Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Three Travelers.

This is an essay assignment I had on my Omnibus final: To imagine that I was living in the 1500s and that I met up with three men --- one a Roman Catholic, one a Lutheran, and one a Calvinist. We had to discuss the issue of the Lord's Supper. I decided to write it in story form.  

Sorry it's rather longish.      

           The rain gushes down in bucketfuls. I will be rather surprised if the entire sky does not fall down with it. I have never seen a bleaker night. My fingers tremble as I hold them over the dancing flames of the public house fire.
            “Oy. Tis a devilish dark night to be sure.” A crackling, German voice startles me out of my thoughts. “Thou wouldst not grudge old bones a warm spot at fire, would ye?” I smile and shake my head at the sopping wet old monk. He wrings his habit out on the floor and settles his rotund self into the chair beside me. “I’m Godfrey,” he says. I introduce myself now. And then we sit in silence, shivering.

            I can’t help listening the voices of two men next to us. They are growing louder. Especially one nasally voice.
             “You know nothing of religion,” he whines. “You’re nothing but a boy. And I am a priest.”
I turn to get a better look at the two. One is a young man with shaggy hair and the other is obviously – by the look of his garb – a Roman Catholic priest.
            “Does vocation have anything to do with knowledge of Scripture?” the young man asks. “Or age? ‘Let no man despise thou for thy youth.’”
            “Knowledge of Scripture?” the priest yelps. “Fahh! ‘Take eat; this is my body’ ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood…” (Matthew 26: 26-27).  There is the Scripture. You do not know Scripture, Lukas. You deny Scripture. Those holy words of the Savior, himself, declare that the elements are indeed Christ’s flesh and his blood. It is no mere symbol. When the priest utters the consecrating words, the bread becomes his blessed flesh; the wine transforms into his very blood.” The wiry old man settles back in his chair. Satisfied. As if he has just eaten a large dinner.
            At that moment, Godfrey leans forward, screeching his chair across the sticky floor. “No, no my good man,” he crackles. “Thou doest not quite have it. For the elements do not transform into the flesh of Christ. They become something quite special. They become “flesh bread”. Not only flesh. Not only bread. But both combined.” He becomes quite animated, using his hands to talk.
The priest turns to Godfrey. “Flesh bread?” he says, further wrinkling his already wrinkled brow. “Flesh bread? What is this flesh bread? I do not understand you.”
Godfrey folds his hands and looks down his lumpy nose at the priest. “What is thy name?”
            “Alfred,” the priest replies.
            “Alfred,” Godfrey says, looking wise. “’If you can explain how Christ is both fully God and man, I will explain how the bread and wine are his body and blood.’” (Martin Luther). Alfred wags his grizzled head and mutters something. Godfrey smiles smugly.
            Suddenly the young man, Lukas, looks up.
 “He called himself a Vine, and yet we see,
He was a perfect Man, and not a Tree.
He called himself a Door; tis understood
We enter Heaven through Him, and no through Wood.
He called himself a Way, the which doth lead
Our steps to Heaven, yet none doth on him tread.” (Elizabeth 1).
Lukas brushes his hair out of his eyes and looks at all of us. Godfrey and Alfred gawk back.
            “Did you make that up, then, right here on the spot?” Alfred queries.
            “Oh, no.” Lukas laughs. “Queen Elizabeth wrote it. Not I. But it proves my point better than I could myself. Yes, Christ did say it was his blood. But it seemed to be a great habit of his to speak in metaphors and similes and parables quite often, you know.” The other two men are silent. Godfrey fidgets with his habit. Alfred runs a hand through his sparsely distributed hair. The only sound is the pounding rain.

            “You know,” Lukas says suddenly, breaking the stillness. “My friends, we don’t disagree on the presence of Christ in the sacrament. I would no more deny that, then the divinity of Christ, Himself. It is, however, the mode of presence in which we find dispute.”
            “It is quite literal presence,” Alfred speaks up. “Bread and wine becoming flesh and blood. Is that so difficult to understand?
            “Christ, he is present ‘in bread, with bread, and under bread’” (Luther) Godfrey nods as he talks. “But he is not bread. And bread is not him. Dost thou not see? It is a supernatural, unexplainable event that takes place. The bread becomes something that is not just bread. It is both.”

Lukas just shakes his head at them both. “Christ,” he says quietly. “Christ does not have to descend from heaven and become food and drink, in order to deliver his benefits to us. He is greater than that. By saying that he must become physical bread and physical wine, we are diminishing his greatness.”
       Again, the two older men sit in quizzical silence. Godfrey scratches his belly. Alfred takes a bite of his neglected biscuit.
I clear my throat and decide to speak up. “I, uh, I have a question for all of you.”  They turn toward me. “What is a sacrament exactly? I mean, what does Holy Communion do for you? What makes it so special?”
Alfred starts speaking at once. “The Eucharist,” he whines. “Is a unifying event. When we take the elements, we are sanctified. And we become one with God. Closer unity. Closer fellowship. When we eat the flesh, we are joined to Christ.” 
            Godfrey jumps in, “I believe differently.” We all chuckle as if to say we are not in the least surprised about that. “When we partake of Holy Communion, we are obtaining forgiveness of sins; the forgiveness that Christ paid for. If we want to be forgiven, then we must take and eat.”
We all turn to Lukas, wondering what the young man will say now. He sits silently for a moment. “A sacrament,” he says finally. “It is an external sign; a seal on the promises of the Word. We need assurances, to strengthen our weak faith. What does Communion do for me?” He smiles now. “’As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life, so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul.’ (Calvin). Just as my body would starve without food, so my soul would starve without Communion with my Savior.”
Then abruptly, he stands up. “It is late, my friends” says he. “I have greatly enjoyed our talks. I hope that someday we may come to be united on this matter.”
            “Over my dead body,” Alfred mutters. “And even then, I’d turn over in my grave.”
But Godfrey only looks thoughtful, and raises his hand in goodbye.
            “Farewell, my brother,” I say. “God pleasing we will meet again.”
Lukas smiles. Then without another word, he turns and leaves, trudging up the stairs to the bedrooms above.


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