Church’s Scripture And The Lord’s Supper

Church’s Scripture And The Lord’s Supper

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Pneuma 35 (2013) 220-234

“Then Their Eyes Were Opened”: Pentecostal Reflections

on the Church’s Scripture and the Lord’s Supper1

Chris E.W. Green

Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, Tennessee


This paper explores the relationship of Scripture to the Lord’s Supper in and for Pentecostal the- ology and praxis, drawing on a figurative reading of the story of the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24) as a paradigm. The paper’s central claim is that faithful eucharistic participation is indispensable to the faithful reading of Scripture — and vice versa. It is just as our lives are consumed by the Eucharist event that our eyes are opened to see the Jesus of whom the Scriptures testify and that we are made apt for the transforming work of the Spirit. On this basis, a call is made for a robust and authentically Pentecostal sacramentality to orient and ground uses of Scripture in and by the Pentecostal ecclesial community. In addition to fellow Pentecostals, dialogue partners from the wider Christian tradition are also engaged, including, most prominently, Rowan Williams, Jean-Luc Marion, and Robert W. Jenson.


Eucharist, Scripture, hermeneutics, theological method, church, Pentecostal theology

The Emmaus Encounter as Paradigm of Christian Experience

The story of the two disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) reads like a parable of post-Easter Christian experience,2 a typos that prefigures the shape of transformation required for

1 A special word of thanks is due to the editors, Amos Yong and Dale Coulter, as well as to the anonymous peer reviewers for their immense patience and enormous help in revising and improving this paper.

2 Much as with the Job story, what is true for the characters “within” this particular Lukan nar- rative in many ways mirrors what is true for the readers who stand “outside” of it. We, unlike them, know the stranger’s identity from the beginning. They, unlike us, hear his teaching. They invite him into their home and eat with him, but we receive him into our company and receive from him an invitation of a different order. We recognize before they do that the guest is the host, and that their supper is the Supper. And, most importantly, we know what it must have taken

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013

DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341311


C. E. W. Green / Pneuma 35 (2013) 220-234


our work as Pentecostal readers, teachers, and, above all, performers of Scripture.3 Clearly, such a way of reading this story assumes not only that scrip – tural narratives can and should be read figurally, but also that by God’s design these narratives sustain a figurative depth, a “something more” that emerges only as the Spirit makes insight possible in and for the interpretive community.4 Such a hermeneutic, needless to say, shares much more in common with “pre-critical” patristic and medieval exegesis and reading strategies than it does with the standard practices of modern critical scholarship.5 For example, Cyril of Alex – andria, in commenting on Jesus’ use of “Moses and all the prophets” to explain his mission and identity to the Emmaus disciples, insists that it is precisely in and through the struggle to grasp the “hidden meaning” of the Scripture that Christians are “[made] ready for the presence of the Master.”6 This is true not only in the sense in which Cyril meant it — what is “hidden” in the Old is “revealed” in the New — but also in the sense that all of Scripture, in whole and in part, always “hides” more than can be fathomed.7 Faithful readers are read – ers who have mastered the “particular discipline of hearing the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments together, speak of Christ,” and who acknowledge that

them a long time to realize: It is only in and by the Lord’s breaking of the bread that their eyes are opened. Before that moment they could not recognize the stranger as the victorious Jesus, even while he is revealing to them the meaning, the logos, of the whole of the Scriptures.

3 In his sermon on this text, Stanley Hauerwas (“The Interpretation of Scripture: Why Disciple- ship is Required,” in John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, eds., The Hauerwas Reader [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001], 257) rightly sees that to claim that “if Jesus had joined us on the Emmaus road we would have recognized him is not unlike claiming that in order to understand the Scripture all we have to do is pick it up and read it.” Wolfgang Vondey (People of Bread: Redis- covering Ecclesiology [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008], 160-69) offers a similar reading of this passage, although his emphasis falls on the theme of hospitality and its relation to the church’s faithful reception and regular (re-)enacting of the Lord’s Supper.

4 Whatever the opinion of adherents of the historical-critical method, the history of interpre- tation demonstrates that the Spirit has made this story available to the church in just this way. 5 For an evangelical critique of this way of reading the Emmaus story, see Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 255.

6 Cyril of Alexandria, ACommentary on the Gospel of St Luke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1859), 726-27.

