07 December 2010

Blessed are the Hungry

After finishing Defending Constantine, I sat down with another book by Peter Leithart, Blessed are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper. I originally intended to use Dr. Leithart’s meditations as devotional material, but I found that I couldn’t put the book down and finished it in a few days.

The majority of the book is a series of prolonged meditations on various aspects of the Lord’s Supper. Dr. Leithart draws on Ancient Near Eastern religions, Greek philosophy, and other historical material in order to highlight the unique character of Israel’s God and explain how these things inform our view of the Lord’s Supper. Most of his meditations are typological, pointing to some aspect of Israel’s history being fulfilled in the Christian rite. At the end of the book, he includes an academic article, originally written for the Westminster Theological Journal, entitled “The Way Things Really Ought To Be: Eucharist, Eschatology, and Culture.”


As the reader progresses through this book, he will soon realize that arguments about the substance of the bread and wine that have divided the Church for centuries are not present. Rather, Leithart focuses on the event of the Supper instead of the individual elements. In the closing essay, the reason for this is made clear. For many years, the Church has focused on the Lord’s Supper through a zoom lens, looking only at the elements on the altar, and not seeing the Lord’s Supper as an act performed by Christ’s body. The Eucharist is not merely the physical elements, but the performative act as well, demonstrating in miniature the way the world ought to be. It is an eschatological vision of the wedding feast of the Lamb, and the meal of Christian unity. Though a discussion of the elements may be helpful (and Leithart doesn’t mind mentioning offhand that he is after all a Protestant) it is not the major focus of the event. I think Leithart would wholeheartedly agree with St. Augustine’s summary:


"If you want to know what the body of Christ is, you must listen to what the apostle Paul tells the faithful: 'Now you are the body of Christ, and individually you are members of it.'

If that is so, it is the sacrament of yourselves that is placed on the Lord's table, and it is the sacrament of yourselves that you are receiving. You reply 'Amen' to what you are, and thereby agree that such you are. You hear the words 'The body of Christ' and you reply 'Amen.' Be, then, a member of Christ's body, so that your 'Amen' may accord with the truth.


Because of Leithart’s focus, the book would be equally appropriate for a Roman Catholic, an Anglican, a Lutheran, or a Christian of any other denominational persuasion. He even quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury, Eastern Orthodox writers, and others in his meditations and essay. For a book on the Lord’s Supper that seeks to be ecumenical in the best, non-liberal sense of the word, Blessed are the Hungry is a gem.

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