Saturday, August 26, 2006

More thoughts on the Sacraments

"Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him--to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen." (Romans 16:25-7)

When I read through this passage at the tail end of Romans this morning, I recognized that this passage is speaking of the gospel proclaimed and "made known through the prophetic writings." But then I thought of another proclamation: the Lord's Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul says that "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." If you connect the dots, the Supper is also a proclamation of the gospel that would serve to effectively "strengthen and preserve [us] in the one true faith unto life everlasting," using the words of the Lutheran liturgy. After all, it is a sign of the atoning death of Christ, a "visible gospel" tangible to our senses in the bread and wine. It says, "As truly as this bread and wine are real and give you life by being in you, so too do you have within you life by union to the crucified and risen Lord."

But it's not just the Lord's death that is proclaimed; it's also his resurrection and the consummation of the kingdom and our redemption. Note that little phrase "until he comes." Jesus talks of the meal as something to be shared again upon its fulfillment in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:14-18). Whenever we share this meal, we are (or ought to be) aware and expectant of the resurrection that followed Jesus' tomb and, by virtue of our union to him and participation in him through this meal, our own resurrection as well. Maybe this is why Catholics sing the mysterion before the Eucharist: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again"--an eager expectation of the coming wedding feast of the Lamb.

Finally--and here's where stuff gets way weird and theologically deep--we baptize children as a sign and seal of "our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 94), right? Baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ, the church. And because Christ died for all people and gives us new birth by grace, not by physical, intellectual, or spiritual maturity, we baptize children. "And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing little children of believers than he did for adults" (Belgic Confession, article 34). "Infants as well as adults are in God's covenant and are his people. They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin through Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith" (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 27).

So here's my question: ought we also allow children to share in the Supper? After all, if baptism seals or guarantees what it represents: "partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace," and such benefits include the gospel-confirming, faith-strengthening Supper, ought we not deny children this very benefit? Yes, Scripture says we are to "recognize" or "discern" the body of the Lord in the Supper (1 Cor. 11:29). But I'm not sure this has as much to do with consubstantiation as with the visible fellowship of the church in the Supper: "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf" (1 Cor. 10:17). Would a little girl who loves Jesus and knows that Jesus loves her see everyone else communing at the Table and wonder, Why am I not allowed to take part? Didn't her baptism make her part of the body, the one loaf of which others partake?

1 comment:

Ryan said...

This has been a debate in some Lutheran circles, considering that confirmation is not a sacrament. I'm actually sympathetic to that. I think a child can grasp Jesus being in, with, and under the bread and wine better than some enlightened adult.