Monday, December 13, 2010

Acts 29 - Eucharist (Part 3) - A Sacrifice?

Though the early church did not sacrifice bulls and goats, they did continue in a transformed todah sacrifice which is called the Eucharist, a sacrifice of Thanksgiving. But isn't the idea of a sacrifice, thanksgiving or not, at odds with the Scriptures, specifically Hebrews chapters 7 through 10:
He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself (7:27)

He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (9:12)

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (10:10-11).

Hebrews also tells us that Christ is a high priest after the manner of Melchizedek, who was a high priest in the times of Abraham. What Melchizadek offered was bread and wine. The term sacrifice comes from the Latin word sacra. Sacra means sacred or holy. We get the words Saint, sacrament, and sanctify from this root word. Sacra and ficio means "to make holy". That is what is done in the Christian service. After the manner of Melchizadek, we also bring bread and wine which sacrificed or "made holy", and joined with the already sacrificed body of Christ.

Malachi prophesied of a time when Jewish sacrifices would be replaced by Gentile ones in Malachi 1:11, "...For from the rising of the sun, even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts." Jewish sacrifices have ceased with the destruction of the temple and the Gentiles are offerings sacrifices and have been for 2,000 years.

In the Liturgy we say, "Let us attend that we may offer the holy oblation in peace."

This oblation is referred to as clean because it does not involve blood. Christ is not re-sacrificed. Our oblation is joined with the sacrifice Christ has already made for all eternity.

In the Liturgy we say, "Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice"

The early church did not claim to add to or sacrifice Christ again every time they gathered. They were re-presenting Christ's original sacrifice again making it present to all Christians at all times. The sacrifice at Calvary and the sacrifice at church is the same sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice happened once in time as we understand it, but according to Revelation, Christ's sacrifice is eternally present before God: "the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world.(Revelation 13:8)" And in Revelation 5:6, "I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain". In the Liturgy, we partake of the same Lamb that is eternally slain.

In the Liturgy we say, "We offer unto Thee, Thine own of Thine own, on behalf of all and for all."

St. John Chrysostom of the 4th century said, "The sacrifice which we offer today, that which was offered yesterday, and each day's sacrifice is alike and the same as the sacrifice offered on that Sabbath . . . they are one and the same, alike filled with awe and salvation."

The church, according to Christ's directive, "Do this in remembrance of Me", does just that. But the phrase is often cited as an argument to merely think in one's mind about what happened to Christ in the past. The Greek word used here for remembrance is anamnesis and its meaning is not just the idea of recollecting in our mind something in the past. It goes further and means to recollect a reality from the past in such a way that the past reality is a present reality as well. It is used 6 times in the Old Testament and all but one is associated with sacrifice.

The Jewish faithful did this during Passover. They went beyond merely remembering what had happened to their fathers in Egypt. The wall separating the one doing the praying from the one that suffered in the past is removed, and the one doing the praying becomes the one who suffered as well (Deuteronomy 26:3-10). It is this context of anamnesis that we partake of the Eucharist. In the Liturgy, the Church does not "think" about the past. That reality is brought into the present in the form of bread and wine.

In the Liturgy we say, "Remembering ...all that has been done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, the second and glorious coming... We offer unto Thee, Thine own of Thine own, on behalf of all and for all."

The early church took the Apostles at their word when they taught that Christ's flesh was food indeed and His blood drink indeed. They did not sacrifice Christ again, but rather partook of the same sacrifice that stands true for all eternity as a slain Lamb which was done "once for all when He offered up Himself. (Hebrews 7:27)"

Part 1 | Part 2

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