Friday, November 13, 2009

The Eucharist as Proclamation in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For the church, the primary way to display its form of life, to “show” the message of the gospel, is in the Eucharist. The Eucharist as a place of “showing” is emphasized by Paul in the words of institution in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. That Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” shows that the words of institution are a part of the tradition of the church from Christ, even at his time.[1] With Paul’s line of argument, “To have received the tradition from the church is to have received it from Christ.”[2]

The text proceeds to say in verses 23–25, “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Partaking of a loaf and drinking from a cup “in remembrance” of Christ is mentioned in two of the four accounts of the words of institution: 1 Corinthians and Luke.

Some debate exists concerning the meaning of the Greek term is ἀνάμνησις (anamnesis), often translated “remembrance” in English. Some Christians believe ananmesis implies that the Eucharist is nothing but a memorial of the past. For example, Alexander Campbell viewed the Lord’s Supper as “commemorative and restitutive in character, i.e. as something New Testament believers did weekly to keep Christ’s sacrificial death before them and therefore what Christians should do today if they want to be like them and want to be united.”[3] Robert Louis Wilken, however, notes that for early Christians, liturgical acts like the Eucharist did not only pertain to the past. Wilken says, “In the Eucharist the life-giving events of Christ’s death and Resurrection escape the restrictions of time and become what the early church called mysteries, ritual actions by which Christ’s saving work is represented under the veil of the consecrated bread and wine.”[4] Wilken thus translates anamnesis “recall by making present.”[5]

Jasper and Cuming also note, “Anamnesis . . . has overtones of ‘proclamation’ which the English does not suggest.”[6] They argue the idea of anamnesis as proclamation stems from Jewish usage of the term.[7] As William Robinson points out, the word anamnesis is used in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 12:14,[8] which says, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” Robinson says, “Even after the lapse of all these years, the modern Orthodox Jew keeps this day, not simply as calling to mind the trials of his people in Egypt, but as sharing with them that slavery and that release.”[9] Thus the story of the Passover is “re-enacted” in the present.[10] For this reason, later Eucharistic prayers include a special section called the anamnesis which “proclaims the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ.”[11] So, the Eucharist is, as Stephen Long and Tripp York call it, a “living memorial.”[12]

In verse 26, Paul adds, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (NRSV). This passage is unique among the four accounts of the Last Supper in the New Testament. Jasper and Cuming argue that in this verse Paul emphasizes the proclamatory aspect of anamnesis.[13] Paul says that the proclamation of Christ’s death not only occurs during the preaching before the meal, but that as the community partakes of the bread and wine, they proclaim “the death of Jesus ‘for us’ and the community’s common participation in the benefits of that death.”[14]

Paul uses the same verb translated “proclaim” in 11:26, καταγγέλλω, that he uses in 1 Corinthians 9:14, which says, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” καταγγέλλω is also used in Acts 4:2, where the Sadducees are annoyed with Peter and John for “proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead.” Also, in Acts 13:5, Paul and Barnabas, “proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Anthony Thiselton notes that καταγγέλλω can also mean “to perform a declarative speech-act openly.”[15] So, in the Eucharist, the entire church, not just the person or persons officiating, visibly preach the gospel and their sharing in the body of Christ in the meal (cf. 1 Cor 10:16–17). So while preaching is a “verbum visible,” figures like St. Augustine and Calvin call the Eucharist a “verbum visible,”[16] or what Herbert McCabe calls, “the creative language of God.”[17] For this reason, the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”

As can be seen in verse 26, the visible proclamation of the Eucharist connects together the past death of Christ (τὸν θάνατον τοῦ κυρίου) with the present proclamation of the church (καταγγέλλετε). Thiselton thus argues that Paul connects the Christian community’s proclamation in the Eucharist with the recital that takes place in the Passover Haggadah. Thiselton says, “Yet like those who recite the Haggadah of the Passover on the understanding that ‘in every generation a man must so regard himself as he came forth himself out of Egypt’ (m. Pesahim 10:5), it also witnesses to the participant’s self-involving appropriation of the cross both for redemption and lifestyle as those who share Christ’s death in order to share Christ’s life.”[18]

