A Community View of the Lord’s Supper (part 7)

The Spirit is not limited to the salvific work of Christ. Neither, then, is the Eucharist simply a commemoration or renewal of the salvific grace which Christ provides. This understanding of the Eucharist as being only a time of remembering or of imparting grace leads away from the fuller picture of the work of both Christ and the Spirit in the life of the Church.

The church is more than simply a gathered collection of those saved from sin, it is also a gathered community who in the present are being renewed in fullness of life, tasting increasingly of the eternal reality which the coming of Christ began. This reality includes the diversity and unity which is first seen in the Triune nature of God and then is also represented in those who are his people. Lack of this emphasis is the primary focus of the problems in Corinth. These problems are seen throughout history for whatever reason.

The lack of unity in the Church is an affront to the very purpose of the Eucharist gathering. Theologian Velli-Matti Kärkkäinen writes “If the people of God gather around the Table to recollect the one undivided body of Christ and have at the same time internal strife, they oppose the work of the Spirit, the Spirit of unity.”

In many liturgies, the Holy Spirit is called to come down and bring this unity. However, it seems clear to me that the Spirit is already present. There already is the fullness of the gifts in the gathered community which does not need renewal, but rather needs recognition. This recognition is the key to the full unity which the Spirit prompts. When it is lacking, when there is not a recognition that the Spirit is and has been working in each of the individuals present, a warped understanding of roles and importance develops, as it did in Corinth, leading to some being exalted, and most becoming passive.

As the Spirit works in this world, gathering and leading multitudes into a restored relationship with the Divine persons, the Spirit assembles believers into a community. This is “a fellowship which overcomes separation and enmity through the self-giving of Christ for all men, and which creates solidarity among people who are in themselves different.”

The unity of the Church is derived from the work of the One Spirit in the lives of all who are part. Just as the Spirit cannot be divided, neither is the church divided. The problem is in the awareness of this One Spirit which works in diverse ways. Thus, Jesus directed the church to continually participate in a symbol of this unity, a meal fellowship, in which those who are in the community celebrate and acknowledge this fact by sharing the bread and sharing the cup.

“It is the Spirit,” writes Miroslav Volf, “ who constitutes the church. People, however, must accept the gifts of God in faith (even if this faith is itself a gift of God); they must come together, and they must remain together.” To commune with the One God necessitates the coming together with others who are also called into relationship with God by the Spirit. This is not simply, however, an entering into a hierarchical community. Rather, the leadership of any community is equally responsible to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in the life of even the “lowliest” believer.

It is the Spirit which demands and constitutes the unity of the Church not those who are officeholders in the Church. By not recognizing the validity of some believers to enter into a shared meal fellowship, these leaders are guilty of not recognizing “the body”, of choosing to ignore or resist how the Spirit is moving, and thus denying the fullness of God to their own detriment.

As a meal constituted by the Spirit it is not within the confines of theological dispute to decide who and who does not participate. Those who are drawn to the meal, must share in the meal. As a symbol and acting out of the Spirit’s drawing many into one, the Church participates in a celebration of this unity but, outside of clearly egregious sins, does not have control over who gets to share in this unity. That is rather the supremely important role of the Spirit in this world, which is lost when there is a lack of awareness of the full work of the Holy Spirit.

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