An Homily of the Worthy Receiving and Reverent Esteeming of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ
THE great love of our Saviour Christ towards mankind, good Christian people, doth not only appear in that dear bought benefit of our redemption and salvation by his death and passion, but also in that he so kindly provided that the same most merciful work might be had in continual remembrance, to take some place in us, and not be frustrated of his end and purpose. For as tender parents are not content to procure for their children costly possessions and livelihood, but take order that the same may be conserved and come to their use; so our Lord and Saviour thought it not sufficient to purchase for us his Father’s favour again (which is that deep fountain of all goodness), and eternal life, but also invented the ways most wisely whereby they might redound to our commodity and profit. Amongst the which means is the public celebration of the memory of his precious death at the Lord’s table: which although it seem of small virtue to some, yet, being rightly done by the faithful, it doth not only help their weakness, who be by their poisoned nature readier to remember injuries than benefits, but strengthened and comforteth their inward man with peace and gladness, and maketh them thankful to their Redeemer with diligent care of godly conversation. And, as of old time God decreed his wondrous benefits of the deliverance of his people to be kept in memory by the eating of the passover with his rites and ceremonies, so our loving Saviour hath ordained and established the remembrance of his great mercy expressed in his passion in the institution of his heavenly Supper: where every one of us must be guests and not gazers, eaters and not lookers, feeding ourselves and not hiring other to feed for us; that we may live by our own meat, and not perish for hunger while others devour all. To this his commandment forceth us saying Do ye thus, Drink ye all of this. To this his promise enticeth us: This is my body, which is given for you; this is my blood, which is shed for you.
So then, as of necessity we must be ourselves partakers of this table, and not beholders of others, so we must address ourselves to frequent the same in reverent and due manner; lest, as physic provided for the body, being misused, more hurteth than profiteth, so this comfortable medicine of the soul, undecently received, tend to our greater harm and sorrow. As St. Paul saith He that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh his own damnation. Wherefore, that it be not said to us, as it was to the guest of that great supper, Friend how comest thou in not having the marriage garment? and that we may fruitfully use St. Paul’s counsel, Let a man prove himself, and so eat that bread and drink of that cup we must certainly know that three things be requisite in him which would seemly, as becometh such high mysteries, resort to the Lord’s table: that is, a “right and a worthy “ estimation and understanding of this mystery; secondly, to come in a sure faith; and thirdly, to have newness or pureness of life to succeed the receiving of the same. But, before all other things, this we must be sure of specially that this Supper be in such wise done and ministered as our Lord and Saviour did and commanded to be done, as his holy Apostles used it, and the good fathers in the primitive Church frequented it. For, as that worthy man St. Ambrose saith “He is unworthy of the Lord that otherways doth celebrate that mystery than it was delivered by him: neither can he be devout that otherways doth presume than it was given by the Author.” We must then take heed, lest, of the memory it be made a sacrifice; lest of a communion it be made a private eating; lest of two parts, we have but one; lest applying it for the dead, we lose the fruit that be alive. Let us rather in these matters follow the advice of Cyprian in the like cases; that is, cleave fast to the first beginning; hold fast the Lord’s tradition; do that in the Lord’s commemoration which he himself did, he himself commanded, and his Apostles confirmed. This caution or foresight if we use, then may we see to those things that be requisite in the worthy receiver; whereof this was the first, that we have a right understanding of the thing itself. As concerning which thing, this we may assuredly persuade ourselves, that the ignorant man can neither worthily esteem nor effectually use those marvellous graces and benefits offered and exhibited in that Supper, but either will lightly regard them to no small offence, or utterly contemn them to his utter destruction; so that by his negligence he deserveth the plagues of God to fall upon him, and by contempt he deserveth everlasting perdition. To avoid then these harms, use the advice of