13 Jul Christian Dogmatics: The Sacraments
This summer, between chasing around my kiddos, going to numerous doctor’s appointments, and continuing with regular faculty work, I’ve have the privilege to write on one of my favorite topics: theology of the Lord’s Supper. I’ve published some articles and chapters on the subject in the past. And I’m working on a book on the Lord’s Supper and the gospel for Eerdmans press: exploring the way in which a renewed theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper can move congregations into a deeper embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While working on the book, I agreed to write a chapter in a wonderful new book of essays: Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic, edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain. It was recently released by Baker Academic press. I’m honored to join Kevin Vanhoozer, the late John Webster, and other stellar theologians in this volume.
In my own chapter, I took the opportunity to explore how the Lord’s Supper is not just “a Christian practice,” or a set of actions to be analyzed as liturgy. It is a human participation in the drama of the Triune God’s love. I used the following as a “dogmatic thesis” to organize the chapter:
“Rooted in the eternal love of the Triune God, the Father sends the Word to create fellowship by the Spirit with a people whom he has appointed to be a sign of his sovereign love for the whole creation. God gives the Word to his people through preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, which are instruments of grace received by the Spirit through faith. The sacraments are material signs and seals of God’s covenant promise, through which the Risen Christ communicates his person and benefits by the power of the Spirit. Baptism is the sacrament of incorporation into Christ and his body, the church; the Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of communion with Christ and his people, providing nourishment for grateful service to God and neighbor. Through preaching and the sacraments, the Spirit unites a community of witnesses to Jesus Christ and his kingly love for the world.” (p. 340)
The chapter unpacks that paragraph, sentence by sentence.
But why does this God-centered focus, of our incorporation into the Triune God’s work, really matter?
As mind-bending as it may seem, when the Spirit incorporates us into the the loving communion of Jesus the Son, believers are incorporated into a durable, eternal love that is as old as the creation itself. This does not move to and fro like the updating of one’s “relationship status” on Facebook; this love is not a product of Valentine’s day swooning. This eternal love echoes through the ages in the praise the creation itself sings to the Creator. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy (Ps. 96:11-12). In the sign-act of the Supper, God gives an instrument to his people to participate in his steady, eternal love. Through the Supper, the Spirit joins God’s people into the live and mission of the Son sent by the Father to show the Triune God’s love to the world. The Triune God’s love is not a spigot, or even a fountain, but a raging waterfall that carries along his people as they are moved and sent into a world parched for life. Indeed, as believers come to the table, they always bring their own parched lives as well, in need of renewal and refreshment. For the eternal love of God, made known in Jesus, gives water that will “become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14, NRSV).
The last paragraph is adapted from my “in progress” book with Eerdmans. I’ll keep you updated about its progress! In the meantime, cherish the gift of participating in the Triune God’s astonishing love in the Lord’s Supper.