7 So Brevard Childs (“Jesus Christ the Lord and the Scriptures of the Church,” in Ephraim Rad- ner and George Sumner, eds. [Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1998], 12) rightly sees that “the Bible contains different levels of meaning, not to be separated, that point to different dimensions of truth and that perform different functions for faith. The form of typology especially extends the meaning of an original event beyond its initial occurrence and finds in it an adumbration of the one consistent purpose of God within history. It provides the Church in each generation with the ability to establish its position in God’s plan between salvation already experienced and salvation yet to be consummated.” See also Ephraim Radner, Hope among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement with Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004), 77-138.



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Jesus is to be found in, say, Leviticus or Joshua “with the same particularity as in the Gospels.” Until this discipline has been mastered, readers “have not yet opened [themselves] to the forming of [their] spirits by the Holy Spirit of God, the author of life and word together.”8 Just as the Spirit mysteriously formed Christ in Mary’s womb, “so the Spirit uses Scripture to form Christ in believers. . . .”9 When properly read — that is, read for christic figuration, 10 in just the way that Jesus and the apostles read11 — the Scriptures ready us for the divine presence,12 the very parousia that the Eucharist event makes real here and now in the midst of the gathered ecclesia.13

The Sacramental Community as Critical Context for Scriptural Interpretation

Even the faithful exegesis of Scripture — that is, the finding of Jesus in it in such a way that the reader is conformed to his image and likeness14 — while

8 Radner, Hope among the Fragments, 92.

9 Steven J. Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 100. 10 As Hauerwas (“The Interpretation of Scripture,” 261) sees, the crucial issue is the ability to find Christ in the Scripture: “it is not just explaining the text and what it meant that Jesus is about, for these people on the way to Emmaus clearly seemed to have known the text. Their problem is that they did not know how to find Jesus in it.” This is because Christ is the logos of the canonical Scriptures. In the words of early Pentecostal leader G.F. Taylor (PHA 1.9 [June 28, 1917], 1), “All the Bible points to Jesus on the cross. We may not be able to see Jesus in it all, but He is there just the same,” and one of Taylor’s contemporaries affirms (WE 197 [ July 7, 1917], 2) that “everything in the Word from Genesis to Revelation speaks of Christ the Messiah — Jesus the Saviour, the Sanctifier, the Baptizer (with the Holy Spirit), the Healer and coming Bridegroom and King. . . .” As Radner (Hope among the Fragments, 92) explains, Christian readers of Scripture are called to master the “particular discipline of hearing the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments together, speak of Christ,” for Jesus is to be found in, say, Leviticus “with the same particularity as in the Gospels.” Radner also rightly sees that until this discipline has been mastered, readers “have not yet opened [themselves] to the forming of [their] spirits by the Holy Spirit of God, the author of life and word together.”

11  This hermeneutic is modeled throughout the New Testament. In Luke-Acts, Jesus reads the Scripture in this way (Luke 4:16-21; 24:25-27), as also do Peter (Acts 3:11-26), Philip (Acts 8:26-35), James (Acts 15:12-21), and Paul (Acts 28:23-24).

12 In this, I stand in basic agreement with Telford Work’s theology of Scripture as Jesus’ “pneu- matic instrument,” a view Work outlines in his Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

13 Of course, the inverse is also true. When improperly read the Scripture un-readies us, mak- ing it so we cannot recognize the one about whom it speaks (cf. James 1:25).

14 As Augustine (On Christian Doctrine 1.35.39) makes clear, the final end ( telos) of Scripture is to move readers to love of God and neighbor. In the Pentecostal idiom of the “fivefold gospel,” the use of Scripture in mission and worship is ordered to salvation, sanctification, the receiving of the


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necessary, is never in and of itself sufficient. After all, Jesus provided the Emmaus disciples with the authoritative reading of the OT, but they nonethe- less could not recognize him because he “embodied the politics of a kingdom for which they were unprepared.” They were incapable of truly seeing Jesus because “they had not received the training that would put them in a whole set of practices that would give the text a whole different reading.”15 To put it directly, “knowing the Scripture does little good unless we know it as part of a people constituted by the practices of the resurrected Lord.”16