the Wise Man, who willeth thee, when thou sittest at an earthly king’s table, to take diligent heed what things are set before thee. So now much more, at the King of kings’ table, thou must carefully search and know what dainties are provided for thy soul: whither thou art come, not to feed thy senses and belly to corruption, but thy inward man to immortality and life; not to consider the earthly creatures which thou seest, but the heavenly graces which thy faith beholdeth. For this table is not saith Chrysostom, “for chattering jays but for eagles,” who flee “thither where the dead body lieth.” And if this advertisement of man cannot persuade us to resort to the Lord’s table with understanding, see the counsel of God in the like matter, who charged his people to teach their posterity not only the rites and ceremonies of his Passover, but the cause and end thereof: whence we may learn that both more perfect knowledge is required at this time at our hands and that the ignorant cannot with fruit and profit exercise himself in the Lord’s Sacraments. But to come nigher to the matter: St. Paul, blaming the Corinthians for the profaning of the Lord’s Supper, concludeth that ignorance both of the thing itself and the signification thereof was the cause of their abuse; for they came thither unreverently, not discerning the Lord’s body. Ought not we then, by the monition of the Wise Man, by the wisdom of God, by the fearful example of the Corinthians, to take advised heed, that we thrust not ourselves to this table with rude and unreverent ignorance, the smart whereof Christ’s Church hath rued and lamented these many days and years ? For what hath been the cause of the ruin of God’s religion, but the ignorance hereof? What hath been the cause of this gross idolatry, but the ignorance hereof? What hath been the cause of this mummish massing, but the ignorance hereof? Yea, what hath been, and what is at this day, the cause of this want of love and charity, but the ignorance hereof? Let us therefore so travail to understand the Lord’s Supper, that we be no cause of the decay of God’s worship, or no? Idolatry, of no dumb massing, of no hate and malice: so may we the boldlier have access thither to our comfort. Neither need we to think that such exact knowledge is required of every man, that he be able to discuss all high points in the doctrine thereof. But this much he must be sure to hold, that in the Supper of the Lord there is no vain ceremony, no bare sign, no untrue figure of a thing absent, but, as the scripture saith, the table of the Lord, the bread and cup of the Lord, the memory of Christ, the annunciation of his death yea the communion of the body and blood of the Lord in a marvelous incorporation, which by the operation of the Holy Ghost the very bond of our conjunction with Christ is through faith wrought in the souls of the faithful, whereby not only their souls live to eternal life, but they surely trust to win to their bodies a resurrection to immortality. The true understanding of this fruition and union, which is betwixt the body and the head, betwixt the true believers and Christ, the ancient catholic fathers both perceiving themselves, and commending to their people, were not afraid to call this Supper some of them, “the salve of immortality, a sovereign preservative against death;” other, “a deifical communion;” other, “the sweet dainties of our Saviour;” “the pledge of eternal health, the defense of faith, the hope of the resurrection;” other “the food of immortality,” “the healthful grace” and “the conservatory to everlasting life.” All which sayings, both of the holy Scripture and godly men, truly attributed to this celestial banquet and feast, if we would often call to mind, O how they would inflame our hearts to desire the participation of these mysteries, and oftentimes to covet after this bread, continually to thirst for this food; not as specially regarding the terrene and earthly creatures which remain, but always holding fast and cleaving by faith to the Rock whence we may suck the sweetness of everlasting salvation. And, to be brief, thus much more the faithful see, hear, and know the favourable mercies of God sealed, the satisfaction by Christ towards us confirmed, the remission of sin stablished. Here they may feel wrought the tranquillity of conscience, the increase of faith, the strengthening of hope, the large spreading abroad of brotherly kindness, with many other sundry graces of God; the taste whereof they cannot attain unto who be drowned in the deep dirty lake of blindness and ignorance. From the which, O beloved, wash yourselves with the living waters of God’s word, whence you may perceive and know both the spiritual food of this costly Supper and the happy trustings and effects that the same doth bring with it.
