Christ’s Humanity and the Lord’s Supper

It occurred to me recently that, although the Reformed tradition has been correct about the (S)piritual presence of Christ at the Lord’s supper, the orientation of that discussion has always (due to the debates) been (limitedly) the physical place on earth wherever the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated.

There is an element of the Lord’s Supper that has sometimes been overlooked in all this, an element which the Reformed have always affirmed. It is called the sursum corda. It is the “lifting up of the hearts.” This element is common among all Christian traditions, incidentally. “Lift up your hearts…” “We lift them up to the Lord.” This does not mean “feel uplifted.” This actually means that, by faith, we are lifted up into the presence of God in heaven itself. If you look up Calvin’s liturgy for the Lord’s Supper, you will find it clearly present. At the Lord’s Supper, then, what we are saying by the sursum corda is that we are lifted up into the presence of Christ Himself, by faith.

The implications of this for the Lord’s Supper now become clear. Christ is not physically present in the elements down here on earth. He is present “down here” only by the Holy Spirit. But He also lifts us up to Him there in heaven spiritually, by faith. So Christ is present physically at the Supper. The two qualifications are that He is not present in the elements, and He is not present down here except by the Spirit. Instead, He lifts us up by the Holy Spirit through our faith, so that we can be present THERE.

My wife, when I had explained this idea to her, had one of those (many!) brilliant insightful moments, and added that this was eschatological: we are already present there at the Lord’s Supper in heaven by faith, and we will be present at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in the future. So there is an already/not yet structure to this participation. I think I had known this about the Lord’s Supper in general. However, I had not applied it specifically to being in the physical presence of Christ by faith already, and waiting for our physical presence to be before His physical presence not yet.

I have not seen this particular idea anywhere, although I guess I would be surprised if no one has ever thought of it before. I myself came to it as I was contemplating the last Christological post I had written here. If anyone knows of anyone who has thought this thought before, I would be grateful if it could be pointed out.

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15 Comments

  1. March 28, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Good observation. Jeff Meyers discussed this a bit, as I remember, in his book The Lord’s Service.

  2. Lee said,

    March 28, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I think this idea is present in question 80 of the Heidelberg where it tells us that Christ is in heaven and “there to be worshipped”. Our worship is heavenly. As opposed to the Pope’s Mass which brings Christ to earth and thus the worship takes place in the bread because Christ is there.

    An important Idea with ramifications for our worship.

  3. George Crow said,

    March 28, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Great comments and wonderfully timed with Holy Week just around the corner. A suggestion: keep adding your wife’s comments to your blog. She “splains” things well!

  4. Larry Wilson said,

    March 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Excellent, helpful comments. One brief suggestion — rather than saying ” Instead, He lifts us up by our faith, so that we can be present THERE”, you might want to say, ” Instead, He lifts us up by the Holy Spirit and through our faith, so that we can be present THERE.”

  5. greenbaggins said,

    March 28, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Good suggestion, Larry. I have made the change.

  6. rcjr said,

    March 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Lane,
    Some concept is in my new book The Call to Wonder, applied to the blessing of being at the table (though she does not eat and drink) with my special needs daughter who is 14, but with the mental capacity of a one year old. I already feel safer knowing not just you, but your esteemed bride are seeing the same thing. Good to meet you irl by the way.

  7. michael said,

    March 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Again, an amazing read! On portion of verses popped into my spirit when reading it that seems to me “Jesus” Himself corroborates here:

    Act 9:4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
    Act 9:5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

    Hmmmmm, how can that be that “touching” members of the Body of Christ with legal warrants from those with authority to go and arrest believers, the True Church, active in the world by Faith in Jesus Christ is persecuting Jesus Christ?

  8. March 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Lane,

    In Horton’s “People and Place,” the already/not yet eschatology frames Horton’s entire ecclesiology. His whole doctrine of the church is framed as a balance between Christ’s real absence and his real presence. This makes its way into his Eucharistic theology as well. This, to me, is the real strength of Reformed sacramental theology that does make it superior to the other options. It’s the only one that really pays proper respect to the equally important biblical facts of Christ’s absence and presence — that he was taken from us, is yet present with us, and is still yet coming back for us.

  9. Jack Bradley said,

    March 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks for this great post, Lane.

