By Jared Tomlinson
Some evening, a few years ago, I was walking out of a theatre in downtown Toronto with a good friend of mine. As we made our way to our regular post-movie haunt, a bar on Queen West, our conversation drifted easily away from whatever we had just seen to weightier matters. The topic of discussion that night? The Holy Communion — one of our favorites. We were theological sparring partners, stepping comfortably into a familiar ring — he, the Roman Catholic, and I (at the time), the good Baptist. The fight went as predictably as you’d imagine.
Round One: The Real Presence. The bell had barely rung when I was already backed into a corner, unable and unequipped to defend myself. “Est! Est!” he cried, throwing the punches relentlessly. In the heat of the match, the irony of his Lutheran-style attack was lost on us. To my relief the bell rang again, and I returned to my corner bruised and bloodied. I needed a new strategy. My coach (the Holy Spirit, I figured) whispered in my ear. That’s it! I’ve got him.
Round Two: Eucharistic Sacrifice. Re-energized, I charged at him with the full force of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Once for all! Once for all!” I insisted, jabbing at him with fiery Protestant zeal. Ding! Before I knew it, the fight was over. I had recovered in style and managed a draw.
Or so I thought.
But like in the famous biblical match, God had knocked my hip out of joint, so to speak. I couldn’t defend my symbolic view of the Holy Communion, and I was itching for answers. Before long, I began to find them — at a cousin’s wedding in Dallas, of all places. I was staying with my uncle, an Anglican priest, and over the course of those few days, he gently nudged me in the right direction. “Do this in remembrance of me.” By degrees, I came to understand that that meant more than a recalling of past events. A biblical memorial is an action through which the reality of past events is brought into the present. Through Eucharistic action, the reality of the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood on the altar of the Cross is brought into the present and becomes food for the nourishment of his people. My uncle was right. My friend was right. The Holy Communion was a sacrament. But, a sacrifice? It couldn’t be.
It’s often said that God has a sense of humor. Well, it’s true. God mounted his assault on my remaining fear of Eucharistic Sacrifice from the funniest and most unlikely place. I was reading Kingdom Through Covenant by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, two professors at Southern Baptist Seminary, when I came across this: “In the Bible, a ‘sacrifice’ is an offering that is followed by a meal. When there is no meal, the offering should not be called a ‘sacrifice.’”
As I read that little golden nugget, quoted from Peter Leithart’s A House for My Name, my friend retroactively and unknowingly won our fight. In the Holy Communion, we offer to God the memorial Christ commanded us to make, and through this memorial Christ’s once-for-all oblation of his broken Body and shed Blood becomes a meal for his Church. In this heavenly Supper, the offering of the Mass and the offering of the Cross become one Sacrifice.
Like Jacob, I’m happily defeated.
Jared Tomlinson is a teacher, organist, assistant choirmaster, and resident composer at St. Andrew’s Academy.