Holy Communion and Sacrifice
Is there any evidence for a specific priestly aspect to the ministry of Christian Pastors?
Yes. See Romans 15:16 in the original Greek, or in the RSV and NIV. The ministry of the gospel is thus a priestly work, according to St Paul. And the name of “elder” (=presbyter) given to Christian pastors is also given to a group of priestly offerers of incense in Heaven in Revelation 5:8 (cp. Luke 1:8-9).
Why is the Leadership of the Celebration of the Lord's Supper the job of the Pastor?
Firstly, one can see that the first Celebrant of the Lord's Supper was the Lord! That is, to “do this” through the ages, it makes sense that we continue the pattern established at that Supper, with the leader leading. Also, we cannot avoid the implications of the fact that it is the job of the pastors (=shepherds) to feed the flock according to the Bible (see Psalm 23:1,2,5; John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1,2). Whilst this feeding refers as much to ministry of the word as anything else, it obviously cannot exclude the very Sacrament where we are physically and spiritually fed from the Lord's Table! The fact that we know the pastors (Presbyters and Bishops) were in fact the ones who presided over the Eucharist throughout the Church's history from the earliest centuries clinches this common-sense-based interpretation. (The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving”, and is the name given to the Lord's Supper because the giving of thanks is an essential part of the rite, following Jesus' example at the Last Supper, e.g., Luke 22:19 & Matthew 26:27, compared with Matthew 26:26 and 1 Corinthians 10:16. The Communion is named after the blessing or thanksgiving itself by St Paul.)
Does the Lord's Supper itself have any aspect of Sacrifice? After all, the verses above from Romans and Revelation do not clearly connect the pastoral priesthood to the Eucharist. Showing the Pastor is a priest and presides at the Lord's Supper is not enough!
Quite true. But the precise wording of the Institution by our Lord of Holy Communion in the New Testament is very significant in this regard. The Greek word commonly translated as “remembrance” is anamnesis. It is used four times only in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which is the version constantly used by the New Testament writers. In two of those four occasions it has a manifestly sacrificial context. (The other two occurences, in the titles of Psalms 38 &70, are uncertain as to meaning, but evidence from the Targums – Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures – indicates they refer to memorial sacrifices as well.) Allow me to quote from another writer (source: http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/sacrifice.html):
Have Scripture interpret Scripture. If Scripture uses a word in one way throughout Scripture and not another way, it is best to interpret that specific way in which it is used when the issue is in dispute. Thus, in which way is the word anamnesis used throughout Scripture? Merely remembering something, or is it a memorial offering in sacrifice in Scripture? For arguments sake for the moment, let us leave aside the way it is used in the context of the Lord's institution of the Eucharist, since that is in dispute. Let us see how the word anamnesis is used. Now, in the Greek Septuagint, the word zakar is translated as anamnesis four times, ... Let us see the context and quotations.
And you shall put pure frankincense with each row, that it may go with the bread as a memorial (anamnesis) portion to be offered by fire to the LORD. 8 Every Sabbath day Aaron shall set it in order before the LORD continually on behalf of the people of Israel as a covenant for ever. 9 And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the offerings by fire to the LORD, a perpetual due
First, we see a sacrifice of bread that is offered to God in sacrifice with incense. The very word anamnesis is used in this sacrificial offering.
In fact, we see that this bread is offered continually by Aaron. It is a holy offering to the Lord in sacrifice that Aaron and his sons are to eat in what is called a holy place. This is part of a lasting covenantal meal. Thus, this sacrificial offering to God is a holy meal. The parallels of this sacrifice to the New Covenant meal is striking. In the Catholic Church the Body and Blood of Christ are of course much more holy, but the fact that the holiness is stressed in even this sacrificial Old Testament meal is striking. Of course as we saw in 1 Corinthians 11, if one eats unworthily, one is profaning the actual Body and Blood of Christ. The offering in the New Covenant of course far surpasses that of the Old Covenant. We also see that on every Sabbath this bread that is a sacrificial offering is a covenantal offering to God. In the New Covenant, the Eucharist is a covenantal offering to God. This covenantal offering to God is celebrated every Sunday in the New Covenant: Acts 20:7: On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. Besides all these similarities, a major point is that the word anamnesis that is used in the New Covenant institution is undoubtedly used of a sacrificial offering here in the Old Covenant. It is not merely about remembering something.
9 And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered (anamninesko) before the LORD your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. 10 On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; they shall serve you for remembrance (anamnesis) before your God: I am the LORD your God.
Notice that the word noted here in v.9 is a different word. Here the word to remember is not anamnesis but anamninesko. A different word is used, and it is not related to sacrifice, but only recalling. Here is where the focus is on God recalling his people. However, when we get to v. 10, the word used here for an offering is a sacrificial offering. The word that is translated as a sacrificial offering is anamnesis, here the English translation as remembrance. This again, happens to be the same Greek word that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 11:24 and 25, and Luke uses in Luke 22:19, in the institution of the Eucharist. It is not merely about remembering something.
But does the Memorial Offering at Holy Communion have anything to do with Christ's Priesthood and his Sacrifice of the Cross?