    Jonathan, speaking of Horton, in his God of Promise, he has a great excerpt from A. A. Hodge (p. 169):

    “A. A. Hodge has raised the issue of presence, with an implicit criticism of those within the tradition who understand ‘spiritual presence’ in a non-reformed (i.e., Zwinglian) manner:

    ‘If he is not present really and truly, then the sacrament can have no interest or real value to us. It does not do to say that this presence is only spiritual, because that phrase is ambiguous. If it means that presence of Christ is not something objective to us, but simply a mental apprehension or idea of him subjectively present to our consciousness, then the phrase is false. Christ as an objective fact is as really present and active in the sacrament as are the bread and wine, or the minister or our fellow-communicants by our side. If it means that Christ is present only as he is represented by the Holy Ghost, it is not wholly true, because Christ is one Person and the Holy Ghost another, and it is Christ who is personally present. . . It does not do to say that the divinity of Christ is present while his humanity is absent, because it is the entire indivisible divine-human Person of Christ which is present.'” (A. A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology, p. 355)

  10. Diana said,

    March 29, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Great topic! Helpful explanations and discussion! I have been trying to explain this to my husband ever since we started temporarily attending a Lutheran church. Even with meeting the Pastor in our living room we didnt understand the difference between the Presby & Lutheran view because all the same words were being used. ‘Real Presence’, ‘feeding on Christ Spiritually by Faith’, etc. Had our heads really spinning to say the least..especially since we had not been in a Presby church that long before needing to attend the Lutheran one (we had been Reformed Baptist for a few years prior).

  11. Wyatt said,

    March 29, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Karl Barth’s solution (CD II/1) was that Jesus was simultaneously physically present in one location in heaven (reformed) and also in all locations where the lord is celebrated (consubstantiation/ubiquity of the Lutherans). He saw this is a point of reconciliation between Lutheran/Reformed.

    It’s an interesting discussion in regards to Eastern Orthodox Theosis too (and Adamic Christology) because it is a realized eschatology when we are bornagain (palingenesis) by participating in Christ, we become decendants and united with him as the Second Adam, in the same way as in Adam. We are even now in Christ (Eph 1:4), such that we are experienced a realized nature of Jesus’s glorified (s)piritual and physical body.

    I know this isn’t directly eucharistic, but in terms of theosis, what does it mean that we are partakers of a divine physical nature?

    NASB 2 Peter 1:4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature (θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως), having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

    Or also, it seems now that the suffering and experience in our falling bodies is somehow the very physical suffering of Christ, like in this verse:

    2 Corinthians 4:10-12 ESV, “[..] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

  12. April 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    As a Baptist, coming from outside the Reformed tradition, this seems somewhat strange to me. Is not Christ present within the believer from the moment of conversion and forever after? Although His presence within us is spiritual, He is just as present (His presence just as valid and real) within us as in heaven. To be in the presence of the physical body of Christ would not make one to be in His presence to any greater degree than to have Christ present within us in a strictly spiritual way.

    I disagree with the A.A. Hodge quote, in that the indwelling Holy Spirit does indeed unite us to the “Spirit of Christ.” By that Spirit, we do have the Person of Christ in us, including all that He is. To give more weight to His physical presence than to His spiritual presence is to give the body more importance to identity than the spirit; but yet, when we visit the grave of a loved one we know that he is not there. Even in the living, the body is not the person but only marks the location of the person within — but Christ is not spiritually limited to His body.

    Partaking of the Lord’s Supper may very well cause His presence to be manifested to us in way that seems more real to us, but that manifestation of His presence is not meant to be limited only to the Lord’s Supper (only to recede again afterwards). Rather, partaking of the Lord’s Supper should bring spiritual renewal.

    Ken Hamrick

  13. psuedoreality said,

    April 11, 2012 at 6:27 am

    Good post. I never knew that the sursum corda were connected to Calvin’s view of the Lords Supper. It’s funny because some of the high church Lutherans in my country (Denmark) use it. Does anybody know if the sursum corda can be reconciled with the Lutheran view of the Lords Supper? If not I guess I’m going to tease some of my Lutheran friends :D

  14. justsinner99 said,

    May 17, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I like to think of the Lord’s Supper as the rehearsal dinner before the wedding/wedding reception.

  15. December 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    [...] while back, I read a strange argument by a Reformed pastor. The gist is that the Sursum Corda (viz. “Lift up your hearts”) in [...]


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