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Really Limited Atonement

Have you ever stopped to reflect on the deplorably tiny portions of Communion bread and wine that most Reformed churches serve? I did yesterday.
"Here's Christ's body, given for you."
"That little crumb I just put in your hand."
"I can hardly see it."
"Too bad--may it nourish you unto eternal life."

"Here's Christ's blood, shed for you. Drink it in remembrance that Christ died for you."
"I don't think there was any in my little glass--I didn't taste anything."
"Don't worry, there was some there."
"How do I know?"
"That's why we tell you to receive it in faith!"

Thomas Aquinas, in "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum" wrote "Faith, our outward sense befriending, makes the inward vision clear" asserting that it was by faith that we discerned the true body and blood of Christ beneath the outward forms of bread and wine. In some churches now, faith must come to your aid to even discern the presence of the outward forms.

I can't help but wonder about the theological message this sort of parsimony sends. "Here's Christ's blood shed for you...just a little bit--he doesn't have much to spare." Here we are supposed to be celebrating the bounteous grace of God, the great outpouring of Christ's sacrifice, and the message we're getting in our bread and wine (if we're lucky enough to be given actual wine!) is that Jesus has to be rather stingy with how much of himself he's actually willing to give us.

Perhaps there's some connection with the doctrine of limited atonement--if Christ's blood really is shed for a limited few, we should depict this by only dispensing a few drops of his symbolic blood. There does seem to be something of a correlation here--the more rigid, hard-core Calvinist a church is, the less wine they give you. And, come to think of it, the correlation works also if you prefer to call it "Particular Atonement"--everyone gets their own little particular cup. Whereas, if you go to the not-very-Calvinist Anglicans, the universal atonement is symbolized by the common cup, in which there always seems to be enough wine for everyone to take a generous gulp if they desire.

Another fine example of lex orandi, lex credendi!


The common cup always did seem more appropriate. But they still really limit the bread.

October 5, 2009 at 1:25 AM  

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