3 Ways Christ is Present in the Eucharist (@KreeftQuotes)

How is Christ present in the sacrament of Holy Communion? Here’s Peter Kreeft in his book Catholic Christianity (paper, Kindle), which is an exposition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the chapter on the Eucharist, he writes:

Here the three meanings of “present” come together: Christ in the Eucharist is (a) present, not absent, but really here; (b) present, not past, but happening now; and (c) presented as a gift (a “present”), really given, offered, not withheld (326).

I’m happy to affirm and deeply grateful for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, though I’m hesitant to attempt to parse that out too far (e.g. transubstantiation, consubstantiation). Somehow Christ mysteriously ministers his presence to his people in the bread and wine. This three-pronged comment from Kreeft is quite helpful, though, as we reflect on the character of Christ’s presence. In the consecrated elements, Christ is really present right now to give himself to his people in love and with joy. 

Flames of Holy Love: Or, Why I’m a Methodist (#AndCanItBe)

This is John Wesley. And this vision of Christianity is why I am, and will remain, a Methodist.

“Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment.’ It is not only `the first and great’ command, but all the commandments in one. `Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,’ they are all comprised in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: The royal law of heaven and earth is this, `Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end. One thing shall ye desire for its own sake, — the fruition of Him who is all in all. One happiness shall ye propose to your souls, even an union with Him that made them, the having `fellowship with the Father and the Son,’ the being `joined to the Lord in one spirit.’ One design ye are to pursue to the end of time, — the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever ye desire or fear, whatever ye seek or shun, whatever ye think speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.”

“Here is the sum of the perfect law, the circumcision of the heart. Let the spirit return to God that gave it, with the whole train of its affections. — Other sacrifices from us he would not, but the living sacrifice of the heart hath he chosen. Let it be continually offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love. And let no creature be suffered to share with him; for he is a jealous God. His throne will he not divide with another; he will reign without a rival. Be no design, no desire admitted there, but what has Him for its ultimate object. This is the way wherein those children of God once walked, who being dead still speak to us: `Desire not to live but to praise his name; let all your thoughts, words, and works tend to his glory.’ `Let your soul be filled with so entire a love to Him that you may love nothing but for his sake.’ `Have a pure intention of heart, a steadfast regard to his glory in all you actions.’ For then, and not till then, is that `mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus,’ when in every motion of our heart, in every word of our tongue, in every work of our hands, we `pursue nothing but in relation to him, and in subordination to his pleasure;’ when we too neither think, nor speak, nor act, to fulfil `our own will, but the will of Him that sent us;’ when, `whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do,’ we do it all `to the glory of God.”‘ 

These sublime words are excerpts from Wesley’s sermon, “The Circumcision of the Heart” cited in this form by Wesley himself in his A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (6). We often think about sanctification and growth in holiness in negative terms, but Wesley gives us such a magnificently positive vision of the holy life. For Wesley, holiness is not about checking off the commandments; it is nothing more or less than the enjoyment of God. The essence of holiness is enjoying God. Holiness is a heart full of God’s love, a heart that aims to do nothing except for God’s sake and for his pleasure. When our hearts are so consumed with the beauty and glory of the holiness of God, everything else will be in its proper place. May the God of all grace grant us this: that we may love nothing but for his sake and that our hearts may burn with the flame of his holy love. 

Lincoln on the Sufficiency of the Gospel

I will begin preaching through Colossians on Sunday, and I’ve been consulting a few commentaries in preparation. I’m taking the opportunity to work through one commentary by my teacher, Andrew T. Lincoln, who contributed “Colossians” to The New Interpreter’s Bible (vol. XI, Abingdon, 2000). One of the strengths of the book are the theological and pastoral reflections at the end of each section of commentary. Reflecting on the opening paragraphs of Colossians, Lincoln has this to say:
“There is a host of different ways in which contemporary believers can be tempted to feel that the basic gospel message is inadequate and that it needs to be supplemented by additional religious rites or disciplines, more sophisticated knowledge, or some compelling experience, if they are to be accepted by God or to reach their full potential as human beings. They need to hear that, although the gospel has riches that are yet to be fathomed and implications for all areas of life that are yet to be explored, there is no inadequacy about its basic message. They need to know that the hope that is at the heart of it and inseparable from the person of Christ is secure and that such hope is the potent incentive to a life of faith and love” (594).
Colossians deals throughout with the believer’s tendency to add knowledge, experience, or discipline to the work of Christ, and that tendency has yet to be done away with. We all need to hear afresh the sufficiency of Christ and the good news that tells of his death and resurrection that works powerfully within us.

