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§ 268. The Institution of the Eucharist.
(Luke, xxii., 17-20.)721721 As John does not give an account of the
institution of the Eucharist, there is some difficulty in deciding precisely at
what point of his narrative (ch. xiii.) it should be inserted. It was stated in
the last note that v. 31, 32 were connected directly with the departure of
Judas, and it seems to us that the proper point of juncture for the account in
question is between v. 32 and 33. The words ἐντολὴν καινὴν,
commencing v. 34,
connect very well, it is true, with the objects of the institution; but still,
if v. 33 was uttered before the institution, it seems strange that Peter’s
question (v. 36), obviously referring to v. 33, should have been
put after the intervention of that solemn act, which must have drawn the attention
of the disciples so strongly. We consider, then, that v. 33 was spoken after the
institution. Strauss (3te. Aufl., p. 449) objects to this collocation, as
arbitrarily severing the words εὐθὺς δοξάσει αὐτόν (v. 32) from
ἔτι μικρὸν μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰμ (v. 33). I cannot see the force of the objection. The pause after v. 32 is natural; and then follows the solemn symbolical act, in which Christ sets
before the disciples his departure from the earth, and gives them a pledge of
communion with him—a communion to endure after his ascension to his glory. Then
v. 33 opens a new beginning precisely adapted to the import of the symbolical act.
The aptness with which the account of the institution can be here fitted to John’s narrative, and its admirable adaptation to the last discourses of Christ, as recorded by him, shows that was one of the links, and a most important one, in the chain of Christ’s last acts. Gfrörer seeks to prove, however, from John’s omission to mention the institution, that although Christ may have spoken at the Last Supper the words ascribed to him, they were words spoken by the way, and not intended to establish such a commemorative rite as that which was afterward founded upon them; just as a deeper signification was found in other expressions of Christ after his departure than was manifest before; and that, therefore, John omitted them, as he did so many other things comparatively unimportant. This hypothesis contradicts itself. Even Gfrörer must presuppose that John personally knew and partook of the Eucharist before writing his Gospel; and it must be presupposed just as certainly, that it was at that time connected with these words of Christ; and that John, who certainly was not inclined to attribute a less meaning than others to Christ’s sayings at the Last Supper, must have conceived the words to be so connected. On purely psychological grounds, therefore, John’s omission cannot be explained in this way. In a word, no one having an intuition of Christ, and conceiving his solemn state of mind at that Last Sapper, can believe that he uttered those solemn words without a deeper and more earnest meaning. As for the hypothesis, recently revived, of an influence exerted by Essenism upon Christian culture, it is wholly destitute of historical foundation (cf. p. 37, seq.); the derivation of the Agapae from the common repasts of the Essenes is wholly an invention of fancy. It is altogether unhistorical to seek an external origin for a usage that can be naturally explained from internal grounds, as the origin of the celebration of the Eucharist from an imitation of Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples.
The description of the institution of the Eucharist given by Luke, harmonizing with that of Paul (1 Cor., xi., 23, seq.), seems to afford 389us the most clear and natural view of the transaction. It is distinguished from those of Matthew and Mark in stating definitely that the giving of the bread was separated by a certain interval from that of the wine; the former occurring during the supper, the latter after it. It is introduced by the following words of Christ: “I have heartily desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof until it be fufilled in the kingdom of God” (i. e., until, in the consummation of the kingdom, he should celebrate with them the higher and true Passover Supper). After these words of farewell, he takes the cup of red wine, blesses it, sends it round, and reminds them that he should no more drink of the fruit of the vine until he should partake with them of a higher wine in the kingdom of God. After thus vividly impressing them with his departure, and preparing them for the institution of a rite in its commemoration, he breaks one of the loaves, and divides it among them, showing them that the broken bread was to represent his body, given up for them; and this they were to repeat in remembrance of him. Then, after the conclusion of the meal, he sends round the cup again, and tells them that the wine is to represent his blood, about to be shed for them. Each of these acts, therefore—the giving of the bread and 390the giving of the wine—denotes the same thing, viz., the remembrance of the Last Supper. Each had its signification separately; but the repetition, during the meal and after it, served to impress the symbolical meaning of the act still more deeply upon the minds of the disciples.
The giving of thanks before the distribution of the bread and wine corresponds to a similar act on the part of the head of the family in the Jewish Passover feast, in which thanksgiving was offered for the gifts of nature, and also for the deliverance of the fathers out of Egypt and the founding of the old covenant; we may infer, therefore, that Christ’s thanksgiving had reference partly to the creation of all material things for man (bread and wine symbolizing all God’S gifts in nature); partly, and indeed chiefly, to his own death, in order to deliver men from the bondage of sin, and, by his redemptive act, to establish the new covenant between God and man.722722 The gifts of nature and of redemption are inseparable; redemption alone has re established the original relation between man and nature. Only when man is restored to communion with God is he assured that all nature exists for his good, to be used by him for the glory of God.
As to the words used in the distribution, “This is my body;” and, “This is my blood,” it is impossible that any of the recipients at that time could have supposed them to be literally meant; as he was then before them in his corporeal presence. Had he intended to present so new and extraordinary a sense to their minds, he could not but have stated it more definitely; and had they so understood him, the difficulty would assuredly have led them to question him further. But as the whole transaction—the institution, at the close of a farewell supper, of a visible sign of communion to endure after his departure—had a symbolical character, they would have interpreted these words also unnaturally, if they had understood them literally, and not symbolically. “This is, for you, my body and blood; i. e., represents to you my body and blood.” The breaking of the bread was a natural symbol of the breaking of his body; the pouring out of the red wine (the ordinary wine of Palestine) was a natural symbol of the pouring out of his blood. “I offer up my life for your redemption; and when, in remembrance thereof, you meet again to partake of this supper, be assured that I shall then be with you as truly as now I am with you, visibly and corporeally, in body and blood. The bread and wine, which I now divide among you as symbols of my body and blood, will then stand in stead of my corporeal presence.”
It may be added, that this symbol was not an entirely new one to the disciples: it had been used substantially, in the conversation before referred to (p. 267, seq.) between Christ and the Jews, in the synagogue 391at Capernaum. To “eat his flesh and drink his blood” was an understood sign of the closest spiritual communion with his Divine-human nature. And therefore he said, in giving the wine, “This is my blood, the seal of the new covenant, which is given for many for the remission of sins.”723723 It has been disputed whether the words “for the remission of sins” were really added by Christ. But the import of the words of consecration is fully complete without them. The founding of the new covenant (which none will deny to have been embraced in the words of consecration; Paul gives it so, as well as Luke, and they must have received them from ear—witnesses) covers the whole ground. The “new covenant,” founded upon the self-offering of Christ, could only refer to the new relation between man and God, secured by that self-sacrifice; viz., the pardon of sin through his sufferings, and the restoration of communion with God, which the old covenant could not restore. The whole import of Christianity, in relation to the old covenant, is clearly set forth in that of the Lord’s Supper, as given by Christ himself.
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