Barry Newman's Blog

May 24, 2010

Christ Centred Communion – Further Thoughts (part IV)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion — barrynewman @ 11:43 pm

References in the first few centuries to a Christian rite associated with the elements of a meal and references to meals that Christians shared with each other (continued)

The general picture that emerges for the early centuries is as follows.

From early times, the words of Jesus concerning his flesh and blood seem to have been understood in some sense literally with the reception of wine and bread perceived as other than ordinary wine and bread. These elements were also understood to convey nourishment beyond what mere wine and bread could provide.   This type of understanding of the bread and wine and what they provided seems to have developed and to have become an established point of view over time.   In some instances it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that there was a belief that the actual body and blood of Jesus, in some sense, were being consumed.

The term “Eucharist” is sometimes understood as a reference to the “consecrated” bread and wine, that is, the elements themselves, and sometime as a reference to the rite. That the term conveys the concept of “thanks” is understandable, both with respect to the elements and the rite, given the part played by the giving of thanks for the elements and what they symbolised in the rite.  However sometimes such thanks, while presumably associated with the death of Jesus, seem to have had as a primary focus the elements themselves as gifts from God and necessary for life, whatever else they signified.  Generally the giving of thanks for the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is not all that explicit.  While one would assume that his death was of importance in the Eucharist, it is not clear that the redemption for sinners gained through the death of Jesus often had the prominence in the Eucharist that it had at the last Passover meal.  

Though the rite was almost certainly different and conducted differently in different places and at different times, it seems to have been fairly formal in character. “Presiding” over the Eucharist was generally limited to those in leadership roles

From early times a distinctively Christian meal may have been a regular feature of Christian life but held as a separate meeting from that of a Christian “service”.  Later, these meals, often referred to as agape meals, may have been associated with a Eucharistic service.  Still later, agape meals, if they ever were part of Eucharistic services, became quite separate.  In fact, they may never have been closely associated with a rite. In reality, the actual relationship between agape meals and a Eucharistic rite may have varied from place to place and from time to time.  Agape meals were sometimes spoken of in a disparaging manner because of what became their inappropriate nature and the improper behaviour of their participants.  In time, the holding of an agape meal in a “sacred” church building was forbidden in some quarters because of such features. 

It is disturbing that meals shared by Christians degenerated over time.  It is also of concern that Christian services began to become highly formal and regulatory in nature.  However, what is surely most disturbing is that increasingly, the bread and wine in the Eucharistic rite were in some sense considered to be the actual body and blood of Jesus and that sometimes the giving of thanks to God seemed to be more for the elements themselves and their life giving properties than for his Son who died for our sins. 

We do well to avoid developing or supporting our theology by appeal to such writings.


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