Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2- Last Communion

(Picture-inside of St. Pierre in Geneva where Calvin worshipped and had last communion)
4/2- Today was the day that Calvin celebrated his last communion before his death.

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I wil not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:17-21

Calvin: In this Sacrament we have such full witness of all these things that we must certainly consider them as if Christ here present were himself set before our eyes and touched by our hands. For his word cannot lie or deceive us: “Take, eat, drink: this is my body, which is given for you; this is my blood, which is shed for forgiveness of sins” [Matthew 26:26-28, conflated with 1 Corinthians 11:24; cf. Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20]. By bidding us take, he indicates that it is ours; by bidding us eat, that it is made one substance with us; by declaring that his body is given for us and his blood shed for us, he teaches that both are not so much his as ours. For the took up and laid down both, not for his own advantage but for our salvation. (IV.17.3)

Contrary to what some say about Calvin, he did not take the Lord’s Supper lightly. He called it “The Sacred Supper of Christ” and he called it a sacrament (as opposed to an “ordinance” or “”commandment” which the Zwinglians and Anabaptists called it). Because the Zwinglians of Zurich joined the Calvinists of Geneva and Lausanne in the Reformed faith, some thought that there was no difference over the supper. Calvin did not believe the Lord’s supper was a secondary matter, however. He tried to draw Melanchthon to his point of view and some say he did. The “in with and under” of Luther is not much different from the “spiritual and real presence” of Calvin. It should be noted that later Calvinists took the supper so seriously in Scotland and America that the elders were assigned to visit the homes of church members before each supper (usually once a quarter), and ask them about their worthiness and willingness to partake of the supper. If they were willing to partake, they would be given a communion token- which was like a ticket to the Supper. I would say that is taking the Lord’s Supper very seriously!
Yet, in typical Calvin fashion, he chose a middle way. On the one hand, he did not believe in the transubstantiation of the Roman Catholics. He did not believe in the miraculous changing of the bread to the body and the drink to the blood when the priest blessed. Such beliefs led to too much power for the priests and too much superstition about the elements. On the other hand, he did he think it was just an ordinance (commandment) to remember Christ. For Calvin, in the supper there was grace given, and a special tie to the Holy Spirit when rightly administered. It was special to him, and so April 2 is remembered as the day he last received the sacrament. It was not a “last rites” ritual, as much as the last time he experienced this special event on this side. Calvin looked forward to changing the spiritual presence to the glorious presence when he got to the other side.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love and presence seen in the Lord’s Supper. Help us to not take it lightly this Maundy Thursday or Easter. We do look forward to the time when we will eat and drink with you in heaven itself.

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