You know how an idea can sound good in your head but then when you say it out loud it sounds completely different? My most recent sermon suffered from that classic problem – a good idea with poor execution. Or perhaps I didn’t proofread it as carefully as I should have. Whateverso, what I’d like to do here is restate the theology of Incarnation and Communion that I presented rather clumsily the other day.
The Bottom Line: As St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man could become god.” This means that the Incarnation (the Word-made-flesh) makes the salvation of the human race possible by opening a two-way bridge between the human and the divine. This occurs in two steps:
- The bridge was crossed from the divine to the human when Jesus was incarnate.
- We cross that bridge into his divinity when we receive the Holy Eucharist.
Step 1 – God takes communion with humanity
There are many prophecies that portray the Christ as being both God and man. Micah 4 & 5 depicts the arrival of a king whose power is likened to God’s. Even though he’ll be born in Bethlehem (definitely a human), his origin is from “Ancient of Days” (definitely a name for God). The New Testament confirms this interpretation; the opening of the Gospel according to St. John proclaims that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” noting the arrival of God as a human in our midst. The implications of this, theologically speaking, are profound, and its echos resound throughout the New Testament, such as in 2 Corinthians 8:9 – Jesus was rich yet became poor so that in our poverty we might become rich.
But it’s in the book of Hebrews where we get some careful wrestling with this topic. In 2:10-14a, we read (with my own emphasis added):
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…
What the author is describing is the mystery that because Jesus was both fully God and fully man, we’re family – we share one flesh and blood. And yet it’s more than that. We share “one source,” meaning we are of one being. This partaking of the same “things” as us is not just fellowship like among friends, not just flesh & blood like among family members, but at the very level of our being. The closeness between God and each of us, because of Jesus, is closer than any human relationship. He’s closer to you than your parents, your siblings, your best friend, or even your spouse. In Christ, God has entered into perfect communion with the entire human race.
Step 2 – Humanity takes communion with God
So, in the Incarnation, God bridged the gap between deity and humanity. But unlike other religions like Mormonism where the goal of ‘salvation’ is to cease being human and become gods ourselves, the result that God has in mind is that our humanity be filled with his divinity. Just as Jesus is both human and perfectly God-filled, we are to remain human and become perfectly God-filled. We won’t become God by nature, but we do get share his god-ness. It’s kind of like how being adopted doesn’t change your DNA but it does change your identity. We know that this is God’s will for us, not just as a logical progression from the Incarnation, but also because St. Peter explicitly said so (2 Peter 1:3-4a, emphasis added):
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…”
That word, “partakers,” is important. To “partake” is the same word as to participate or have fellowship or have communion. It’s the same (Greek) word that we find in 1 Corinthians 10 when St. Paul is teaching about the Eucharist: “he cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The Greek word is koinonia and it gets translated in many ways: fellowship, partaking, sharing, participation, communion.
This brings us back to the Incarnation because when God became man he partook of human nature. It’s the exact same concept – he took communion with us so that we could take communion with him. And the communion that is shared between God and mankind is not just a symbol of the reconciliation that Christ brought about on the Cross, but it’s also an actual fellowship/sharing/participation/communion of the divine nature of God. In short, when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we take God’s very being into our bodies. His divinity literally is mixed with our humanity. Real communion occurs!
This is why folks like John Wesley encouraged people to receive Communion as often as possible. He once preached:
Let every one, therefore, who has either any desire to please God, or any love of his own soul, obey God, and consult the good of his own soul, by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s day service. And for several centuries they received it almost every day: Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside. Accordingly, those that joined in the prayers of the faithful never failed to partake of the blessed sacrament.
This is also why we Anglicans (alongside our Lutheran and Roman and Eastern brethren) insist on frequent celebration of the Eucharist. It’s not just a matter of our worship style, it’s a matter of real spiritual feeding and drinking, of participating in God and receiving his divinity that makes us clean. Why would a Christian want anything less than Communion with God?