Thursday, June 4, 2009

6/4- The presence of the Holy Spirit

(Joos von Cleve 1530)
8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life [a] because of righteousness. (Romans 8:8-10)

Calvin: For as we do not doubt that Christ’s body is limited by the general characteristics common to all human bodies, and is contained in heaven (where it was once for all received) until Christ return in judgment
[Acts 3:21], so we deem it utterly unlawful to draw it back under these corruptible elements or to imagine it to be present everywhere. And there is no need of this for us to enjoy a participation in it, since the
Lord bestows this benefit upon us through his Spirit so that we may be made one in body, spirit, and soul with him. The bond of this connection is therefore the Spirit of Christ, with whom we are joined in unity, and is
like a channel through which all that Christ himself is and has is conveyed to us. For if we see that the sun, shedding its beams upon the earth, casts its substance in some measure upon it in order to beget, nourish, and
give growth to its offspring — why should the radiance of Christ’s Spirit be less in order to impart to us the communion of his flesh and blood? On this account, Scripture, in speaking of our participation with Christ,
relates its whole power to the Spirit. But one passage will suffice for many. For Paul, in the eighth chapter of Romans, states that Christ dwells in us only through his Spirit [Romans 8:9]. (IV.17.12)

The Role of the Holy Spirit for Calvin was a key in understanding the sacrament. The Holy Spirit was especially present at baptism and communion. For him there was a clear distinction between body and spirit. Christ’s body didn’t become universal at his resurrection or ascension. The bread in communion remained bread, and the spirit remained spirit. The Catholics believed the bread was converted into the physical body of Christ when the priest blessed it, and the Lutherans believed in a mystical presence in communion. Calvin believed in a spiritual presence. Zwingli didn’t emphasize presence at all- it was just a commandment to be fulfilled (ordinance) for him. Christ’s body was truly spatial for Calvin. He wanted to guard against the idea of believing Christ had a divine-human body- but instead a truly human body- that really suffered, and really was limited. In Calvin’s thinking the finite was not capable of the infinite (this leads to the idea that the infinite-side of Christ transcended his body-what some call the “extra-Calvinisticum”). The Holy Spirit is present in the sacraments, but that is not the only place. The Spirit is not just tied to the blessed water in baptism or the blessed bread and cup in the Lord’s Supper. Yet the Spirit is present- “Lo I am with you always” Jesus said in the words of institution of baptism. “This is my body- do this in remembrance of me” points to the specialness of the act of communion and the spiritual blessing that happens when we partake of communion. This has been the experience of billions as well- communion is not just a rational act- though for some it will be just that. Communion is a spiritual, grace-filled act. God’s Spirit is especially present in certain acts- like when “two or three are gathered together” or agreeing in prayer (Mt. 18); or when we help the “least of these” (Mt. 25) we are helping Christ; or when we share our faith (Mt. 28:19,20). Certainly the sacraments are acts where the Spirit works. The Spirit also mediates His presence through things- water, bread and cup, scripture, worship. I would argue, however, that the Spirit is not just tied to such things- but is like the wind- able to go where He wants to go. God’s Spirit speaks deep to us- to our own spirit or soul. In the end the Holy Spirit is how we experience God in life through various means.

Prayer; Holy Spirit, open our eyes that we may see you, open our ears that we may hear you, open our hearts that we may believe, open our arms to be used by you. Open us up so that you may fill us up.

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