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There’s No Glory to Glory without Communion

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I’m Not Being Fed

Few things are as fundamental to the New Testament as the reality of communion (koinonia). It means a commonality, a sharing and participation in the same thing. It is this commonality or sharing that lies at the very heart of our salvation. This communion is described in Christ’s “high priestly prayer”:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

The unity for which Christ prays is no mere “quality” of our life in Christ – but is our life in Christ. That this unity (communion) is the very life of salvation is made clear in St. John’s first epistle:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have communion [koinonia] with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion [koinonia] with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

Here our communion with God is described as a communion of light – though the nature of that light is made clear: God is light. St. John uses light to say that our communion is a true participation in God, in His very life.

This same saving participation in the life of God is presented in Christ’s discourse on the Eucharist:

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me (John 6:53-57).

Orthodox priest for the Orthodox Church in America at St. Ann Orthodox Church in Tennessee, Fr. Stephen Freeman writes so eloquently in his article “Is Fellowship with God Possible?” about the problem of many modern English translations in which koinonia is rendered “fellowship,” a very weak translation indeed that I’m borrowing a significant portion of it here. “Our very life in Christ is trivialized by unwitting (I hope) translators into a noun used to describe church socials. It is a witness to how far removed many modern treatments of our saving relationship with Christ have become from the classic treatments of Orthodox tradition.

The compartmentalization of theology (ethics, soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology – and the list goes on) frequently results in a fragmented, disjointed account of the Christian life. When you view the massive tomes that comprise the average systematic theology it is a marvel that the New Testament manages to be so short.

A telling weakness of many “theologies” is their failure to give account for the most common aspects of our Christian life. Prayer is a very straightforward example. Many systematic presentations of theology have no treatment of prayer whatsoever, despite the fact that we are bidden to “pray without ceasing.” How is it that something so pervasive finds no place in a theological description?

It is just this kind of spiritual myopia that marks theology that has departed from the Tradition of the faith and set off on its own trail of creativity. Thus, much has been written on “predestination” (a word which occurs but a few times in all the New Testament) while prayer is relegated to lesser treatments in what amounts to a category of recreational reading.

The Tradition does not treat prayer in this manner. Prayer is so much at the heart of the teaching of the faith that it is stated: Lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of praying is the law of believing.” This is far more than saying that liturgy preserves the most primitive and pure proclamations of the gospel (though this is true). It is also saying that prayer itself is a pure expression of the gospel.

This becomes particularly clear when prayer is understood to be communion [koinonia] with God. And it is not prayer alone of which this can be said: the whole of the Christian life – every sacrament of the Church – has as its foundation our saving participation in the life of God.”

And it’s not just an Orthodox problem.

 

The Great Falling Away

A recent Study by the Pew Research Center claims that as little as 1/3 of Catholics actually believe in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. A statistic that has many Catholic bishops, like Bishop Robert Barron at Word on Fire, questioning the studies method. Transubstantiation is the belief in the literal transformation of the communion bread and wine into the physical elements of Christ’s body. In short, the Eucharist “is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking” (CCC 1327).

Unfortunately, many Christians do not realize the problem with such disregard of the Eucharistic teachings of the Church is not just a Catholic or even Orthodox issue. It is a Christian issue. In fact it is actually a Judeo-Christian issue and one that may just be the catalyst for that great falling away mentioned in 2 Thessalonians.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”

The Eucharist isn’t just a Catholic belief. It’s origins are actually rooted in the Jewish traditions that birthed the life of the 1st Century Christian Community. Taken directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, here is what the Church has believed for the last two millennia, from the beginning:

“The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.

The Lord’s Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish [meal ritual] when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread, above all at the Last Supper. It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection, and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.

The Eucharistic assembly (synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church.”

Understanding the importance of the Communion Act instituted by Christ himself is not only important for the Believer it is essential to living. “He who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:53-57).

Communion is not just some whimsical tradition we do in remembrance of Jesus like the Passover meal the Jews engaged in to remember their Exodus from Egypt. What Jesus instituted in the Bread of Life Discourse of John 6:22-59 was more than symbolic, just as dying on the cross did something more than just remember to save us. His death created a living reality of our eternal salvation and his flesh became a living reality of food we would need to eat in order to live that eternal reality. “My flesh is food indeed.”

