The Difference

So—what’s the difference between the Last Supper and when Jesus fed 5,000 not counting women and children on the mountainside? It’s all the same basic meal practice, right?


The difference? All thirteen attendees of the Last Supper died for their faith—except (tradition tells us) St. John who died in exile. No word on the fates of the 5000+…


19 thoughts on “The Difference

  1. Fr. Aaron Orear

    This is my primary issue with the CWOB argument, especially when told that “Jesus didn’t refuse to feed people.” Well, no, he didn’t. Nor do we. Churches all throughout the world feed people. My own parish delivers 35+ boxes of groceries every week to people in our community, no questions asked or proof of need shown. We welcome the whole community to dinners, receptions, coffee hour, etc. But the Eucharist is not that kind of meal. It’s nourishment for the journey of following Christ, and is reserved for those who are actually going to make that journey and who have given some indication of their commitment. Jesus DID discriminate when he fed his followers with his Body and Blood. He discriminated by NOT instituting the Eucharist for the 5,000, but rather for his disciples. He fed them in the upper room, away from the uncommitted crowds.

    The need is not for CWOB, but perhaps for a return to the Mass of the Catechumens. THAT would be in keeping with Jesus’ practice.

  2. bls

    The thing is, too: this isn’t just in the past. People are still killed for their faith in this world.

    We happen to live in a prosperous and relatively tolerant culture (for now), but CWOB assumes that this will always the case. I’m just not very convinced about that, personally; what happens when it comes time to really worry about people associating themselves with a perhaps-perilous faith and way of life?

  3. Paul Goings

    No, you’re wrong, and you only think the way you do because you’ve bought into the imperial paradigm, rather than what Jesus believed and taught.

    Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I’m being repressed!

  4. bls

    And I just got told, yet again, that I’m not a Christian but a Gnostic – and that I’m only “claiming” to be Christian. In the space of 5 minutes. By the same person. Who’s a priest.

    I’m seriously considering becoming part of “the invisible church” at this point. It’s better company….

  5. mcdoc

    I think these are interesting points. These are diciplines of the Church. What of the disciplines of excommunication, shunning, public penance and lifting of censure and return to communion? I am not being rhetorical. I would like to know if this notion includes picking and choosing, which traditional disciplines we seek to adhere or reinstitute widely. Why or why not? I recall Augustine was moved to seriously consider Christianity when he saw Ambrose’s excommunication of the Roman Emperor for atrocious murder by the Legion of the inhabitants of a rebelous town. So, perhaps tightening access to the sacraments is evangelism.

  6. bls

    No shunning or public penance – and the priest has to notify the bishop when refusing communion. Here are the “Disciplinary Rubrics“:

    If the priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life
    intends to come to Communion, the priest shall speak to that person
    privately, and tell him that he may not come to the Holy Table until he
    has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life.

    The priest shall follow the same procedure with those who have done
    wrong to their neighbors and are a scandal to the other members of the
    congregation, not allowing such persons to receive Communion until
    they have made restitution for the wrong they have done, or have at least
    promised to do so.

    When the priest sees that there is hatred between members of the
    congregation, he shall speak privately to them, telling them that they
    may not receive Communion until they have forgiven each other.
    And if the person or persons on one side truly forgive the others and
    desire and promise to make up for their faults, but those on the other side
    refuse to forgive, the priest shall allow those who are penitent to come to
    Communion, but not those who are stubborn.

    In all such cases, the priest is required to notify the bishop, within
    fourteen days at the most, giving the reasons for refusing Communion.

  7. bls

    (Why, I wonder, is it considered “Gnostic” to want to explain things to people – simple things like “what goes on in the rite” and a little something about the faith itself, if not complex theology? Isn’t this the opposite of “Gnostic,” in fact?

    I mean, none of these things are “secret knowledge”; anyone inside or outside of the church is welcome to ask and hear about them, anytime. It’s called “information” in most places.

    Well, there’s no crazy like church crazy, as they say….)

  8. Jonathan

    The disciplinary rubrics still exist and are used, but we are (quite properly) only rarely told that they’ve been invoked. Not many high profile public figures are Episcopalian, and with them we need to be careful that discipline isn’t used as a political tool to push for policies we’d prefer.

  9. Caelius Spinator

    In honor of the upcoming obsequies, let me just point out that the Johannine equivalent of the Eucharist is footwashing, which is exactly what Moses does before allowing the priests into the Tent of Meeting. I’ve always wondered if the next couple of chapters in John and the Last Supper account in the Synoptics should be read in that light, especially with respect to CWOB. That’s not usually an exegesis you hear on Maundy Thursday in a typical Episcopal church, but a Roman Catholic brought it to my attention.

