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Mark 14:1-2, 10-26; Matthew 26:1-5, 14-30; Luke 22:1-30; & John 13:1-30

10.29.2010

Hungry?  It’s (Last) Supper time!

Matt 26:16 | I finally understand why the Pharisees and priests needed Judas to betray Jesus in order to enact their plan.  It’s not as if Jesus had gone into hiding or Judas was going to pass along some compromising photos or take the stand with incriminating testimony.  I guess you could say that while I always knew why what Judas did was bad, I never could figure out what exactly the priests were getting for their 30 pieces of silver. 

What they wanted was a way to capture Jesus without angering the people.  They needed someone to tip them off as to where and when they could arrest Him quietly without inciting a riot.  So Judas says to them, ‘After a filling meal of wafers and wine, we’re heading to the Garden of Gethsemane for some s’mores, stargazing, and betrayal!’  I get it now.

Luke 22:19 | Millions of people have died over this verse.  A huge point of contention in the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth century were about the doctrinal point of transubstantiation.  That is, what is the relationship between the body of Christ and the bread during communion?

  • Catholics believe in transubstantiation, which means (as the name implies) that the substance of the bread has been transformed into the substance of Christ’s body.  So what Catholics believe they are eating is not a piece of bread (or wafer or oyster cracker, as the case may be) but an actual chunk of crucified love.  My meager understanding is that this transformation is believed to take place when the priest blesses the bread before the administering of the sacrament.  This is the reason that Catholic mass is centered around the eucharist rather than the sermon or the music: the central act of Christian worship is the partaking of the flesh of God.  Orthodox and other Eastern rite churches also believe in this reality but are less bold in attempting to defend or define the process.*
  • Lutherans believe that the body of Christ is in the bread but does not replace the bread.  In that sense, think of the body as water and the bread as a sponge.  The bread then acts as a vehicle to hold the body.
  • Anglicans believe that the body of Christ is spiritually present in the bread but not in any physical form.  It’s a position that stands between a physical claim like the Catholics or the Lutherans and a purely symbolic claim.  While you eat the bread on a physical level, Anglicans believe that you are spiritually receiving Christ.
  • Most other Protestant traditions hold to the symbolic view that the bread remains the bread but that we take it as a symbol and declaration of our faith and relationship with Christ.  Unlike the Anglican view, the symbolic view does not claim that there is a parallel action on a spiritual level whereby we partake of the body of Christ, merely that the act memorializes our acceptance of His sacrifice.

The reason that these arguments got so heated centered around priestly authority (as did so much of the Reformation, in real terms).  Protestants were not comfortable with the powers claimed by the priests in being able to effect this transformation of a worldly substance into a divine one.  Also, they considered the ceremony and devotion that came out of the transubstantiation doctrine to lead to idolotry of the bread and, sometimes, of the priests who blessed it. 

Lastly, and I think most importantly, the Reformation had at its core an argument about the doctrine of sola Scriptura, meaning that Scripture alone guided the faith of believers and not the decrees of councils, the rule of popes, the authority of priests, or the nebulous claims of tradition and local practice.  Ultimately, the Protestants felt that too much authority was given to the institution of the church (pope, bishops, priests) to interpret scripture and tradition and to shape the practice of faith with extra-Biblical elements such as philosophy.  Specifically, they considered the doctrine of transubstantiation to have been derived from tradition and philosophy and not rooted in scripture. 

The Realist in me comes out, I guess, because I ultimately think that much of the Reformation was a struggle over power.  Keep in mind that I remain an agnostic on this doctrine, and I would not be surprised one way or the other to find out which most accurately describes the sacrament of communion.**  I was raised in the symbolic tradition, and that is what my current church believes as well, which does make some sense because Jesus said to eat the bread ‘in rememberance’ of Him, but I’m not wedded to that interpretation.

Mark 14:21 | This verse reminds me of John 8:32 because it binds together perspectives of determinism and free will.  One one hand, Jesus’ betrayal was written and predestined.  On the other, woe unto Judas because he bears personal responsibility for having made the decision to betray Him.

John 13:8 | I love Peter because he’s so easy to laugh at, as long as I remember that he’s a stand-in for me:

SP: ‘I will never let you wash my feet, Jesus!’

JC: ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’

SP: ‘Then I want a sponge bath!’

————

* Please note, that as I have no dog in this fight, any misrepresentations of any of these doctrines are accidental and any disrespectful language is unintentional and stems from poor attempts at humor or style and not from a desire to denigrate either the doctrine or its holders.

**  I would be surprised if it turned out to be something completely different, like we were supposed to be saving our wafers and constructing a life-sized model of Jesus and that bread Jesus (Jesus Crust, if you will) would come to life and grant us our salvation.  ‘Whoa, we were WAYYYY off!’

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