As it was with them, so it is with us. The Lord’s Supper, when rightly cele- brated, opens our eyes to Jesus, and through and in seeing him rightly we find the Scriptures opened and ourselves inspired for churchly worship and mis- sion. This does not “just happen,” of course. Faithful readers of Scripture are made, not born, and they are made in the fires of the church’s life together in adoration and witness. The Bible functions as Scripture, as God ’s Word just insofar as its witness to Christ is read and received by the ecclesial community, the gathered and scattered people of God.17 Only the community’s life — as the locus of the Spirit’s sanctifying and empowering ministry — makes possible the Spirit-fired, Christ-revealing readings the sacred texts are intended to offer. If we hope to find Jesus in the Scripture, to be made ready for the “presence of the Master,” and then to embody his politics in and for the world, we must subject ourselves to the necessary rigorous training that comes in the virtue- forming habits of traditional Christian liturgy and spirituality.18 We have to find what Hauerwas describes as that “whole set of practices” that makes pos- sible our transformation into the kind of people who can recognize Jesus, who have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” As Jenson observes, “what Scripture can say is determined by the character of the churchly life within which it is read.”19 Thus Simon Chan has it exactly right: Pentecostals can and should “locate” both the reading of Scripture and the exercise of the charismata squarely

divine life and energies and healing in preparation for the parousia of Christ, the beatific vision, and the final righting of all things in the eschaton.

15 Hauerwas, “The Interpretation of Scripture,” 261.

16 Ibid., 257.

17 See Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspec- tive (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002) and Kenneth J. Archer, A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Spirit, Scripture, and Community (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2009).

18 As James K.A. Smith, Passion for the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).

19 Robert W. Jenson, “Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church,” in Robert W. Jenson and Carl E. Braaten, eds., Reclaiming the Bible for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 93-94. Emphasis added.



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“within the ecclesial community and the eucharistic event” in which Christ makes himself sacramentally present, for in this way we situate ourselves for faithful living and thinking.20

Hermeneutics, Liturgy, and the Sacraments in Pentecostal Ecclesial Practice

Obviously, Pentecostal churchly life has a distinctive character and its own set of peculiar practices, which, as Cheryl Bridges Johns explains, have as their objective “to know God and live in his presence” and serve as “the means whereby the Pentecostal community becomes aware of God’s revelation and responds to this revelation in faithful obedience.”21 Bridges Johns holds rightly that for Pentecostals, “the context of worship becomes a primary context for formation. As a drama of God’s unfolding actions, the setting of worship and the liturgies contained within the act of worship, serve to instruct, exhort and to model the life of faith.”22 She also insists that Pentecostal “liturgical func – tions,” such as water baptism, Communion, footwashing, testimony, healing rituals, songs and dances, and experiences of Spirit baptism provide the neces- sary occasions for formation.23 According to Bridges Johns, these “functions” allow Pentecostal formation to take place because they allow room for the Spirit, who works Christ into the worshiping community.

While I affirm Bridges Johns’s model, I submit that Pentecostals need to place an even greater emphasis on the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist event, I believe, should have preeminence in all Christian liturgies, including the Pen- tecostal liturgy — although it should never be isolated from these other (more typically Pentecostal) practices.24 I remain convinced that Steve Land’s call for a people “formed in the Spirit by the whole counsel of God” cannot be answered without a theologically robust sacramental practice, rooted in and ordered by the Eucharist. In short, then, this is the heart of my argument: if we hope to build communities that enable us to read Scripture rightly, and so encounter

20 Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Sheffield, UK: Shef – field Academic Press, 2003), 107.

21  Cheryl Bridges Johns, Pentecostal Formation: A Pedagogy Among the Oppressed ( JPTSup 2; Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 121.

22 Ibid., 124.

23 Ibid., 125-28.

24 It should be clear that this centering of worship in the Eucharist event need not come by suppressing preaching, testimony, song and dance, anointing with oil for healing, or any other “Pentecostal” practice.


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Christ and ready ourselves to live as his Body in the world, then we need to find a way to celebrate Holy Communion faithfully and so allow our imaginations to be eucharistically formed. It is not enough, needless to say, simply to go through the motions of the rite, although it is necessary for the ritual to be performed.

This returns us to the Emmaus story. As I mentioned previously, only in the breaking of the bread were the disciples’ eyes opened, a detail that suggests that if we hope to read Scripture in a Christian way, then our eyes also have to be opened by the breaking of the bread, by the practice of Communion.

