Charles Wesley Eucharistic meditation

It has often been (rightly) said that John and especially Charles Wesley passed along their Biblical theology most clearly in the many hymns that they wrote and used to enrich the worship of the Church.

For contemporary United Methodists attempting to recover our Wesleyan theological and sacramental heritage, the hymns of the Wesleys are like treasure (sometimes buried treasure) just waiting to be brought out and shared. From time to time on this blog I will be looking at the theology of some of the Wesley hymns.

The following hymn, "Come sinners to the gospel feast" is a nice statement of our high Wesleyan theology of Holy Communion:

Come sinners to the gospel feast,
let every soul be Jesus guest.
Ye need not one be left behind,
for God hath bid all humankind.

Do not begin to make excuse;
ah! do not you his grace refuse;
your worldly cares and pleasures leave,
and take what Jesus hath to give.

Come and partake the gospel feast,
be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of our God,
and eat his flesh, and drink his blood.

See him set before your eyes;
behold the bleeding sacrifice;
his offered love make haste to embrace,
and freely now be saved by grace.

(taken from The United Methodist Hymnal #616)

There are many promises of God attached to the "gospel feast" - the Eucharist - to which God has invited "all humankind" (implying that God's salvation is offered to all people [1 Tim. 2:4; 1 Jn. 2:2]; a clear rejection of the "limited atonement" of five point Calvinism).

In verse 2 we see that grace is available to those who turn away from the world (repent) and approach the table precisely to recieve a gift from Christ (or else his grace can be refused). In verse three this grace - this gift that Jesus gives - is described variously as being saved from sin, having "rest" in Jesus Christ (see Matt. 11:28), it is the goodness of God that can be tasted (Ps. 34:8), and the flesh and blood of Christ given for us to eat and drink (1 Cor. 11:24-25).

In the next verse we sing that looking upon the gospel feast - the elements of bread and wine - we "see him set before [our] eyes" - an awesome and scary gift indeed! - and we are called to "embrace" this gift of "his offered love" and "bleeding sacrifice" which is somehow conveyed through the Lord's Supper so that we may be "saved by grace."

And so we Wesleyans have a high-sacramental, even mystical, theology of the eucharist that is much more akin to classical Anglican catholicism than to generic American evangelicalism in which the sacrament (or ordinance) is rarely practiced and is usually understood as barely more than an audio-visual reminder of Christ's atoning death. In Wesleyan theology it surely is that - and much more.

As we appreciate the truth taught in this Wesley hymn we find an encouragement to celebrate the blessed sacrament as often as we may and with open and penitent hearts.

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Blogger Larry C said...

The image of the Church walking to the alter to partake of the Body and Blood never fails to move me. We approach as a group, recieve the Sacraments individually and then turn and take Christ with us into the world as the Church Universal.

10:14 PM, January 06, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While in theory what you say is true. As a practice on the whole as a denomination is something far different. Which I find to be very sad. of course, the further I explored Wesley the more I realized that the UMC often strays from his teaching and perspectives.
There was a movement a few yeas back to put the "presence" back into the communion... but it seems to be one of those items that has died off...

1:49 PM, January 07, 2010  
Anonymous Todd Stepp said...

Nice post, Daniel.

Dave, are you familiar with the Order of Saint Luke? We're still trying to "put the 'presence' back into the communion," or rather, proclaim that Christ IS present in the sacrament.


4:58 PM, January 14, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no I'll check it out... Thanks.

3:04 PM, January 15, 2010  

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