Christ and the wonderful exchange

This post continues a review of James B. (JB) Torrance's book, "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace." For additional posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7.

[Updated 12/19/2016]

As noted in our last post, JB is adamant in his assertion that in approaching worship (and all aspects of theology), before we ask any how or why questions, we must first ask the essential Who question: "Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ?" JB illustrates this principle by discussing the two sacraments of the church. Last time we noted what he says about baptism; now we'll look at his comments about the Lord's Supper.

At the Lord's Table we encounter Jesus Christ, who through his life of communion with the Father, in the Spirit, gives himself to the Father on behalf of all people in all times (Hebrews 10:4). This self-giving, which culminated at the Cross, continues with Jesus' ministry as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), making continual intercession for us (Romans 8:34) as one of us (Jesus remains both fully God and fully human---now a glorified man; see 1Timothy 2:5). As High Priest, Jesus performs his mediatorial work in order that we, his beloved sisters and brothers, might be accepted by our Father as daughters and sons with all the blessings that status confers upon us (Ephesians 2:13ff; 1Timothy 2:1-6; Hebrews 4:14, 7:25, 9:24).

Jesus Goes Up on a Mountain to Pray
by Tissot (public domain)

As our High Priest, Jesus is continuously drawing us "into his life of communion with the Father by the Spirit, putting his prayer 'Father' on our lips, sharing his Sonship with us." In this way, we are "graciously given the gift of worshiping the Father, in and through the Son, in the communion of the Holy Spirit" (p. 83). Rather than being something we do on our own, our worship is participation, by the Spirit, in the ongoing worship of Jesus. That participation is for us an act of memory---a memorializing of what Jesus did in the past for us, as one of us. But this memorial is not just about looking back at what Jesus did, it also points forward to our future, to our destiny as children of God.

Therefore, in celebrating the Lord's Supper, we both remember Jesus' passion and look forward to what he will yet do as "our ever-living and ever-present Lord, who, in his own person, is our memorial in the presence of the Father" (p. 86). At the Table, we thus encounter not an "absent Christ" but the living Lord who "is present in the power of the Spirit to bring the things we celebrate to our remembrance in an act of communion," which "lifts up our hearts and minds" into the Lord's own "communion with the Father" (p. 87). Who do we encounter at the Lord's Table? JB comments:
[We enounter] the whole Christ, the God-man, in whom and through whom God and humanity are reconciled. God and humanity are one in him, [he is] our mediator, who summons us to be reconciled to one another and who sends us out in mission to be ambassadors of the gospel of reconciliation to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age. (pp. 87-88)
As JB notes, at the Table, the Holy Spirit is also actively present and involved in our worship, leading us to "participate in the person and ministry of Christ" who in his ascended humanity is our God-given response of worship to the Father. This point is vital to keep in mind, lest we "obscure or forget the God-given response made for us by Jesus Christ" (p. 89). JB elaborates:
It is possible for us to obtrude [impose] our own offering of praise [in such a way] that we lose sight of the one true offering of praise made for us (Hebrews 2:12).... God does not throw us back upon ourselves to make our response to the Word in our own strength. But graciously he helps our infirmities by giving us Jesus Christ and the  Holy Spirt to make the appropriate response for us and in us. Can we not adapt Galatians 2:20 (KJV) and say, "We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but Christ who prays for us and in us; and the prayers which we now offer in the flesh, we offer by the faithfuleness of the one who loves us and offered himself for us"? (p. 89, emphasis added)
Through what the early church fathers called the wonderful exchange, Christ's worship of the Father becomes our worship as he, through the Spirit, lifts us up to God into a life of "wonderful communion" (p. 89). This wonderful exchange is the heart of the Lord's Supper (as well as baptism), in that it celebrates and recapitulates what Jesus has done in taking what was ours, and, in exchange, giving us what is his. Referencing the writings of Calvin on this point, JB makes this comment:
[Jesus] takes our broken sinful humanity and cleanses it by his self-sanctifying life of communion with the Father, his obedience, death and resurrection. And now he comes back to us in the power of the Spirit to give himself to us in an act where he gives us back our humanity, now renewed in him, saying: "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you." Our reception of Christ is our grateful acknowledgement of this wonderful exchange. The body on which we feed is the body which he assumed for our sakes, that in our worship we might be sanctified by the once and for all self-offering of Christ. In the communion of the Spirit, in virtue of this exchange, we know that his humanity is our humanity, so graciously assumed, his death our death which we show forth, his life our life till he comes, his self-offering our offering, his communion with the Father our commmunion into which he lifts us up by his Spirit. The Lord's Super, as an evangelical ordinance, enshrines very vividly the inner meaning of the gospel. (pp. 89-90)

In the classic order of Christian worship, the Word (via the sermon) is proclaimed, then comes a consecration of the elements and of ourselves to God followed by the Lord's Supper. Concerning the consecration, JB suggests another paraphrase of Galatians 2:20 (KJV):
We offer ourselves to the Lord, and yet it is not we who offer, but Christ who has offered himself for us and who is our offering, and the offering which we now make in the flesh we make by the faithfulness of him who loved us and gave himself for us. (p. 91)
It is our offering, yet not ours, but Christ's. This gospel forumlation is beautifully summarized in Paul's basic gospel-logic of "I, yet not I, but Christ," which speaks to the wonderful exchange that we celebrate at the Table where we encounter not an "absent Christ," but Christ's "real presence." AS JB notes, the focus of the Lord's Supper is not "a mere memorial of the death of Christ, as a past event." Instead, at the Table we commune with "the whole Christ... not with a naked Christ...[or with] a divine Christ shorn of his humanity." No, we commune with the living incarnate Lord---the Son of God who remains forever, son of man, our High Priest. As the "one true worshiper," Jesus "is truly present [at the Table] in the power of the Spirit to feed us and unite us with himself in his communion with the Father in his heavenly intercessions" (pp. 92, 93).

And so we are reminded of the vital principle, that in theology (including our understanding of worship) we must always begin our with the Who question ("Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ?") before addressing any of the how questions.

Lord, help us to do so at all times. In your name. Amen.

Gen 1.1; Gen. 1:1 (NASB); Gen 1:1 (MSG)