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Published by Prof.M.M.Ninan
Perspectives on Lord's Table
Perspectives on Lord's Table

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Published by: Prof.M.M.Ninan on Mar 02, 2008
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These are not instituted by Jesus. )

Both are transient symbols and therefore are less likely to degenerate into idols. However
in the long tradition it has to a very great extent been given magical powers and elements
involved were given idol status. Surprisingly this is so in a wide spectrum of
denominations from Roman Catholic to Pentecostals.

The word sacrament does not occur in the bible anywhere. It originated from the Latin
word "sacramentum". Sacramentum was a sum of money given by the contesting parties
in a litigation wagering their claim. One who won the litigation got his money back and
the loser lost it. The money forfeited was supposed to go to the temple. How does this
apply in the Christian Sacraments? The implication here is that Church in giving the
sacrament to the person is making a wager, whereby the Church claims this person to
itself. The other party here is the world and its ways. How it turns out to be is determined
by the court of law. In providing the baptism, in giving the bread and wine in Lord's
Supper, in taking the person through the process of confirmation, penance, accepting
them into various orders of the church and marrying them in the presence of the Christian
Assembly and even in giving them the last rite of extreme unction,; Church is laying its
claim on the person. But whether it is realized in actuality or not is determined by the life
and ultimate judgement God himself. This I believe is the true explanation of the

The alternate derivation is from military usage where sacramentum is a sacred pledge of
loyalty and obedience. The original word therefore is certainly of pagan origin. Because
of this many evangelical theologians objects to the usage of the word sacrament to denote
the institutions of the Church. In its modern usage it simply means an symbol instituted
by Christ.

The sacrament has three essential parts.

1. The Outward visible sign. This sign is only an image or symbol of something else.

Gen. 9:12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and
you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:

Gen. 9:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant
between me and the earth.

Gen. 17:11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant
between me and you.

All sacraments are symbolic. They are symbol of a spiritual reality in the spiritual realm
translated into the material world.

2. The inward spiritual grace signified and sealed by the sacrament.

Rom. 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he
had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe
but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

Sacraments therefore derive their meaning and purpose from its spiritual reality.

3. The sacramental union between the physical and the spiritual.

Separated from the spiritual reality, the image ceases to have any meaning. However
when the spiritual reality is realized the Sacraments are a means of Grace. There are three
possible stands on this.

a. The reality and the symbol become identical. Sacraments are a means of receiving
grace. Baptism is the means of regeneration and Eucharist is the means of absolution as it
is the sacrifice of Jesus repeated for the specific period of sin of the person who comes to
the table. When the priest takes up the bread and the wine and bless them a physical
change in the elements takes place and they become in reality the flesh and blood of
Jesus. This is the mystical explanation of the sacrament. There is magic in the
institutional words. In the history of the church this was challenged and tested and several
priests even went to the extent of forging the results. This is the stand of the Roman
Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

b. The reality and the symbol are parallel in two different planes. Local realization of the
sign and the signified actually occur for the believer. Though in reality the bread and
wine does not become flesh and blood, to the believer it becomes flesh and blood. It is as
though he has taken the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. There is no magic in the words,
there is no power in the blessing process. But in the spirit it becomes flesh and blood of
Jesus to those who partake of it in faith. For others it is just useless piece of bread and
draught of wine. However to those who partake of it with guilt it becomes a means of
judgement by the same process. They are declarations of something more profound
which the believer has been experiencing. It can bring nourishment and growth in
Christian life if done with faith. But if undertaken with guilt it can react psychologically
to the detriment of the one who partakes of it. This is simply the reaction of the changes
in the image dimension into the spiritual dimension. In this sense it is a means of Grace.
This is the evangelical stand point

c. The sacraments are symbols and therefore it can have no positive or negative effect on
the partaker in any way. This is a rationalistic stand which denies the existence of a
spiritual realm and interaction between spiritual and material realms.

The effect of sacrament on man may be traced as follows:

For a rationalist however the spiritual realm does not exist. It is only the psychological
realm continued and misunderstood. In that case there is no spiritual meaning for the
sacrament except as a myth in the mind. Myths on the other hand do have an effect on the
mind only through delusion. It may be acceptable to a rationalist and material scientist
who does not want to accept the reality of the existence of God and dimensions other than

what is perceptible through senses. But this is not an alternative for a believer, though
many pentecostals tend to this argument.

So we see that a sacrament finally is a sacrament. If you do not bet on it and make no
claim, you don't have anything to gain or loose. There is no judgement in favor of you or
against you. However if you are claiming something in the sacrament, depending on your
rights and reality of your position in this matter you either gain much or loose much. St.
James liturgy therefore puts this argument as follows in the final prayer after the
communion have been received: "Lord, the flesh and blood which we have now received,
may it not turn out to be for our guilt and punishment, instead may it me for for our
salvation and for our eternal life in Jesus Christ."

It is this that Paul states in .

1Cor. 11:26-30. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the
Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the
Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the
Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks
judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of
you have fallen asleep.


Man is living in a multidimensional world, even though we are only aware of the four
dimensions of space and time. It has always been the contention of Christianity that we
do exist simultaneously with the material world in a spiritual world also. This coexistence
of man in both material and spiritual dimensions give the added meaning to the
sacraments. The apparent physical acts has not only its consequences in the material
world, but also in the spiritual world following the rules of cause -effect relationship.
This concept is actually emphasized in the Holy Communion liturgies of St. James and
others. In the bread and wine the actual presence of Jesus is proclaimed and as the priest
carries the elements he is actually holding the flesh and blood in his hands in the spirit.
The believer receives the flesh and blood in spirit which gives him life. This life is real
and is realizable in projection in the material world.

When the church worship they are worshipping along with a host of unseen beings in
different planes. This is also clearly elucidated in all forms of liturgies. These facts which
were well known to our parents are now being rediscovered. Unless this
multidimensional world view is reestablished and understood the sacraments will remain
as a mystery.

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