There has been a lot of talk around here lately at TRB about TULIPS, catechisms, canons and confessions. In fact, all this week Andy, Tim and myself are offering some of our reflections on The Belgic Confession. At least historically these are all topics that Reformed folks take pretty seriously. So I guess we have been living into our name.
Since millions of Americans will be gathering tomorrow to binge on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, I thought it would be appropriate to turn our attention towards what the Belgic says about food, specifically what it says about the Sacrament of The Lord’s Supper. You reader, raise your hand out there if you attend a Reformed church (or nearly any other mainline Protestant church for that matter) and you have a communion table somewhere in your sanctuary with the words of Jesus inscribed on it, “Do this in remembrance of me”?
See, in the charismatic, evangelical church I grew up in as well as in many of the churches I visit in the Reformed tradition I have come to rest in, the tables all read the same, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is certainly not bad or wrong or incorrect. However, at least for those of us in confessional Reformed communities, it is only half of what we confess! Jesus also said, “Take and eat; this is my body… and drink of this cup; this is my blood.” The Belgic confession prompts us, urges us to hold both parts of this together. On the one hand, “We engage together, with thanksgiving, in a holy remembrance.” But also, “We do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood— but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith.”
This is not mere memorial. It is a Sacrament. A mystery. An encounter with the sacred. We do not only remember God’s actions in times past; but we commune with God in Christ in the here and now: “So truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls.”
Neither is our observance of the supper to be merely or even primarily about me: my relationship to God in Christ. It is a communal meal. In contrast to our hyper individualistic vision of the Christian life and life in general (at least or especially in the US), this is a meal “to nourish and sustain those who are already regenerated and ingrafted into his family, which is his church.”
And it was already there in that sentence but this also about our salvation, regeneration. It is not just about hope for an afterlife but new life here and now. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is at hand! The Belgic reminds us that this is one way, perhaps the chief way, that we are regularly re-inculcated to be participants in this new Kingdom life. Like the sacrament of Baptism, it does not save us. But also like baptism it is a powerful sign and seal/communicant and confirmation/inculcation and insignia of the God of benevolence, mercy and rivers of grace who does indeed save us!
I don’t know about you, but I am hungry! And thirsty. And not for turkey and rum spiked eggnog (as delicious as both are). But I am hungry, desperately hungry for more of this means of grace. The writers of the Belgic (I think quite wisely) made a comparison to the meals that sustain us daily, “To support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all people as life itself. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers, God has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten— that is, when appropriated and received spiritually.” Without our daily “material bread” we will wither and eventually die. I think the same can be said of our “heavenly bread.” I would partake daily if I could. At least weekly. In the U2 song “Acrobat” Bono sang, “Yeah I’d break bread and wine If there was a church I could receive in ’cause I need it now , to take a cup, to fill it up, to drink it slow I can’t let you go.” That pretty much sums up how I feel.