The Eucharist and the Trinity: Reflections for Wesleyan and Pentecostal Spirituality

The Eucharist and the Trinity: Reflections for Wesleyan and Pentecostal Spirituality

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“The Father accepts the Eucharist in the presence of the Son and the Spirit, 
so the Holy Trinity as a whole is involved in the Eucharistic event.” John Zizioulas

One way or another, Wesleyans and Pentecostals are always talking about the experience of the presence of God—not only to others, in testimony and preaching, but also to God in praise and petition. But as often as not, the notion of experiencing God is not worked out in theological terms. And that is work that needs doing. Familiarity with the presence of God is not enough on its own. We also need to give a faithful account of that presence, one that can help us bring our speech into tighter alignment with the Gospel.

If, as Zizioulas says, the Eucharist—our shared thanksgiving—is indeed offered to the Father with and within the ministries of the Son and the Spirit, then we have to describe in the least inadequate way how that is possible, how Christ’s presence and work in the Eucharist-event is related to the Spirit’s work and presence, and how the Son’s and Spirit’s contributions relate to the will and purposes of “our Father in heaven.”

We can begin here: the Spirit’s work is never separate from the Son’s, but the Spirit’s work remains always distinct from Christ’s. Within the inseparable operation of the Trinity, the Spirit’s unique work is to effect the Father’s promises, which are themselves embodied, revealed, and accomplished in Christ. In other words, Jesus is God’s objectivity in a unique sense: the Son alone of the divine Three is embodied. The Spirit is God making possible real and transformative communion with Christ and so with the Father and the Father’s creation.

The Spirit is able to do this because he is the Freedom who liberates Christ—and us in him—to be new-creation participants in our shared history. At the Table, the Spirit serves us as the ‘‘remembrancer divine,’’ bringing the historical and eschatological realities of Christ’s life to bear on us.

Perhaps no one has said this better than T.F. Torrance does in his Theology in Reconstruction. As he puts it, the Spirit comes as ‘‘the other Paraclete answering to the Paraclete above.’’ And in this way, ‘‘when the Holy Spirit comes to us as the Agent of our renewal he comes not only as the Holy Spirit of the one eternal God but as the Spirit mediated through Christ Jesus and charged with his divine-human holiness.”

… the Holy Spirit so unites earth to heaven and heaven to earth that in his coming, Christ himself returns to take up his dwelling in the Church, and he it is who intercedes in its midst, who stands among us as our prayer and worship and praise, offering and presenting himself in our place to the Father, so that is in him and through and by him, in his name alone, that we appear before the Face of God with the one offering of his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.

What does this mean for the church’s Thanksgiving? It means that our Eucharist-event is possible only by virtue of the ongoing Pentecost-event, which is itself a continuation of the ascended Christ’s reign as the risen Lord. If Pentecost is possible only because of the incarnate work of Christ, so the post-ascension ministry of Christ—including his sacramental ministry—is possible only because of Pentecost. He cannot act in the Eucharist apart from the Spirit and believers cannot partake of him in the Eucharist without receiving the Spirit. So Ephrem the Syrian sings:

In your Bread there is hidden the Spirit who is not consumed,
In your Wine there dwells the Fire that is not drunk;

The Spirit is in your Bread, the Fire in your Wine—
A manifest wonder, that our lips have received.

And so we pray: Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

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