Paul also connects the past death of Christ and the present proclamation of the church with the future return of the Lord (ἄχρι οὗ ἔλθῃ). As Wilken says, “Liturgy is always in the present tense. The past becomes a present presence that opens a new future.”[19] Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells similarly point out the connection of past, present, and future in worship by saying, “Worship does indeed commemorate the past because it sees the past as the theater of God’s definitive and self-revelatory actions in the world. But worship also anticipates the future, particularly through the Eucharist, in which Christians share a meal that anticipates the heavenly banquet.”[20] So as J.B. Rotherham says, “The apostle saw this whole gospel thus shining forth in and through the Supper.”[21]

Thus, the church is a community “bound together by a form of life that embodies the story of God,”[22] the story which flows from creation to the eschaton. The church then recites the story in its worship, especially the Eucharist.[23] For the Eucharist to properly communicate, for it to inform the life of a community, it must be a common practice. As Wittgenstein says, “a person goes by a signpost only in so far as there is an established usage, a custom.”[24]

[1]Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 866.

[2] M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 533.

[3] Byron Lambert, “Have We Understood the Lord’s Supper?,” in The Lord’s Supper: Historical Writings on Its Meaning to the Body of Christ, eds. Charles R. Gresham and Tom Lawson (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 200.

[4] Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 34.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] R.C.D. Jasper and G.J. Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, 3rd ed. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990), ix.

[7] Ibid., 14–15.

[8] William Robinson, “The Meaning of Anamnesis,” in The Lord’s Supper: Historical Writings on Its Meaning to the Body of Christ, eds. Charles R. Gresham and Tom Lawson (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 230.

[9] Ibid., 231.

[10] Ibid., 231.

[11] Jasper and Cuming, 14–15.

[12] D. Stephen Long and Tripp York, “Remembering: Offering Our Gifts,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, eds. Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 342.

[13] Jasper and Cuming, 15. While the text of 1 Corinthians seems to indicate that verse 26 is a comment by Paul or a tradition passed down to him alongside the words of Jesus (Jasper and Cuming call it the “Pauline comment”), some of the Eastern Eucharistic prayers, such as The Liturgy of St. Mark, The Egyptian Anaphora of St. Basil, The Deir Balyzeh Papyrus, The Liturgy of St. James, The Apostolic Constitutions, The Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil, The Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles, and one western text, Ambrose’s On the Sacraments, reword the comment to be in the first person (55–56, 65, 71, 80, 90, 110, 119, 126, 144, 146). For example, The Egyptian Anaphora of St. Basil says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim my death until I come” (56).

[14] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed., James Luther Mays (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 200.

[15] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 887.

[16] Robinson, “The Meaning of Anamnesis,” 232. Lambert similarly says, “The Supper is a symbol and motion and has missionary power. It arouses curiosity and provokes the reply of the gospel. It proclaims a death, a resurrection, a continuing Presence, and a triumphant return” (209).

[17] Herbert McCabe, “The Eucharist as Language,” Modern Language 15, no. 2 (Apr 1999): 132.

[18] Ibid., 887. Emphasis original.

[19] Wilken, 35.

[20] Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, “Christian Ethics as Informed Prayer,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 7.

[21] J.B. Rotherham, “Let us Keep the Feast: The General Character of the Institution,” in The Lord’s Supper: Historical Writings on Its Meaning to the Body of Christ, eds. Charles R. Gresham and Tom Lawson (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 20.

[22] Kallenberg, 148. Wilken notes similarly that in the early church, “The liturgy provided a kind of grammar of Christian speech, a key to how the words of the Bible are to be used” (43).

[23] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 93, 97.

[24] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 198.

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