The Word Edible and Audible: Understanding the Scripture Eucharistically

The meal Jesus shares with the Emmaus pair is at least an allusion to the eucha- ristic meal, as suggested by Luke’s use of the so-called “institutional verbs.” Cer- tainly, the history of interpretation shows that many exegetes have understood it in these terms. Augustine’s reading is typical:

Remember, though, dearly beloved, how the Lord Jesus wished himself to be recog- nized in the breaking of bread, by those whose eyes had been kept till then from recog- nizing him. The faithful know what I’m talking about; they know Christ in the breaking of bread.25

Similarly, A.A. Boddy, the early Anglican Pentecostal, observes that Jesus was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread,” and he admonishes his readers to expect the same kind of encounter in their own Communion event: “Let us thankfully draw nigh to Him in His Holy Feast. . . .”26 N.T. Wright finds in the story not only eucharistic overtones, but also a retelling of the Adam and Eve story. “The first meal mentioned in the Bible is the moment when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The direct result is new and unwelcome knowledge. . . .” When Cleopas and his companion sit with Jesus at the table, however, they find themselves “confronted with new and deeply welcome knowledge.” “This, Luke is saying, is the ultimate redemption; this is the meal that signifies that the long exile of the human race, not just of Israel, is over at last. This is the start of the new creation.”27

25 Sermon 234.2 in The Works of Saint Augustine, Vol. 7 (New York: New City Press, 1990), 37. 26 Confidence 5.4 (Apr 1912), 4.

27 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 652.



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With these readings (and others like them) in mind, the story functions as a narrative explanation of the need for the Lord’s Supper in interpreting the Scripture, and vice versa. If we hope to build a community capable of produc- ing and nurturing Christians of character and wisdom, Christians ready to engage the Scripture and live with one another and in and for the world in such a way that Jesus presents himself, then we have to build a community that reads the Scriptures eucharistically and eats the Eucharist scripturally.28 In other words, we have to learn to consume the audible and the edible Word, to “feast” on the sacramental Scriptures and the inscripturated Eucharist.29 Alexander Schmemann observes that “the reading of holy scripture from the beginning constituted an inseparable part of the ‘assembly as the Church’ and,

28 The ingestion metaphor, perhaps more than any other, implies that believers can and should “take in” Christ wholly and delightedly, so that all he is and offers becomes real in and for us in the fullness of our being-in-community. In the words of Alexander Schmemann (The Eucha- rist [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s University Press, 1987], 73), the Eucharist is the “sacrament of the Word” and through sacramental participation believers come to know that “the word of God is addressed not to the reason alone, but to the whole man. . . .”

29 The call for and affirmation of the full engagement of the whole person — including the entire range and depth of human sensation — is one of the defining “marks” (notae) of Wesleyan Pentecostal spiritual tradition. In her careful study of the Wesleys’ Hymns on the Lord’s Supper, Lorna Khoo (Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality [Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum Press, 2005], 204-8) found that in their poetic theologizing the Wesley brothers broke from the “hearing- dominated preference of Protestant spirituality,” privileging instead other senses, namely, seeing, touching, and tasting. Khoo infers from this that for the Wesleys the encounter with Christ in Holy Communion was no less “sensory and physical” than spiritual. So, for example, one hymn (no. 30, v. 4) prays, “The tokens of thy dying love/O let us all receive/And feel the quick’ning Spirit move/And sensibly believe.” In this, the Wesleys apparently followed Daniel Brevint’s 1673 essay on the Eucharist, which was appended as an introduction to the Hymns on the Lord’s Supper. In the essay, Brevint speaks of the bread and wine as “signs” that bear the “glorious character . . . and the express design” given them by God in order “to expose to all our senses his sufferings, as if they were present now.” Along the same line, in his An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion (WW 8: 4-5), John Wesley describes faith as “the spiritual sensation” through which “the spiritual man discerneth God, and the things of God.” Because it perceives God, faith, according to Wesley, sanctifies all human sensation, both natural and spiritual. In this, Wesley is following an ancient pattern, as seen, for example, in Cyril of Jerusalem’s Mystagogical Catecheses. As Georgia Frank (“ ‘Taste and See’: The Eucharist and the Eyes of Faith in the Fourth Century,” Church History 70, no. 4 [Dec 2001]: 619-43 [625-26]) explains, for Cyril “the spiritual senses were closely linked to initiatory rites, especially baptism and its confirmation in chrismation, or anointing. In chrisma- tion, the priest applied a special ointment or perfumed oil to various parts of the baptized body: first the forehead, then the eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears, the breast, the hands, and the feet.The piecemeal anointing was significant . . . for with each touch a different spiritual sense was awak- ened.” Cyril also assigned scriptural texts to the various parts of the body, “thereby mapping a new body capable of perceiving supra-sensory realities. Such sense began at the body, but perceived what was beyond it.”