Why Read Revelation?

I’m teaching a Bible study on the Book of Revelation this summer and am thus reading a variety of resources to prepare. One that I’m enjoying very much is Mike Gorman’s (a fellow United Methodist!) Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Cascade, 2011). One of the challenges to reading Revelation well is the abundance of outlandish interpretations that distract us from the central figure and message of the book, namely Jesus and his call to faithful discipleship despite the challenges and hardships that inevitably arise from living such a life in the midst of a fallen and rebelling world. While reflecting on his theological and missional approach to the Apocalypse, Gorman gets to the heart of this issue:
Revelation is not about the antichrist, but about the living Christ. It is not about a rapture out of this world but about faithful discipleship in this world. That is, like every other New Testament book, Revelation is about Jesus Christ – “A Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1) – and about following him in obdience and love. “If anyone asks, ‘Why read the Apocalypse?’, the unhesitating answer must be, ‘To know Christ better.'”
It’s easy to lose sight of the reality that the Revelation is a revelation of Jesus. Any responsible reading of John’s great vision will insist on keeping this fact properly in front of us.

Theology, Ethics, & the Imitation of Christ

I always enjoy it when New Testament scholars write theology for the Church:
“Paul sees the community of faith being caught up into the story of God’s remaking the world through Jesus Christ. Thus, to make ethical discernments is, for Paul, simply to recognize our place within the epic story of redemption. There is no meaningful distinction between theology and ethics in Paul’s thought, because Paul’s theology is fundamentally an account of God’s work in transforming his people into the image of Christ.”
“The distinctive shape of obedience to God is disclosed in Jesus Christ’s faithful death on the cross for the sake of God’s people. That death becomes metaphorically paradigmatic for the obedience of the community: to obey God means to offer our lives unqualifiedly for the sake of others. Thus, the fundamental norm of Pauline ethics is the christomorphic life. To imitate Christ is also to follow the apostolic example of surrendering one’s own prerogatives and interests.”

Our Two Mistakes Regarding Jesus

The opening chapters of Revelation provide a stunning picture of Jesus. He is described with lofty language that emphasizes his equality with God (1:12-16), yet he is also immediately present among the churches (1:13). Reflecting on this modulation between images of transcendence and immanence, Robert Mulholland says:
“There is no problem, in the modulation of visionary images, with Jesus being the lamp that the lampstands hold and, at the same time, the one in whose presence they exist. We tend to make two mistakes with respect to Jesus. On the one hand, we make Jesus so transcendent that there is no realization of his living presence in the midst of the church. On the other hand, we often reduce Jesus to a ‘pal’ who accompanies us through life primarily to ensure that things go our way. John saw Jesus as the awesome presence of God in the midst of the churches…this awesome presence did comfort the faithful churches but also confronted those who were falling short of being faithful priests in God’s kingdom” (Revelation, 432).
A good reminder emphasizing the importance of holding in proper balance the double truth of the person of Christ.

Eternal Incarnation

Our thoughts on the Incarnation often focus exclusively on the birth of Jesus at Christmas time, but in Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation, Gerrit Scott Dawson points out why the oft neglected doctrine of the Ascension addresses our crucial need for an ongoing incarnation.
“Moreover, our salvation depends on his (Christ’s) continuing union with us. If the Son of God came to us where we are, but then left us, if he went away and did not take us with him, we would still be lost…For any view of the ascension as Jesus slipping off his humanity is a sentence of condemnation. We cannot be united to him in the Holy Spirit if he is no longer flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. If the one who sits at the right hand of God is not still fully human as well as fully God, then we will never enter within the veil. If he dropped the hypostatic union with humanity, then he dropped us, and we are left forsaken on this side of the great divide, unable to fulfill our purpose, find forgiveness and restored communion, or enact our mission” (6).
Turning to the hope found in the doctrine of the Ascension, Dawson writes:
“A human hand will grasp us as we make our way into heaven. We shall be greeted by a face – the face of Jesus – that has a form to recognize. The incarnation continues, and so we are included in the life of God. That is the essential meaning of the ascension. We are not left alone. Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity. Jesus is himself that new and living way. The fully human one has gone within the veil in our name and even in our skin. United to him by the Spirit, to the one who remains united to us, we may follow where he has gone” (7).
This Sunday is Ascension of the Lord. May you be full of the hope that comes with the knowledge that the eternal Son of God forever shares our human life ensuring our ongoing fellowship with the God who is triune.