshness is partially, and sometimes entirely, attributable to my ignorance.
 
The newness of their teaching can also be attributed to the gap between their context and our own. The situation into which they spoke is so different from ours. In any case, while we don't agree with everything they taught, it is difficult to reject their views out of hand as inadequate or odd simply because we don't entirely understand that to which they were responding in their day. Over the years, I have learned to suspend my judgment so that I could properly understand what they are saying.
 
The church Fathers spoke about the Lord's Supper with a palpable concreteness about the gifts offered in it. Today, we read John Chrysostom's preaching to his flock about the power of the sacrament to unite with Christ and heal the wounds and hurts that arise among the members of the church. He uses language that we find faithfully realistic to describe the communion of the body of Christ with the bread of the Eucharist. This then becomes an analogy of the union of Christ with His body the church and the church among its members. The body of Christ is created by the body of Christ and feeds it, why shouldn't it heal all our divisions? We are closer to Christ when He draws near in the Supper, why shouldn't we draw near to our neighbor who has offended or hurt us in forgiveness and compassion. Which is the greater leap?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"'The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?' (1Co 10:16). Why did he not say 'participation?' Because he intended to express something more and to point out how close was the union. We commune not only by participating and partaking, but also by union. For as that body is united to Christ, so also are we united to him by this bread.
 
"But why does Paul also add, 'which we break?' For although in the Eucharist one may see this done, yet on the cross not so, but the contrary. For, 'A bone of Him shall not be broken.' But that which He suffered not on the cross, He permits in the oblation for your sake, and submits to be broken, that He may fill all men. Further, he said, 'a communion of the body.' That which communicates is a different thing from that about which it communicates. Even though this seems to be but a small difference, he took it away. For having said, 'a communion of the body,' he sought again to express something closer.
 
"'For we, who are many, are one bread, one body' (1Co 10:17). For what is the bread? The body of Christ. And what do they become who partake of it? The body of Christ. Not many bodies, but one body. For as the bread consisting of many grains is made one, so that the grains nowhere appear; they exist indeed, but their difference is not seen because they are joined; so are we conjoined both with each other and with Christ. There is not one body for you and another for your neighbor to be nourished by, but the very same for all.
 
"'For we all partake of the one bread.' Now if we are all nourished by the same and all become the same, why do we not also show forth the, same love, and become also in this respect one? For this was the old way too in the time of our forefathers: 'The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul' (Acts 4:32). It is not so now, but altogether the reverse. Many and various are the contests among all, and worse than wild beasts are we towards each other's members. Despite your distance from Him, Christ made you one with himself. But thou do not deign to be united even to your brother, but separate yourself, despite having had the privilege of such great love and life from the Lord. For He did not give only His own body. But because the former nature of the flesh which was framed out of earth, had first become deadened by sin and destitute of life; He brought in so to speak, another sort of dough and leaven, His own flesh, by nature indeed the same, but free from sin and full of life. He gave to all to partake of it, that being nourished by this and laying aside the old dead material, we might be blended together to be that which is living and eternal, by means of this table."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24.4
John 6:47-59

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 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.  
(ESV)
Prayer
Almighty God, You raised ancient defenders of the eternal truth to vouchsafe to Your church the orthodox faith. Grant us in our day to contend for the biblical truth so that the orthodox faith might always be confessed among us. Amen.
 
For the family of Christopher Ahlman, who was bereaved of his grandmother, that they 
 might confess the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come

For Kim Chang, who has fallen, that she would recover her strength 
 
For President Matthew C. Harrison of the LCMS, that he would return safely from Africa to a joyful homecoming
Art: Icon of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nissa
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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