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specifically, the eucharistic gathering,” and he (rightly, in my view) contends that the “gradual ‘decomposition’ of scripture” in the late modern period has resulted at least in part from “its alienation from the eucharist. . . .” But, he quickly adds, the Eucharist event suffers as well, for the removal of Scripture deprives the sacramental moment of its “evangelical content,” and just so “convert[s] it into a self-contained and self-sufficient ‘means of sanctification.’ ”30 In explication of this point, I want to engage with two other dialogue part- ners: Jean-Luc Marion, a Catholic philosopher in the continental and phenom- enologist traditions, and the patristic scholar and former head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Marion’s Sola Eucharistica

Jean-Luc Marion argues for what he labels a “eucharistic hermeneutic.” Like the disciples at Emmaus, he says, we err if we think we can make sense of the Scrip- ture apart from the Supper. “Even after the self-referential hermeneutic of the texts [by which he means the Scriptures] by the Word [by which he means Christ, personally], we remain equally blind, unintelligent.”31 No hermeneutic — other than the eucharistic one — “could open our eyes to the exegete of the Father,”32 that is, to Jesus as John proclaims him (John 1:18). Marion makes much (rightly, I think) of the fact that, although Luke does tell us that Jesus taught the Emmaus disciples all that the Scriptures said about himself, Luke does not tell us what Jesus actually said. Marion emphasizes the fact that although “an absolute hermeneutic” is announced to us as readers, it not only reveals nothing to us, but in fact “shines by its absence.” Luke, seemingly with- out knowing how desperately we would like to know the details of Jesus’ read- ing of the Scripture, simply mentions the fact that Jesus taught them; “barely named, [the absolute hermeneutic] disappears to the benefit of the eucharistic moment.”

This does not render the reading of Scripture superfluous and unnecessary. Such an idea could only arise if one assumed that the reading of Scripture and the Eucharist were two discrete acts or movements. In point of fact, however, they are dimensions of one reality. Marion observes that “immediately after the breaking of bread, not only did the disciples ‘recognize him’ and at last ‘their eyes were opened,’ but above all the hermeneutic went through the text

30 Schmemann, The Eucharist, 65-66.

31  Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being: Hors-texte (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 149.

32 Ibid.



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as far as the referent.”33 As soon as they recognized Jesus, they also recognized what his “opening” of the Scriptures and the “burning” in their hearts meant, too. In Marion’s idiom, “The Eucharist accomplishes, as its central moment, the hermeneutic.” That is to say, “the Eucharist alone completes the hermeneu- tic; the hermeneutic culminates in the Eucharist.”34

In spite of his attempts to speak of the Scripture and the Eucharist as a single movement, I suspect that Marion holds to what one might call a sola eucharis- tica. For him, it is only in the Eucharist that Christ is personally present, and so exclusively in the Eucharist we receive a personal interpretation of the Scrip – tural text. While I agree with Marion’s claim that the Eucharist in a sense com- pletes the hermeneutical process, I would not agree that Christ’s presence is limited eucharistically. Is the eucharistic presence unique? Yes. Is it the only means of Christ’s presence? No.

The Body for the Scripture and Scripture for the Body

Let us turn, then, to Rowan Williams. In a recent lecture on hermeneutics,35 observing that hearing the Scripture in the context of the eucharistic celebra- tion is the most ancient and most widely accepted setting for the church’s hearing of the text, Dr. Williams argued that Scripture and the Eucharist are mutually interpretative, so that one cannot properly be understood without the other. The eucharistic context, “in which everyone present is there simply because they are guests by the free generosity of the host, obliges a reading of Scripture in which what is decisive is always this shared dependence on God’s initiative of welcome which removes pride and fear.” In short, he insists, “Eucharist and Scripture need to be held together if we are to have an adequate theology of either.”

As Williams sees it, the Bible can only be read appropriately in and with a community that knows itself through the Eucharist, for “that Body is what is constituted and maintained by the breaking of bread and all that this means,” as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians. If one removes Scripture from this context and treats it as either “an inspired supernatural guide for individual conduct or a piece of detached historical record,” then one has succumbed to the “typical

33 Ibid., 150.

34 Ibid.

35 Rowan Williams, “The Bible Today: ‘Reading’ and ‘Hearing,’ ” 2007 Larkin-Stuart Lecture. Available online: today-reading-hearing-the-larkin-stuart-lecture.Accessed April 22, 2013.


