Friday, February 10, 2012

Supper, or Sacrifice?

From the pen of Charles Pettit McIlvaine, Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, 1846:
None can deny that our Lord instituted and administered the Eucharist at a common household table. And when he says the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table, we necessarily contemplate the Saviour and the twelve as engaged in an act of family, spiritual communion simply; analogous to that of a household around the family table. Nothing can more perfectly exclude the idea of sacrifice, priest, and altar. It was the communion of the Passover. The Supper of our Lord took the place of the Jewish paschal feast. The latter was a feast after, and upon, a sacrifice which had been previously offered at the great altar of burnt-offerings at the temple. The work of the Jewish priest was finished when the paschal lamb had been sacrificed. Other altar a Jew could not have, than that of the temple, around which the blood of that lamb was sprinkled. Other sacrifice there remained none in connection with that feast, when once that lamb had been slain. But there did remain the feast of communion upon that lamb, thus offered, once for all the house of Israel. The lambs were many; the sacrifice, the feast, the type, was one. It was the communion of the whole household of the chosen people. They met in families, as we meet for our communion in congregations. They met, not at the altar, where the sacrifice was offered, but at the table of the family fellowship; as we meet not at the cross, where Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us, but at a table expressive of the family fellowship of all believers in the reconciliation effected by the blood of Jesus. They met without a Priest; all that pertained to the office of Priest having been finished at the Temple. We meet at the Lords Supper without any mere human Priest: [Of course I mean Priest in the sense of a Sacrifice.] for all that pertaineth to the office of a Priest, in our reconciliation to God, was finished when Christ offered up himself, once for all, on the altar of the cross; or else is being perfected in his present, ever living, intercession, within the vail, before the mercy-seat in heaven. The Jews met at the table of the household to feed upon what had elsewhere been offered on an altar as a propitiatory sacrifice to God. Christians meet to feed, by faith with thanksgiving, spiritually, upon a propitiatory sacrifice, long since offered, even the flesh and blood of Jesus, by which we draw nigh to God. The Jewish Passover was of two parts--the sacrifice of the Lords Passover, and the Feast of the Lords Passover; the propitiatory offering at the temple, and the eucharistic supper on that offering, in the family dwelling. It was as much commanded that the feast should be in the house, and not at the temple, as that the sacrifice should be at the temple, and not in any private house. Our Passover is of like two parts, the sacrifice and the feast; the offering of the Lamb of God, and the eucharistic supper of the whole household of faith, partaken in spirit, by faith, in that Lamb. In the beginning of the dispensation of the gospel, the sacrifice of our Passover was slain, once for all. Jesus was priest and victim. The whole period, since then, and to the end of the world, is the Feast of the Lords Passover, during which each believer, every day, is living by faith, in the secret of his own heart, upon the sacrifice of Christ, as all his life and hope and the whole Christian household of faith are, at stated periods, assembling together to express and declare, in the sacrament of the breaking of bread, their common dependence on, and their common thankfulness for, that one perfect and sufficient oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. As the Jews were not allowed to unite the offering and the eating, the priestly sacrifice and the Eucharistic feast, but were commanded to separate them in point of place and time; so we cannot, by any possibility, unite them, under the Gospel. The sacrifice for us was offered eighteen hundred years ago, once for all. It cannot be repeated. The feast alone remains--a feast commemorative of a sacrifice, but not a sacrifice of commemoration, except as the offering of prayer and thanksgiving is figuratively a sacrifice and each communicant is in that sense a Priest.
+McIlvaine served for a time as chaplain at West Point, where he led a revival of evangelical faith among cadets.  His pupils included Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.

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