  10. bls

    Caelius, that’s fascintating.

    (That’s exactly what I mean about this being a “teaching moment.” Derek, have you seen AKMA’s latest, BTW?)

  11. David Cobb

    The issue that I don’t think I have seen raised is the relationship of the Eucharist to the meals after the resurrection. The point is that we are not remembering the teacher/healer of Galilee, but are encountering the Risen Lord. There were no public meals or great multitudes in the upper room or by the Lake Side- there were only two on the Road to Emmaus. And whenever Jesus stood with the disciples after Easter, the encounter ends in a sense of mission and purpose- “go, preach, forgive, tend to the community (the feed my sheep command) and the command to baptize. There is a very different meal practise after Easter- and that, even now in Passiontide, that is where the Church lives. The real question the Church has to ask is what is the meal practice of the One who was Crucfied but who now Lives.

  12. bls

    That is another excellent point, David. It’s really actually quite great to be getting a deeper view of all this.

    I don’t really agree, either, with the claim that “eating with sinners” is what got Jesus killed; it was sort of the least of his problems, from what I can tell. And, of course, it was a cultural taboo at the time that no longer has any resonance at all, as far as I know – and (is this right?) it was sort of a recent innovation among the Pharisees, too. (Wasn’t Jesus simply railing about what he saw as their corruptions of the Law – that they took it to ridiculous extremes? That’s my understanding, anyway.)

    “Radical egalitarianism” isn’t exactly unique to the church – and I don’t think it’s what the church is teaching anyway. “You are all one in Christ Jesus” says much, much more than that, IMO.

  13. magunter

    What the disciples and the multitude do have in common is that there is no reason to suspect that any of them was anything other than jewish, i.e., part of the covenant people.

    During the Holocaust it doid not matter how well you understood your Jewishness or how observant you were. It only mattered that you were part of the people.

    One of the biggest problems with CWOB is that it makes Christianity less Jewish than it is.

  14. magunter

    While the practice of baptism has its roots in John’s and Jesus’ practice, it is somewhat other. Since we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; our baptism is not the same as John’s or even that of Jesus and his (pre-Easter) disciples. It is an Easter event. And it is the risen Jesus who commands his followers to make disciples and baptize. Our baptism – and our baptismal discipline – has its roots in the historical practice of Jesus, but it is different in as much as it is an Easter event.

    The same is true for the Last Supper. It was the Last Supper, not only because it was the last meal for Jesus before his execution, but because there had been other meals before. But, like Baptism, the Eucharist participates in the Resurrection. Whatever symbolic meals Jesus might have shared in during his ministry, the Eucharistic meal is more than a repetition of what Jesus did before the crucifixion. It is an Easter event. It is a participation in Jesus’ resurrection and an anticipation of our resurrection and the new heaven and earth. Baptism is how we are incorporated into the resurrection, or, at the very least, into the body of witness to the resurrection, and logically precedes the typical meal by which we are nourished in the resurrection life.

  15. Derek Olsen

    David+ and Matt+ are hitting on one of the great strengths of Oscar Cullman’s very interesting work on the Lord’s Supper. He too was a strong advocate of understanding the Eucharist in relation to the meals with the Risen Jesus instead of seeing it *only* as a remembrance of the Passion. It is properly a both/and rather than an either/or.

    Unfortunately, the liturgical history that lies behind Cullman’s claims is utter crap based on a misreading/misunderstanding of early eucharistic liturgies.

  16. Christopher

    I would add that alongside the danger of conflating the many meals and the Lord’s Supper as found, say in 1 Cor., there is a danger of conflating the Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper. This is the distinction Luther makes between Zwingli’s approach as a memorialist Last Supper and his own with-us Lord’s Supper.

    Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper to be present with the disciples whenever they “do this,” but at the Last Supper, Jesus is still present with the disciples in his natural human body, that is, he is not yet crucified, died, risen, and ascended. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is known to us, present among us, given to us as Risen Lord (the Orthodox would say divinized Body), as Bread and Wine, and it is precisely this (that here is Jesus for us as bread and wine rather than natural body) that shows forth his death. Both/And….

  17. Chris

    I’m commenting way after this was written. I’m not ordained or well-read in theology, but I am supremely interested in these kinds of issues. Since this Communion before/without Baptism issue has arisen, I have thought that perhaps we could consider adopting/adapting the Eastern practice of a freely given and offered antidoron. This way, all those present are offered something and feel that they have participated (because it seems to me that the main issue is that people may feel left out (boo hoo, if you ask me) when the Baptized make their communion). We will have reach forth and fed all and sundry. Yet the fundamental nature of the consecrated elements as the Body of Christ _for_ the Body of Christ remains intact.

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