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exaggerations of Biblicist and liberal approaches” and rendered the biblical text inert, on the one hand, and the Communion celebration unintelligible, on the other.36 Like Marion, Williams claims that “the Word of God that acts in the Bible is a Word directed towards those changes that bring about the eucharis- tic community.” Unlike Marion, however, he holds that Jesus acts not only through the Eucharist but also in and through the Scriptures.37 To take Scrip – ture out of the eucharistic context not only distorts the hearing of Scripture, but also steals from the Supper its ground of meaning. “Without this anchorage in the history of God’s creative welcome as slowly and painfully spelled out in the history of Israel and Jesus, the Eucharist can more readily be distorted into a celebration of what the community now senses itself to be or to have achieved.” If, as the Christian tradition claims, the Eucharist is the ecclesially founding meal par excellence, then it “presupposes a connectedness with the history of the covenant people” whom we know in and through the church’s Scriptures. If we do have a connectedness with those covenant people, then it is at the Lord’s Table that that connectedness makes itself real.

Conclusion(s): Pentecostals at the Table

How does this work for us as Pentecostals? To be sure, we understand ourselves as members of the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church, and our Pente- costal spirituality is nothing more or less than the way in which that unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity express themselves in our lives, person- ally and communally. Nonetheless, we are Pentecostals and not Catholics or Anglicans, and our tradition is markedly less sacramental, at least in some ways. Even if we find ourselves resonating with some of what Marion and Williams say about the Meal, can we really “go all the way”? The problem remains: how can we make Pentecostal sense of this call for a eucharistic hermeneutic and a sacramentally formed catechesis?

36 This, I think, is the unfortunate condition in which many believers, including many Pente- costals, find themselves. They discover themselves to be readers of a text that does not speak and (occasional) celebrants of a meal that does not satisfy. Williams’s insights need to be given serious attention, for I believe he has much to teach us about how to address these conditions. 37 Presumably, this difference would also play out in Marion’s and Williams’s theologies of preaching as well as in their theologies of Scripture.



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The Spirit of/and the Supper

At least part of the answer, I believe, lies in a vibrant theology of the Spirit as the Freedom38 that liberates God’s people (and God’s Scriptures and the church’s sacraments)39 from the contingencies of history, and so allows them to be participants in that history in a new, creative way. Williams’s proposals prove helpful in this regard. It is the Spirit, “the remembrancer divine,”40 who brings Christ to us, who “makes the words of Christ contemporary.” As we read Scripture, the Spirit makes those words, anciently written, contemporarily present to us as God ’s word — indeed, as the Word, Christ himself. In the same way, as we eat Jesus’ meal, the Spirit “incorporates us into one community with the disciples at the Last Supper . . . and [with] Israel.”41

Jenson follows a similar tack. He identifies the church as the people whose lives in community are taken up by the Spirit into Christ for the Father’s use: “the Spirit frees an actual human community from merely historical determin – isms, to be apt to be united with the Son and thus to be the gateway of cre- ation’s translation into God.”42 Jenson and Williams agree: everything depends on the Spirit, for God’s Spirit is the effector, so to speak, of the Father’s prom- ises, revealed and accomplished in Christ.

Certain Pentecostal theologians, including, for example, Amos Yong and Simon Chan, show similar concerns. Although he does not appeal to Williams’s or Jenson’s work, Yong sounds very much in tune with them when he grounds his own proposals for a Pentecostal liturgy in a “pneumatological theology” that “highlights the centrality of the working of the Spirit in the fellowship of the meal,” as well as in worship and preaching.43 Chan’s work also appeals to a strong theology of the Spirit as the life and enlivener of the liturgy as well as the church’s reading and performance of Scripture.44

38 For an explanation of what it means to speak of the Spirit as Freedom, see Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1: The Triune God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 160-61.

39 It would not be wrong to speak also of the church’s Scriptures and God’s sacraments, because the one Spirit (Eph. 4:4) makes God and God’s people one.

40 Here Williams draws on Hymn 16 from John and Charles Wesley’s Hymns to the Lord’s Sup- per. The hymn also speaks of the Spirit as “True Recorder of [Christ’s] passion” and the “Witness of his dying” who “applies” Christ to the faithful participants.

41 Williams, “The Bible Today.”

42 Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology,Vol. 2: The Works of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 179.

43 Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), 161-62.

44 Besides his Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, see also Chan’s Litur- gical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).


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In the Emmaus story, we find Christ not bound by “historical determinisms” but freed by the Spirit to be both present and absent: freed to meet the despair- ing disciples on the road and at liberty to “vanish from their sight” and so to quicken their faith. Jesus’ “vanishing” evidences his Spirit-gifted liberty to be (bodily) present in any historical moment without being trapped by that moment. The Spirit affords the resurrected Christ the freedom the Spirit him- self personally is so that Christ may in fact act upon us as the kyrios and kephale he himself personally is.

