The Temptation of Jesus in John

Matthew and Luke record the story of Jesus’ post-baptismal temptation with which most of us are familiar. The devil tempted Jesus to create bread, perform miraculous signs and reign over the kingdoms of this age. In an unpublished commentary on the Gospel of John, Deacon Ezra Ham of the Antiochian Orthodox Church alerted me to the way these temptations show up again in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel.

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. John 6:15

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? John 6:30

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” John 6:34

In John 6, the crowd looks to Jesus for kingship, miraculous signs and bread. John never uses the word “temptation”, but the parallel is remarkable.

Continue reading “The Temptation of Jesus in John”

Advertisements

Epiclesis: Body, Blood, Word, Spirit

The epiclesis is the part of the communion prayer in which the celebrant, calling on the Holy Spirit, asks God to make Christ’s body and blood real and present in the bread and wine. This, for example, is the epiclesis from a current United Methodist communion liturgy:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

Within the framework of the current ecumenical consensus, the epiclesis occurs near the end of the Eucharistic prayer, but it has not always been so.

Sixteenth century reformer Huldrych Zwingli denied that the bread and wine were Christ’s body and blood at all. The supper was a memorial. Although this is still a popular view, in this post I am more interested in those Protestants who remained firmly in the “real presence” camp. While they denied the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, they affirmed that communicants actually receive Christ’s body and blood during the holy meal. Their communion liturgies, however, did not require the Holy Spirit to effect a miracle to make this occur. They arrived at Christ’s “real presence” in his body and blood by another route.

I don’t know Calvinist worship history enough to comment on the Reformed tradition in Protestantism, but both the Lutheran and Anglican streams offered versions of the Eucharist without an epiclesis, and both strongly affirmed that communicants truly receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Continue reading “Epiclesis: Body, Blood, Word, Spirit”

United Methodists and Weekly Sunday Communion

Tonight I will receive “Election Day Communion” at the United Methodist congregation closest to my home. Curiously, I cannot receive it there on Sunday. Or the Sunday after that. Or the Sunday after that.

John Wesley would not approve of the standard Sunday practice in so many United Methodist congregations.  In 1784, Wesley urged the elders in the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church in North America “to administer the supper of the Lord on every Lord’s Day.”

Continue reading “United Methodists and Weekly Sunday Communion”

The Eucharist and Greco-Roman Banquets

In Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective, Andrew B. McGowan describes the early church’s Eucharist as a Greco-Roman banquet.

A deipnon (or in Latin, a cena or convivium) was an evening meal with certain expected formalities and a tradition of proper conduct; as an institution, the ancient Greco-Roman banquet includes and defies modern categories of secular and sacred, familial and public, celebratory and solemn. Ancient banquets were relatively formal and purposeful events, held often but nonetheless distinguished from merely incidental eating. They could be large or small, ostentatious or austere, civic or familial. They were also an integral part of Greco-Roman (including Jewish) sacrifices, since the flesh of animal victims was often consumed straight after ritual slaughter in a festive atmosphere. Groups bound by kinship and by professional, social, religious, or ethnic ties celebrated such meals together to create and express their identity and their beliefs when need or opportunity for celebration arose. . . .

There were expected features of ancient formal dining, although much variety in detail. We hear of participants gathering in a dining room, or triclinium, often reclining on couches arranged around the room as three sides of a rectangle like an angular U. In some places, and especially in later antiquity, diners might form their party around a C- or crescent-shaped table, or stibadium; the earliest surviving depictions of Christian meal scenes, such as those in the Roman catacombs, present such curved assemblies, as do the oldest images depicting Jesus’ Last Supper. . . .

Preliminaries for the banquet could include washing of hands, offering of an opening prayer or hymn, and libations. The meal proper followed, with the variety and quality of foods depending on the means of the host or group and on the nature of the occasion. After eating, tables were removed and wine was brought and mixed with water, typically in a large bowl, or kratēr, and then shared by the diners in individual cups after further prayers or libations to the relevant deity. A number of such large bowls of mixed wine might be prepared over the evening—three was regarded as ideal. Entertainment and/or conversation was expected during this time, its form depending on the group. Such diversions ranged from the subdued conversations of philosophers to more raucous events involving flute girls and courtesans. . . .

McGowan envisions early Christian assemblies as taking the form of an evening banquet held in the homes of wealthy patrons or in other facilities suitable for such an occasion. Participants reclined at the table. After the introductory rites and blessings, a simple but filling meal of bread and wine (mixed with water) – and perhaps some vegetable side dishes –  would follow. McGowan believes that both the bread and the wine would have helped supply the caloric requirements of the poorest among the assembly. Meat was probably not commonly served for two reasons. First, meat was expensive; only the wealthy members of the assembly could afford it. Serving meat would have been socially divisive. Second, most of the meat in the market came from animals slaughtered in pagan temples. Meat was too closely associated with idol worship to be welcome in a Christian assembly.

Continue reading “The Eucharist and Greco-Roman Banquets”

An Invitation to the Lord’s Table for Soldiers with Wounded Spirits

Psychologists are beginning to think about the spiritual wounds of war that don’t result from the trauma and fear that leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but from witnessing or committing acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs. The common term for this malady is “moral injury”, a wound to the conscience that results in feelings of shame and alienation. Like PTSD, it can produce maladaptive and self-destructive behaviors.

As I have previously mentioned, I found the most healing on my own return from war in the worship life of my church. I offer this invitation as a “think piece”, a another step in shaping my own understanding with regard to how worship can restore wholeness to Christian veterans with wounded spirits.

****

Brothers and sisters in Christ, comrades in arms, you have passed through the fiery trial of combat. The Lord Jesus now invites you to come to the table of peace.

On the night he instituted this sacred meal, the elders of the people sent an armed militia to snatch Jesus away from those he loved and to bring him before their tribunal. With their weapons drawn, the soldiers invaded his place of prayer, as if he were an insurgent or a dangerous criminal. In the darkness they bound him and dragged him away to stand trial, first before the high council, and then before the Roman governor. As they held Jesus in their custody, the soldiers beat him with rods and whips. To inflict insult upon injury, they spat on him, taunted him and mocked him. And when Pilate issued the sentence of death, the soldiers followed orders. They nailed our Lord to a wooden cross, and then they stole his clothing. On the cross, he struggled in pain for every breath until he died.

When it was all over, one of the soldiers participating in Jesus’ execution began to understand what they had done and he cried out, “Surely this man was innocent.”

As the Lord Jesus suffered upon the cross, he prayed for those who treated him so cruelly, saying “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

And to those who gathered with him on the night before his death, he gave a cup of wine, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

This table is the feast of our Lord’s incomprehensible mercy, poured out for all who will receive it, even for those who crucified him.

Come, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Come taste the joy of reconciliation at the table of peace.

Come, rest in the God’s embrace, the Father who welcomes home his prodigal sons and daughters.

Come, receive in bread and wine a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom, where swords will no longer clash in anger, and where we will study war no more.

Brothers and sisters, our Lord bids you come.