This wasn’t a throw back to the manna in the desert days. This was the fulfillment of a reality that was prepared for us long ago. The manna was a foreshadow. Jesus is the real deal. And we can all thank a Jewish Prophet called Moses for the great idea.

Show Me Your Glory!

Chabbad Rabbi Jonathan Sacks does an excellent job explaining in his article “The Closeness of G-d.”

“The more I study the Torah, the more conscious I become of the immense mystery of Exodus 33. This is the chapter set in the middle of the Golden Calf narrative, between chapter 32 describing the sin and its consequences, and chapter 34, G‑d’s revelation to Moses of the “Thirteen attributes of Mercy”, the second set of tablets and the renewal of the covenant. It is, I believe, this mystery that frames the shape of Jewish [and Christian] spirituality.

What makes chapter 33 perplexing is, first, that it is not clear what it is about. What was Moses doing? In the previous chapter he had already prayed twice for the people to be forgiven. In chapter 34 he prays for forgiveness again. What then was he trying to achieve in chapter 33?”

The good Rabbi concludes Moses was making his most audacious prayer yet.

“The previous chapter implied that the people panicked because of the absence of Moses, their leader. G‑d himself implied as much when he said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.”5 The suggestion is that Moses’ absence or distance was the cause of the sin. He should have stayed closer to the people. Moses took the point. He did go down. He did punish the guilty. He did pray for G‑d to forgive the people. That was the theme of chapter 32. But in chapter 33, having restored order to the people, Moses now began on an entirely new line of approach. He was, in effect, saying to G‑d: what the people need is not for me to be close to them. I am just a human, here today, gone tomorrow. But You are eternal. You are their G‑d. They need You to be close to them.

It was as if Moses was saying, “Until now, they have experienced You as a terrifying, elemental force, delivering plague after plague to the Egyptians, bringing the world’s greatest empire to its knees, dividing the sea, overturning the very order of nature itself. At Mount Sinai, merely hearing Your voice, they were so overwhelmed that they said, if we continue to hear the voice, ‘we will die.’The people needed, said Moses, to experience not the greatness of G‑d but the closeness of G‑d, not G‑d heard in thunder and lightning at the top of the mountain but as a perpetual Presence in the valley below.

That is why Moses removed his tent and pitched it outside the camp, as if to say to G‑d: it is not my presence the people need in their midst, but Yours. That is why Moses sought to understand the very nature of G‑d Himself. Is it possible for G‑d to be close to where people are? Can transcendence become immanence? Can the G‑d who is vaster than the universe live within the universe in a predictable, comprehensible way, not just in the form of miraculous intervention?

To this, G‑d replied in a highly structured way. First, He said, you cannot understand My ways. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” There is an element of divine justice that must always elude human comprehension. We cannot fully enter into the mind of another human being, how much less so the mind of the Creator himself.

Second, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” Humans can at best “See My back.” Even when G‑d intervenes in history, we can see this only in retrospect, looking back. Steven Hawking was wrong. Even if we decode every scientific mystery, we still will not know the mind of G‑d.

However, third, you can see My “glory”. That is what Moses asked for once he realized that he could never know G‑d’s “ways” or see His “face”. That is what G‑d caused to pass by as Moses stood “in a cleft of the rock” (v. 22). We do not know at this stage, exactly what is meant by G‑d’s glory, but we discover this at the very end of the book of Exodus. Chapters 35-40 describe how the Israelites built the Mishkan. When it is finished and assembled we read this:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the L‑rd filled the Mishkan. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the L‑rd filled the Mishkan.

We now understand the entire drama set in motion by the making of the Golden Calf. Moses pleaded with G‑d to come closer to the people, so that they would encounter Him not only at unrepeatable moments in the form of miracles but regularly, on a daily basis, and not only as a force that threatens to obliterate all it touches but as a Presence that can be sensed in the heart of the camp.”

BAM!