Freed from and for History: The Eucharist as Ontologically Narrating Event

Williams’s understanding of the Eucharist is deeply narrativistic. Although he does not put it quite this way, he regards the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a storied event, and it stories us, so to speak, into the story of God, the story of Israel and the church, the prophets and the apostles, Eden and Canaan and new creation. The Scripture provides what Williams calls the “ground of mean- ing” for the Meal, and the Meal, when rightly celebrated, entangles us in the narrative realities to which Scripture witnesses. In our faithful eating and drinking of his wine and bread we make ourselves — or rather, we allow the Spirit to make us — dramatis personae in God’s salutary work on the stage and behind the scenes of our history.

Here I agree with St Augustine. Every faithful observance of the Supper is communion not only with those few gathered to that table, but also with the totus Christus: all God’s covenant people, wherever and whenever in relation to us they happen to be. It is not for no reason that we speak of this meal as communion, after all. Although we too rarely give it any (serious) thought, every Spirit-led celebration of Communion is shared with the whole body of Christ.45 The church militant and triumphant, heaven and earth, past and future kiss and embrace in the celebration.46 Not only that, as celebrants we share

45 Perhaps this is due in part to our neglect of the regular confession of the Creed. Although we are people who (rightly) pride ourselves on our attention to the third article — “I believe in the Holy Spirit” — we have yet to give due regard to the first realities the Spirit effects: the church and the communion of saints.

46 For this reason, Oscar Cullmann (Salvation in History [New York: Harper & Row, 1967], 263) speaks of the “actualization of past and future” in the present tense of the church’s worship. As Raymond Moloney (“The Influence of Oscar Cullmann on Roman Catholic Eucharistic Theology,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 9, no.4 [Fall 1972]: 841-54 [849]) explains, Cullmann held that, given that “. . . the plan of God [is] the source and cause of the line of salvific events running through history,” it follows that the “past and future are present in any event along the line of salvation history.” However, one need not accept Cullmann’s differentiating of Heilsgeschichte from Historie,



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anamnetically in Jesus’ so-called Last Supper and in Israel’s Passover, and we share proleptically in what is in fact the Last Supper, the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” Eating the bread, we foretaste the kingdom.

Going Away as Coming Again: (Re)Thinking Eucharistic Absence

In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Cyril of Alexandria explains why Christ’s vanishing is necessary: “For our Lord’s relation unto men after His resurrection does not continue the same as before, for they too have need of renovation, and a second life in Christ, that the renewed may associate with the renewed, and the incorruptible approach the incorruptible.”47 Cyril sees that Christ’s dis – appearance is merely a (re)new(ed) form of presence, a parousia that makes possible our sanctification, which he calls “renovation,” and the “second life in Christ.”48 It is not coincidence that this “vanishing” is situated in a eucharistic context, for it is precisely in this meal, in this loaf and this cup, that the new presence makes itself felt. Cyril’s comments on 1 Corinthians 6 make the point:

How might our bodies be members of Christ? We have him in ourselves sensibly and spiritually. For on the one hand, he dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and on the other we are partakers of his holy flesh, and we are sanctified in a twofold way. And he dwells in us as life and life-giving. . . .49

David Bentley Hart, like Cyril, reads in the Emmaus story the promise that “Christ can no longer be recognized merely as an available and objective datum, a simple given, but must be received entirely as a donum, as gift, in the breaking of bread. . . .”50 Ephraim Radner emphasizes this same eucharistic reality. In his commentary on Leviticus, Radner refers to the “discomfort of the Last Supper and Eucharist” (after all, these are the same meal), a discomfort effected by the history-redefining character of Christ’s sacramental presence. Holy Commu- nion, for Radner, embodies and bespeaks “the primal affront of God’s creative love that shatters every claim to a human order somehow defined apart from

or his exegesis of the Fourth Gospel in order to affirm his claim that all God’s blessing comes to the worshiping church in the presence of the risen Christ at the sacramental moment. 47 Cyril of Alexandria, A Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke, 727.

48 It is beyond the scope of this paper, but it would perhaps be profitable to consider how the “vanishing” of Christ is connected to the process of sanctification.

