The Sacrament of the Holy Supper

An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, June 8, 2008

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." LUK 22:19

  1. Sacraments vs. Rites
    1. In the New Church we have many rites (rituals) but only two sacraments
      1. The "traditional" (included in the Liturgy) rites are:
        1. Confirmation
        2. Betrothal
        3. Marriage
        4. Inauguration and Ordination
        5. Memorial Service
      2. The Liturgy produced in 1995 added several new rituals that had come into common usage in the church.
        1. Blessing on a marriage
        2. Home dedication
        3. Interment
      3. This illustrates the point that rituals change from time to time and from place to place because we make them up to fulfil a perceived need in the church. We are also free to drop them from our usage if we find that they no longer serve a use.
    2. Sacraments, on the other hand, are those things that the Lord Himself commanded and for which scripture provides the forms.
      1. Scripture tells us that the ritual of marriage was performed, but nowhere does scripture tell us how the ceremony itself was conducted. All we know is that there was some kind of feast to which guests were invited and wine was served.
      2. On the other hand, the Sacraments are both described (in a general way) – and commanded. For example, in regard to the Holy Supper, the Lord Himself said, "do this in remembrance of Me." (text)
      3. The actual details of the procedure we are to follow in the Sacraments are not described because the power is not in the outward form, but in the things those forms represent. Also, it leaves us in freedom to accommodate our forms to changing needs
  2. Sacraments have real power.
    1. In seeking an understanding of the sacraments the most useful line of thought is to understand that they contain a spiritual sense even as the Word Itself does, and so may be seen to be an extension of the Word and to operate in the same way as the Word.
      1. The literal command of the Word "Do this in remembrance of Me" is actually fulfilled in act as the bread and wine are eaten by the communicant. Thus the sacrament is an enacted Word in which the five senses are used. The letter of the Word is reproduced in actuality.
      2. Its power and effectiveness lie in these correspondential ultimate forms. Just as the Word is a means of association and conjunction with the heavens and the Lord, so is the Holy Supper.
      3. Essentially the bread and wine of the Holy Supper present to view (and so corresponds to) the Divine Human of the Lord.
  3. Holy Supper
    1. An important question to consider is how closely do we have to duplicate what is described in scripture to have the real power of the sacrament exist in the external form? Which things described in the Word are essential, which can left out without harm?
    2. Consider the following passage:
      1. (John 13:1-5) Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. {2} And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, {3} Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, {4} rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. {5} After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
        1. Celebrate the Passover?
        2. Have the priest wash the feet of the communicants beforehand?
        3. Have only 13 men present in an "upper room" (MAR 14:15)?
          1. (Bishop W.F. Pendleton wanted an "upper room" in the Bryn Athyn Cathedral for the sole purpose of celebrating the Holy Supper. It didn't make it into the final design.)
    3. The general consensus today is that we have to extract the essential principles.
      1. Over the years there have been a number of studies by committees of the clergy and individual efforts to understand the essentials of the sacraments so that the forms and practices adopted for the use of the church will support and contain those uses as intended.
        1. One of the most important things is that the communicant much approach worthily – which means:
          1. Self-examination
          2. Prayer for forgiveness
          3. The determination to shun evil as sin against the Lord
        2. There should be unleavened bread as the representative of the Lord.
          1. The bread represents the Divine Love
        3. The fermented wine
          1. Represents the Divine Truth
            1. The type is not specified