"This is My Body" H.C. Lord's Day 29

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 29

Q 78. Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ? 
A 78. No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper does not become the actual body of Christ, even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.

Q 79. Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood? 
A 79. Christ has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.

But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.

Justification by Jesus Christ through faith is the cornerstone of the Christian religion.  There is nothing more distinctly Christian than this doctrine.  During the Reformation, there was one thing that was debated almost as much as this doctrine and that was the theology of the Lord’s Supper.

One of the main points of argument came from the attempt at interpreting what was meant when Jesus broke the bread and poured the cup saying “this is my body” and “this is my blood.”

The Catholic view at this time is a doctrine known as transubstantiation and held that, in the moment of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the physical bread and wine were transformed literally into Jesus actually body and blood.  They believed that the actual loaf was Jesus’ actual body.

This, for the Reformers, was nothing more than “hocus pocus,” a belief that was intended to draw people to church for the purpose of communion.  More than this, however, comes the notion that this didn’t follow with the revelation of Scripture or Jesus’ self-revelation either.  Jesus also said that He was “the Good Shepherd” and that He was “the Gate.”  Neither statement was meant to be factually accurate in that Jesus tended sheep or swung on hinges, but was in fact, a metaphor for the who Jesus was and what His ministry was about.

To this doctrine, the Reformers had several thoughts:

Consubstantiation: Jesus physical Body and Blood were present alongside the physical bread and wine.

Memorial Meal: The Lord’s Supper was meant to be a time of remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Spiritual Presence: That Jesus is really present during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that He indeed communes with us through the Holy Spirit, as we also remember Him.  In this, we feast on Christ through faith and the experience of participating in the sacrament.

Why does this really matter, though?  Each way of understanding it was trying to get at one thing: what does it mean when Scripture says that we are “participating” in the Body and Blood of Christ?  How does that work and what purpose does that serve?

There are so many meanings and so much symbolism that is associated with the celebration of the sacraments.  The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal as well as a proclamation of the Gospel.  It is a way in which we are spiritually nourished through a physical action.

Yet one thing that is uniquely important about celebrating Communion is that fact that it is a time in which we are invited to commune with God at His table.  We are participating in exactly what we are: the Body of Christ.  It is a reminder of who we are and of whose we are.  It is a reminder that we are not in this alone, neither as individuals nor as a church.  It is a confirmation of our identity as a child of God and as a part of His body through God’s grace, shown in Jesus one sacrifice, and accepted by faith in Him.



Day 62: Joshua 1-4; Crossing the Jordan

I can’t believe that it’s already been two months since we began this journey!  We’ve made it through the first 5 books of the Bible, commonly known as the “Torah” or the “Pentateuch.”  These books are classified as the books of the Law.  We are passing now into the realm of the books of history, from Joshua through Ester.  You will probably note fairly quickly that these books are marked by a rather different writing structure: Narrative… mostly.  A rather large portion of the coming books are the retelling of Israel’s history from the time after Moses through to times of the Exile.  They are not all in Chronological order, and later when we get into the prophets, we’ll jump around as far as the timeline is concerned.  We’ll do our best to make sense of all that while also allowing the Scripture to work on us and speak to us through the Holy Spirit.  Every one of these narratives is not simply a story, but tells us about God, as He is the main character in the Bible.  Be sure to pay attention to how God acts, even if it is not expressly stated.  As you read narrative, look for God… continually ask yourself, “where is God in this reading?”  The picture below is Christoph Unterberger’s depiction of the Crossing of the Jordan.  I found it on The State hermitage Museum website.  Notice where God is in this painting.  I think it is a powerful image of the power of God at work in this story.

Notice where God is in this painting.

Notice where God is in this painting.

So now we have entered into the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died and the there’s a new sheriff in town.  God waists no time in telling Joshua what to do next.  Once again He promises to be with Joshua and the people of Israel, to go before them and deliver the land and the people of Canaan into their hands.  This is quite evident in how God immediately provides for the people of Israel in two very specific ways.

First, the ordeal with the two spies and Rahab.  This is likely a familiar story to most people, especially if you ever heard the story of the Battle of Jericho before.  Yet I think that there are a few lesser known parts of this story that perhaps need to be brought to light.  Do you find it interesting that the only action taken by the spies that is recorded for us is that they go right to the house of a prostitute?  Men from the people of God, the holy ones set apart to be a “kingdom of priests” go right to a prostitute.  Well, giving them the benefit of the doubt, in many pagan cultures of that time, these prostitutes worked as a sort of ‘welcoming party’ to visitors.  They also often ran ‘inns,’ or more appropriately, had places for travelers to sleep.  It is very interesting to me though to look at how God chose to use this prostitute, working through her to protect the spies.  I doubt that anyone from Israel would be overly thrilled to enter into the promised land if their two spies were killed right off the bat.  God uses this woman, and later on, because of her obedience to Him, incorporates her into the people of God and, get this… into the lineage of King David and thus Jesus Christ as well!  What a wonder that God would use such a lowly, sinful person we might say… but then again God always upholds the least, last, and lost in the world.  So, for anyone who is keeping track, the lineage of David, and Jesus now includes Tamar, the tricky daughter-in-law of Judah turned prostitute of Genesis 38, and now Rahab the Prostitute as well.  God clearly can use anyone which shows us that we shouldn’t be looking down on anyone for any reason.  For more information on this, you can see Matthew 1 for Jesus’ genealogy.

The other thing about this particular reading that might seem vaguely familiar is the narrative of Israel crossing into the land of Canaan.  Like their escape from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, God once again has stopped up the waters of a route that couldn’t be crossed so that His people can cross on dry ground.  If you remember reading the crossing of the Red Sea post, the crossing of a body of water is very symbolic and carries a great deal of meaning and foreshadowing in it.  We liken this event to Baptism, the going down into the water and rising up as a new individual, washed of the old self and rejuvenated, with a new identity.  From Slaves to Free, from Wanderers to a Nation.  And this time they do something a bit different.  Remember that, when Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were told to remember this event and they were reminded of it time and again in the last 40 years.  Here they set up 12 standing stones, a memorial reminder for all who see it.  As chapter 4 says,

“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.”

Do you remember your Baptism?  If you were baptized as an infant it is likely that you don’t.  But I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen others baptized since then.  At Overisel, we practice infant baptism.  It is a sign and seal of the covenant relationship between God and His people.  It is a sign that we are included into this covenant through no merit of our own, even before we know anything about it.  People say that it is a shame that we don’t remember our own Baptism.  While I would agree that it would be nice to remember the event of my baptism, I also would say that we have the opportunity to remember our own baptism every time we worship.  We keep the Baptismal font in a visible place every Sunday to remind us of our Baptism.  We publicly Baptize new babies and new believers, not just because its a nice ceremony, but so that we can remember our own Baptism.  These are our standing stones, our physical way of remembering that we have gone through the waters and are included in the Covenant, made new in Jesus Christ.  And it is to this that we can attest when our children ask ‘what does baptism mean?’

For more on the meaning of Baptism and the RCA’s stance on this sacrament, please visit the RCA webpage: what is baptism?  I’d love to interact around this topic too if anyone has any questions!