If the truth of that last statement doesn’t hit you square in the eye then you may be in need of praying the prayer the Good Apostle Paul gave to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 3:14). Which by the way was a paraphrase of the Jewish Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 44:18). Even the Apostle Paul was trying to help new believers understand the greatness of Christ’s deposit by sharing with them the truths of the Jewish Old Testament. In fact, at the time of the Acts Church, most of of the teachings used to convert the gentiles and the Jews were the text of the Old Testament as the New Testament writings were not yet written much less distributed.

God’s plan from the beginning was always to tabernacle with his people.

The glory of the Lord is his Presence.

When Moses asked God to show him his glory, he wasn’t asking for glitter dust on the ground, a heavenly worship concert to get in the mood or even a cloud of smoke. Moses wanted God’s Presence. He wanted Him to show himself. Moses wanted God to show himself there in his midst.

Jesus explains this to the disciples in Luke 24:44-46 when he makes known to them his place in the Old Testament Scriptures. “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Everything.

Moses, God’s most beloved prophet and the most revered prophet among the Jewish people to this day, is invited into God’s plan to bring His glory into the earth by foreshadowing the indwelling tabernacle in our hearts with the Mishkan sanctuary of the desert. Just as he foreshadows the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon all mankind when Moses himself again audaciously asks God in Numbers 11:29 to make all the Lord’s people prophets and put His Spirit upon them! And just like he foreshadows the real Presence of Jesus sustained in us through the Sacramental Life of His Church, those institutions of grace in which the Eucharistic Celebration is the source and summit of the Christian life, by offering the Lord’s people manna in the desert.

There is nothing symbolic about Christ’s actions. They are real. He is real. God’s glory is real. And it lives inside you!

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27

By the cross, God’s glory now tabernacles inside those who believe and receive his free gift given to ALL men. By the power of the Holy Spirit, that glory is made to increase and grow when we allow the Spirit to continually fill us and transform us from glory to greater glory. A filling of grace which happens through the Sacramental Life of the Church, prayer and scriptures.

Beloved, if you desire to go “From Glory to Glory” then let the gift of salvation which tabernacles inside you be fed by the flesh of Christ’s body and blood through the Eucharistic Grace he offers you, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Without Communion in him, true and real communion with Christ’s true and real Presence it is near impossible to move from glory to glory.

It is like the rich man, not impossible, but extremely hard. More to the point, why would you choose the road that is nearly impossible when you can choose the road which gives life and fills you beyond satisfaction. Come and Eat.

The Christian looks upon the unveiled, the unhidden glories of the Lord, and are transformed into the same image from glory to glory. It is through faith that we look upon Him and are changed by the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Mount of Transfiguration that we see a quick glimpse of the permanent indwelling glory in God in Christ. According to Matthew 17:2-8 this is where Jesus manifested His glory before Peter, James and John. Years later the apostle Peter told about that experience when “they saw His glory” (Lk. 9:32; cf. 2 Peter 1:16-17). The apostle John refers to the same experience in John 1:14, 18.

“Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ, but it was Christ alone who was transfigured with heavenly radiance before the eyes of Peter, James and John. It was His face that shone as the sun and His garments that became white and dazzling. It was Him alone that the voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.’ And thereafter the disciples saw no one, save Jesus only. It is He who abides. The glory in which Moses and Elijah appeared was not their own but Christ’s glory––the glory which He had with the Father before the world was (Jn. 17:5). Just as in the wilderness the glory, which shone from Moses’ face, was the reflected glory of Yahweh, so too on the mount of transfiguration the glory with which he was surrounded was the glory of the same Yahweh. Christ’s alone is the full, the abiding, the evangelical glory. To turn to Him is to turn to the Light of the world. To follow Him is not to walk in darkness, but to have the light of life (Jn. 8:12)” (Hughes, NIC Commentary on Corinthians, pp. 114-15).

Jesus is the communion of light St. John describes in his first epistle.

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have communion [koinonia] with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion [koinonia] with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

Jesus is the light that shines out of darkness, “the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Our future is full of His glory

“We all,” says Paul. “We all,” in whom the indwelling Spirit of the Lord has set free. Moses alone reflected the glory in the Old. By contrast every believer reflects the glory of God in the New.  He uses the perfect tense, “We all with unveiled faces which remain unveiled.”  Apart from Christ, Moses was a minister of condemnation. The bear Law itself declared all men guilty and condemned. “The wages of sin is death.” However, “Where the Holy Spirit is sovereign, there is liberty.” It is the Holy Spirit’s work to apply Christ to the believing heart.