Now it followeth to have with this knowledge a sure and constant faith, not only that the death of Christ is available for the redemption of all the world, for the remission of sins, and reconciliation with God the Father, but also that he hath made upon his cross a full and sufficient sacrifice for thee, a perfect cleansing of thy sins; so that thou acknowledgest no other Saviour, Redeemer, Mediator, Advocate, Intercessor, but Christ only that mayest say with the Apostle that he loved thee and gave himself for thee. For this is to stick fast to Christ’s promise made in his institution, to make Christ thine own, and to applicate his merits unto thyself. Herein thou needest no other man’s help, no other sacrifice or oblation, no sacrificing priest, no mass, no means established by man’s invention. That faith is a necessary instrument in all these holy ceremonies we may thus assure ourselves, for that, as St. Paul saith, without faith it is impossible to please God. When a great number of the Israelites were overthrown in the wilderness, Moses, Aaron and Phineas did eat manna and pleased God, for that they understood, saith Augustine, the visible meat spiritually: spiritually they hungered it: spiritually they tasted it, that they might be spiritually satisfied. And truly, as the bodily meat cannot feed the outward man, unless it be let into the stomach to be digested which is healthsome and sound, no more can the inward man be fed, except his meat be received into his soul and heart, sound and whole in faith. Therefore saith Cyprian, “when we do these things, we need not to whet our teeth, but with sincere faith we break and divide that holy bread.” It is well known that the meat we seek for in this Supper is spiritual food, the nourishment of our soul, a heavenly refection and not earthly, an invisible meat and not bodily, a ghostly sustenance and not carnal: so that to think that without faith we may enjoy the eating and drinking thereof, or that that is the fruition of it, is but to dream a gross carnal feeding basely abjecting and binding ourselves to the elements and creatures; whereas, by the advice of the Council of Nicene, we ought to “lift up our minds by faith” and, leaving these inferior and earthly things, there seek it where the Sun of righteousness ever shineth. Take then this lesson, O thou that art desirous of this table, of Emissenus, a godly father, that “when thou goest up to the reverend Communion to be satisfied with spiritual meats, thou look up with faith upon the holy Body and Blood of thy God, thou marvel with reverence, thou touch it with thy mind, thou receive it with the hand of thy heart, and thou take it fully with thy inward man.”
Thus we see, beloved, that, resorting to this table, we must pluck up all the roots of infidelity, all distrust in God’s promises, we must make ourselves living members of Christ’s body. For the unbelievers and faithless cannot feed upon that precious Body: whereas the faithful have their life, their abiding, in him; their union, and as it were their incorporation, with him. Wherefore let us prove and try ourselves unfeignedly, without flattering ourselves, whether we be plants of that fruitful olive, living branches of the true Vine, members indeed of Christ’s mystical body; whether God hath purified our hearts by faith to the sincere acknowledging of his Gospel and embracing of his mercies in Christ Jesus that so at this his table we receive, not only the outward Sacrament, but the spiritual thing also; not the figure, but the truth; not the shadow only, but the body; not to death, but to life; not to destruction, but to salvation. Which God grant us to do thorough the merits of our Lord and Saviour: to whom be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.
- Exod xii, 14-27 ↑
- Matt xxvi, 26-28; 1 Cor xi, 23-26 ↑
- Luke xxii, 19-20; 1 Cor; Matt ↑
- 1 Cor xi, 19 ↑
- Matt xxii, 12 ↑
- 1 Cor xi, 18 ↑
- Prov xxiii, 1 ↑
- Matt xxiv, 18 ↑
- 1 Cor xi, 29 ↑
- Matt xxvi, 26-27; 1 Cor x, 16 ↑
- Duet xxvii, 4-15 ↑
- Gal I, 30 ↑
- 1 Cor x, 5 ↑
- Mal iv, 3 ↑
- Rom xi, 7; John xv 1-6; Eph v, 30-32 ↑