Well, Christ's priesthood is repeatedly said in Hebrews to be “according to the order of Melchizedek”. But virtually the first thing we are told in the Bible about the Melchizedek is that he “brought forth bread and wine” (Genesis 14:18)! So, we cannot separate Christ's Priesthood from the Eucharist, unless we are to ignore this not-so-subtle hint. And St Paul explicitly says that in this ceremonial rite we “proclaim (=kataggello in the Greek, meaning “announce”) the Lord's death till he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In other words, this action represents publicly the Sacrifice of the Cross. But even Christ's Words of Institution make this clear: “[T]his is my body which is given for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). Note that the body “is given”, present tense, not has been or will be given, “for” us, not merely “to” us as food. The blood “is”, not was or will be, “shed”, not supplied or provided as if mere drink poured into a cup or a mouth. The language undoubtedly refers to Christ's sacrificial, blood-shedding death for us, as well as to what is outwardly happening at the Meal, and treats the two as one, even as simultaneous in some sense. So, we can say that the Memorial and Announcement are more than mental or verbal acts about a past event. They bring into the present, spiritually and sacramentally, that event and its saving effects. Time kisses eternity, as is implied in these phrases from Hebrews:
“Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself” (9:14).
“[Christ] offered for all time (literally, 'perpetually' or 'to the perpetual') a single sacrifice for sins” (10:12).
In both cases an aorist tense version of the verb for “offer”, implying a point-in-time, past action, is combined with an adverbial phrase implying perpetuity. The sacrifice is finished and single, yet an eternal reality to draw upon.
Note also the strong connection between “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood” at the Last Supper and “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better” in Hebrews 8:6. Christ's priestly ministry therefore includes the Mediation of the Communion Sacrifice.
We could say much more on this subject. For example, the Old Covenant had sacrifices of bread (e.g., Leviticus 7:13), wine (e.g., Exodus 29:40), and lambs (e.g., Leviticus 3:7). And some of the the purposes of these sacrifices were blood-atonement (e.g., Exodus 30:10), thanksgiving (e.g., Leviticus 7:13) and memorial (see above and Leviticus 2:2 etc.). It is not much of a stretch to see that the Bread and Wine we share in communion (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), over which we give thanks as the Body given and Blood shed of the Lamb of God, in remembrance of his death, unites and transcends these sacrifices for the New Covenant!
Hang on a minute! What about what it says in Hebrews about Christ's Sacrifice being “once-for-all” and never to be repeated (e.g., 9:25-28, 10:10,18)?
The first thing to realise is that the Church does not claim that Christ's Sacrifice upon the Cross is repeated at all. That is not the relationship between the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Cross. So, there is no contradiction with Hebrews 9:25. And Hebrews 10:18 can be properly translated “where there is remission of these, there is no further offering for sin.” Remember, the “where” is effectively located in the new “covenant” of verse 16, which is the Eucharist anyway. So, there is no question of denying the Eucharistic Sacrifice, but only of denying any additional sacrifice. (The whole point of Hebrews was to discourage Jewish Christians from going back to the sacrifices of Judaism, because they had everything they needed to deal with sin in the Church. That's why the last chapter says “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat” (13:10). Clearly, the implication is that we do have the right to eat of this altar. It is absurd to pretend this has nothing to do with the Eucharist. We do have an altar.)
As noted above, a historically finished event is eternally “present” to us through its effects and the ongoing presence of the Sacrificed One at Communion and before God as our Eternal Advocate and Propitiation. We offer a memorial sacrifice through words and actions that unite us and our worship to Christ's once-for-all Sacrifice.
We see this in Hebrews 10:19-22, where we are encouraged to come near to God in “the house of God” through the torn “veil” of the broken “flesh”, and through the shed blood, which is “sprinkled” (cp. 9:21) on our hearts, of Christ the “High Priest”. It is impossible to exclude the Eucharist from our interpretation of this passage, especially since this entrance into “the Holiest” is said to be a “new and living way”, while the Eucharist, which also happens in the house of God, the Church, is called the “new covenant”.
That Christ remains the Atoning Sacrifice in himself is shown by the present tense in 1 John 2:2. That his mere presence before God as the Propitiating Sacrifice is significant is proved by the phrase “now to appear in the presence of God for us” in Hebrews 9:24.
Therefore, we can say that Christ's act of self-offering is over historically, but “present” eternally in his state as the everliving Priest and Sacrifice, mediating the New Covenant at every Eucharist. As comparison of Romans 12:1 shows us, there is a kind of offering, a “presenting” appropriate for living sacrifices, that is, Christians in this verse. And the same Greek root, paristemi, is used in Romans 6:13 for our self-offering of life out of death. But here it is said to be modelled on Christ being dead to sin but alive to God in verses 10 and 11. Therefore, our ongoing paristemi-offering is based on Christ's. Christ's prosphero-offering at the Cross, involving suffering and death, the one specifically described in Hebrews as “once-for-all”, has ceased. But he remains a self-presenting living sacrifice. His “appearing” (cp. Hebrews 9:24) before the face of God is of itself enough to make Him our immortal Sacrifice and Priest.