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Never to Hunger and Thirst Again
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 13, 2010
Exodus 24:3-11 John 6:35-40 Psalm 22
This is a Communion Sunday, and I thought I would reflect on just what the Sacrament of Holy Communion means. It is a Biblical sacrament. In the Old testament, we hear of the blood of the covenant being sprinkled on an altar and on the people of Israel. This is after the Israelites agree to follow the Law that they have heard from Moses. Then in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that Holy Communion is the blood of the New Covenant (26:28). In Matthew we also hear the following,
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “take and eat; this is my body.” Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the New Covenant” (26:26-28).
We don’t hear this same language in John, but we hear words quite like it. There, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He that comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (6:35). Jesus is clearly speaking symbolically here, as we do hunger and thirst after partaking of communion. You have heard me say that the Bible is written in a symbolic language in which the literal stories mean something spiritual on a deeper level. Here, we can clearly see that this is the case. The bread and the wine are clearly not Jesus’ body and blood. Although the Catholics have a doctrine called transubstantiation in which the priest actually turns the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. We don’t subscribe to that doctrine. The breads and wine do signify Jesus’ body and blood, but even those symbols mean something deeper. The symbolism here is partaking of God’s love and wisdom, which are eternal spiritual qualities. When we are filled with them, we never lack spiritually.
Holy Communion is the most sacred ritual of the church. Swedenborg says that “the holy supper contains all things of heaven and the church, both in general and in particular” (TCR 711). The reason why the whole of heaven and the church are contained in the Holy Supper, is because the Holy Supper contains everything that heaven and the church depend on. The church is made out of truth and good, or wisdom and love. And these qualities are given to us by God, so they are actually God in us. So by symbolizing love and wisdom, the Holy Supper also symbolizes the Lord, too. So the Holy Supper contains the love, wisdom, and presence of God that constitute the whole of heaven and the church.
that the Lord Himself is in the holy supper, and that flesh and blood are the Lord in respect to the Divine good of love, and blood and wine are the Lord in respect to the Divine truth of wisdom. Therefore the holy supper involves three things, namely, the Lord, His Divine good, and His Divine truth. Since, therefore, the holy supper includes and contains these three, it follows that it also includes and contains the universals of heaven and the church (TCR 711).
There are quite a few Bible passages in which Jesus tells us to celebrate Holy Communion in memory of Him. But there is more involved than merely remembering Jesus in the Holy Supper. And we have more reason for partaking of it than merely because the Bible tells us to. The Holy Supper actually brings us into communion with God. “It is evident from the Lord’s very words that He is wholly present in the holy supper, in respect both to His glorified Human and the Divine from which the Human proceeded” (TCR 716). The actual presence of God occurs in the Holy Communion. But this only happens to those who approach the Holy Communion in the right frame of mind.
Holy Communion is a ritual, and it derives its power from the things rituals depend on. Eating bread and drinking wine are physical acts, and looked at in themselves, do nothing for spiritual life. It is what a person brings to the Holy Supper that makes it a holy sacrament.
When a person brings good and truth to the holy supper, then the symbols take on spiritual meaning. When a person has love in their heart, and truth in their mind; and when a person’s thought is on God, then the symbols of Holy Communion have power to bring God to the ceremony. “They approach the Holy Supper worthily, who have faith in the Lord and are in charity toward the neighbor, thus who are regenerate” (TCR 722). The symbols of the Holy Supper actually bring conjunction with God.
They who approach the Holy Supper worthily, are in the Lord and the Lord is in them; hence conjunction with the Lord is made by the Holy Supper. . . . the truths of faith establish the Lord’s presence, and the goods of charity together with faith establish conjunction . . . Whence it follows that they who approach the Holy Supper worthily, are conjoined with the Lord; and they who are conjoined with Him are in Him and He in them (TCR 725).
The Holy Supper is a ritual that brings spiritual life to those who partake in it worthily. As Swedenborg says, “The Lord is present and opens heaven to those who approach the Holy Supper worthily” (TCR 719). The actual power of the Holy Supper depends on the condition of those who are partaking in it. It depends on whether they have charity in their hearts and truth in their minds. The Holy Supper isn’t magic. Only those who already have the principal components of heaven in their souls have heaven opened to them in the Holy Supper. That is, only those who already have charity and faith in their souls find heaven opened to them when they partake in the Holy Supper. This can happen because their souls are already open to heaven in the love and wisdom they possess from God.
But how do the symbols of communion actually bring about this conjunction? Swedenborg isn’t clear on this. To answer this question I looked at the nature of correspondences in general. The physical acts we do are a grounding for the spiritual realities that transpire in our souls. That means that our soul is grounded in the physical things we do. What would an agreement be without a handshake to confirm it? Or what is happening more and more today, what would an agreement be without a contract that ratifies it. The things that we see in nature and the things that our bodies do correspond, or communicate with the world of spirit. So Swedenborg writes,
. . . all goods and truths descend from the Lord, and ascend to Him; that is, that He is the first and the last; for man has been so created that the Divine things of the Lord may descend through him down to the ultimates of nature, and from the ultimates of nature may ascend to Him; so that man might be a medium that unites the Divine with the world of nature, and the world of nature with the Divine; and that thus the very ultimate of nature might live from the Divine through man as the uniting medium (AC 3702).
The bread and wine are those “ultimates” that Swedenborg refers to. They are the elements of nature that God descends to and ascends upward from. When we are focused on the physical elements of Communion, the angels that are present with us fill our hearts with love and wisdom. In this way the physical elements of Communion communicate with the spiritual realities of heaven. A connection is formed with spirit and matter through the human mind.
Eating the bread signifies accepting God’s love into our hearts. And the physical act fills us with the love we have embodied throughout our life. It surrounds us with love from angels and even from God himself. Drinking the wine signifies accepting God’s wisdom into our minds, and we are filled with the presence of angels who enlighten our thoughts. Ultimately, God Himself enters our consciousness. So when we have these spiritual realities in our souls, we have the symbolism of Holy Communion in us. When we have love in our hearts, we will not hunger spiritually. When we have wisdom in our minds, we will not thirst spiritually. We can see clearly now, how the Biblical symbols relate to the sacrament of Holy Supper. We see, now, how those who have God in their hearts will never hunger nor thirst.
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