The prospect before us is for “all” believers. “We all” signifies all believers without exception. This experience is common to all born again believers. It is referring to every sinner saved by grace––the weakest, poorest, most sinful, most defiled. You cannot argue with a changed life. As we humble ourselves before Him we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Moses was the only man in the old dispensation to gaze with unveiled face on the glory of God. However, this is now the privilege of all who belong to Christ. The unbeliever, including the unbelieving Jewish person, remains in darkness. To everyone who has turned in faith to Christ the veil, which shuts off the glory from his apprehension, has been removed forever.

What a privilege is ours in this glory of abiding, without intermission. We enter into His presence and behold that glory uninterrupted. “The unveiled face” is a perfect participle indicating the veil, once lifted, remains lifted. On the other hand, “beholding as in a mirror” is present participle showing that the beholding is continuous and free from interruption.

Have you looked into His lovely face and seen a clear view of Jesus? Paul is not referring to a passing momentary glance. He is talking about gazing upon Him.

The word “beholding” is in the present tense meaning a continuous beholding that is free from interruptions. The Christian steadfastly looks into the face of Jesus and reflects the glory of His face like a mirror reflecting light, and at the same time is continuously being transformed into the same image of Christ. We are being conformed to the image of Christ as we contemplate the glory of God on the face of Jesus.  It is the process of sanctification. A mirror reflects only what it sees.

The Holy Spirit is the “Sanctifyer” of our faith and the unifier of Christ’s body, His Church.

“The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ’s faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may “bear much fruit.

CCC 737

Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ, it is Christ who, as the head of the Body, pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world. Through the Church’s sacraments, Christ communicates his Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the members of his Body.

This unveiling of Christ’s glory can only be seen in light of the Holy Spirit whose mission is the sanctification and unification of Christ’s body the Church.

“Thus the Church’s mission is not an addition to that of Christ and the Holy Spirit, but is its sacrament: in her whole being and in all her members, the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity:

All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God. For if Christ, together with the Father’s and his own Spirit, comes to dwell in each of us, though we are many, still the Spirit is one and undivided. He binds together the spirits of each and every one of us, . . . and makes all appear as one in him. For just as the power of Christ’s sacred flesh unites those in whom it dwells into one body, I think that in the same way the one and undivided Spirit of God, who dwells in all, leads all into spiritual unity. – St. Cyril of Alexandria, In Jo. ev., 11,11:PG 74,561″

Behold, the Lamb of God – His Glory, Unveiled

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Communion is the lifeblood of the Church. And we partake in the unity of the most holy Trinity each time we choose to behold the true Presence of the glory of God at that Eucharistic Last Supper.

The next time you see the priest hold up the Eucharist during Mass and hear him say aloud the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Behold Him.

In Christ, God has taken human flesh, and in seeing – beholding – Christ we behold God, and yet do not die. Indeed, through Christ’s Body offered to the Father and given for us, and to us, we truly live. Thus as the celebrant elevates Christ’s Body and Blood, he calls us to behold God himself, sacramentally present, and as really present to us as can be possible this side of heaven. We need not hide our faces any longer. In beholding God in Christ in the Blessed Sacrament we have yet another sign that the Old Testament has passed into the New.

For those called to partake in the Last Supper, we are truly not “worthy that he should enter under our roof,” but praise be God he has said “the word,” he has shown us his glory, and he has let it dwell within us, and we have been healed. Take and Eat.

“The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”

By the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.

In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.”

Christ’s lasts instructions to Peter were to “feed His sheep.” By the power of the Holy Spirit the Great Apostle has been doing just that for the last two millennia through the Eucharistic Celebration and the sacramental life of the Church. Let us not be careless with it in our generation but preserve and pass on its truth to the generations that follow. Not all have been called to the Supper of the Lamb. For those who are, Let’s Go and Eat.

 

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