In worship yesterday this simple phrase from Colossians 1:27, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," took on a much deeper meaning to me. We chose to sing Tim Hughes' "Everything" during Communion. Typically for Communion we choose a song that explicitly mentions the sacrifice of Christ at the cross for the forgiveness of sins, so I was a little uncomfortable with our selection of "Everything," which is not a song about the cross, but about incarnation. How would the people respond? How could the Lord work in hearts through bread and cup without us mentioning the cross? After all, Paul says "for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26, my emphasis).
The servers came up, and holding the trays they spoke into the eyes of the people, at times stooping to a knee to serve a child. We reached the climax of the song: "Christ in me, Christ in me, Christ in me, the hope of glory; be my everything." And then it hit me just how perfect a Communion song this really is. With every crunch of matza, every sip of the cup, we were consuming Christ into our bodies. "Christ IN me, the hope of glory." It doesn't get more incarnational than that. Jesus is near to us, and nowhere nearer than at the Table of the Lord, where we take him in and he fills our own bodies. Says Raniero Cantalamessa in his wonderful book The Eucharist: Our Sanctification:
"Take and eat..."; "He who eats my flesh will have eternal life." God's universal and, we might say, external presence, has now become personal and interior to us, and not just in an intentional and spiritual way (as happens in seeing, in listening, in contemplation and in faith) but in a real way, totally adapted to our human condition. The Eucharist is the last step in the long path of God's "condescension": creation, revelation, incarnation, Eucharist...The Eucharist is related to the Easter mystery but it is equally related to the incarnation. It is the memorial of a happening -- passion and resurrection -- but it is also the presence of a person: the incarnate Word. In the passage from the first to the sixth chapter of his Gospel, St. John highlights this affinity: the Word became flesh (incarnation) and the flesh became "true bread" (Eucharist). The eternal life that was made manifest to us in the incarnation (cf. 1 John 1:2), is now given to us to eat, it has become the "bread of eternal life." The Eucharist draws its infinite divine power from the fact that it puts us into contact with the flesh of the God-Man. (pp. 78-79)
Why has so much of the Protestant Church set aside the Eucharist as an occasional practice? Because it denies the "presence of a person" in the Eucharist; it has made the Table a mere "memorial of a happening" observed through the partaking of empty symbols. There is no real nutrition in the cracker and juice, no real infilling of Christ, just a little, heady reminder of a long-past event. We have given in to a new gnosticism, removing the incarnational presence of Christ from our worship. This was not the intention of the Reformers. Yes, sola scriptura meant the recovery of Scripture alone as the means of special revelation leading to a personal faith in Jesus Christ, but it also maintained the special presence of the Word, Jesus Christ himself, in the elements of Eucharist. That is why Luther kept the Eucharist central, and why Calvin mourned the Genevan decision to infrequent the Table. "Christ in me" is not an exclusively spiritual, or intellectually revelatory, thing, as we have made it to be. It is a fleshy, down-to-earth thing. Look at the context of Paul's "Christ in you" statement to the church at Colosse.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:24-29)
From where did Paul draw this energy that Christ was powerfully working within him? Was it through intellectual revelation that he ascended to only through contemplation and hearing? No, it was through physically participating in the sufferings of Christ. And we'd be foolish to think that those sufferings did not include regular participation in Eucharist worship. Indeed without the energy of Christ powerfully working within Paul through the Eucharist he would have had no ministry at all to the Gentiles. Without the sustaining power of Christ administered through Eucharist no one can possibly mature in Christ.
For how does a child mature? She eats, her body is nourished, and she grows. One might think that spiritual maturity comes in a different way, a higher way. Not wholly. For although the child's father reads to and teaches the mind of his daughter, he does not speak life and health into her flesh and bones. He provides food for her to eat, and he takes great delight in giving her the physical nourishment she needs. The child naturally receives her father's provision. She comes to the table at the sound of the dinner bell. The good father also disciplines his daughter by disallowing her to touch things that he knows will harm her, all the while permitting her to taste certain afflictions for the sake of experiential maturity. It's only later in life when the rebellious teenager refuses her father's provision, choosing starvation or malnutrition over the good food provided her. But she'll come home again to taste and see that her father has been good to her all along; that his provision is better and necessary.