49 Quoted in Daniel A. Keating, The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 54.

50 David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 333.


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the incomprehensible astonishment of God’s work.”51 In fact, the Lord’s Supper is “incapable of being ordered by human history: it is rather constitutive of his – tory as belonging to God.”52 The sacramental table, then, is the nexus of his – tory, for it is precisely there that Jesus both “vanishes” from fallen history and, simultaneously, makes himself present as the “firstborn” of new creation (cf. Col. 1:15-20). “All creation shudders at the Lord’s Table” — for the eucharis- tically present Jesus is there, then. “The Eucharist is God’s first, before it is the church’s. As such, it shakes the foundations of the earth even as it steadies them.”53

A Real and Realizing Presence

When the two first encounter Jesus, Luke informs us that “their eyes were kept from seeing him” (Luke 23:16). Their blindness is instructive. Because Jesus’ res- urrection was not identical with the end of all things, we live in two realities, two histories, simultaneously. We find ourselves embedded in an adamic his – tory working itself out through the relation of causes and their effects, tending toward dissolution and death. By the Spirit, we inhabit another reality, too: a christic history. This history plays out in the freedom of the God who makes all things new54 and in whom all things hold together, 55 so that all is put right and nothing worth having is lost.

What does this have to do with the Emmaus disciples’ inability to recognize Jesus? Like virtually everyone who encountered Jesus in this period after his resurrection and before his ascension, they came face-to-face with the strange- ness of his new presence. After his resurrection, Christ appears in adamic his – tory only as a “stranger.”56 It would be a serious mistake, however, to think that this means Christ is not present to and for us, even though his post-resurrection presence is radically different from what it was before the Easter event. For this reason, at the very moment of receiving the blessed and broken bread “their eyes were opened” (Luke 23:31) — and Jesus vanishes from their sight. This

51 Ephraim Radner, Leviticus (Brazos Theological Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008), 181. Interestingly, Radner comments are occasioned by the levitical injunction against drinking blood (Leviticus 17).

52 Emphasis added.

53 Radner, Leviticus, 181.

54 Rev. 21:5.

55 Col. 1:17.

56 The notion of Christ’s radical and salutary “otherness” as the form of God’s being “for us” functions as something of a leitmotif in Rowan Williams’s theology. See Benjamin Myers, Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams (London: T&T Clark, 2012).



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vanishing, I believe, was not a “going away” from them, but a “coming again” to them, even if in a surprising, new form. For us, as well as for them, Christ’s sac- ramental presence is “hidden” — but no less real for its strangeness. As Luke tells the story, the meal the disciples offer Jesus goes uneaten. They return hurriedly to Jerusalem, without taking time to finish the interrupted meal. But the meal Jesus offers them is eaten, then and now. Sharing this meal with them, he inaugurates the fulfillment of his promise to the apostles at the Last Supper: ‘I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16). We see, then, that Jesus’ presence at, in, and through the Eucharist is both real and realizing. His presence is real in the sense that he can be experi – enced, can act and be acted upon (after all, what do we mean by faith, if not at least this?). His presence is realizing in the sense that he thereby effects our koinonia with God and one another. Hence it is a serious error to speak as if Christ’s presence were real only “in our hearts.” Such explanations either imprison Christ in the past, bound by the very history he came to save us from, or confine him to our subjectivity, binding him to the sin from which he prom- ises to redeem us. We can (and no doubt will) disagree about how Christ is present, but we should agree that he is present, 57 and that his presence in the Eucharist is determinative for our lives in community and just so for our read- ing of Scripture.58

57 It is necessary to emphasize that Christ is personally, sacramentally — both descriptors are crucially important — present by the power of the Spirit at and through the Eucharist event. For a helpful if at points still unsatisfactory explanation of this point, see François-Xavier Durrwell, “Eucharist and Parousia,” Lumen Vitae 26, no. 1 (March 1971): 273-315.

58 Like F.J. Leenhardt (“This is My Body,” in Oscar Cullmann and F.J. Leenhardt, Essays on the Lord’s Supper [Cambridge, UK: James Clarke Press, 2004], 24-86) et al., I stand convinced that most of our problems with the doctrine of the Real Presence — which is not coterminous with a particular theory, such as “transubstantiation” — stem not from a biblical purism but from philo- sophical presuppositions uncritically accepted. With Robert Jenson (who follows Jonathan Edwards on this point), I would argue that our understanding of reality should not antecede and so determine our account of Christ’s eucharistic presence. Instead, our belief in Christ’s bodily presence in the Meal should give shape to our vision of reality. If we follow the other course of action, we multiply problems for ourselves, not only in attempting to think the presence of Christ in the Eucharist event, but also in attempting to think the incarnation, the transfiguration, the resurrection, the ascension, and the parousia. Against what Enlightened “science” would ask us to think, these events must not answer to our philosophical constructions but must determine them. Again, in Jenson’s words: “our grasp of the Son’s real body and blood is the criterion of all our other attempts to grasp something real” (On Thinking the Human, 57).


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