This year I’ve been reading through Calvin’s Institutes. Princeton Theological Seminary has offered free online daily readings in celebration of Calvin’s 500th birthday which was this year. I’ve always wanted to read the Institutes and thought this would be a way I would actually do it.
For the most part it’s been a very good thing. I have a better understanding of the basic tenets of the Reformed faith. At times, he gets a big bogged down in the minutiae of a theological argument, often something that was very specific to the time in which he was writing. The past few weeks have been about the sacrament of Communion and at times it’s been a little tough to read as he’s been driving home certain points over and over again.
But then I’ll come across a gem like this one and am glad I stuck with it.
38. The Lord’s Supper implies mutual love
Thirdly, the Lord also intended the Supper to be a kind of exhortation for us, which can more forcefully than any other means quicken and inspire us both to purity and holiness of life, and to love, peace, and concord. For the Lord so communicates his body to us there that he is made completely one with us and we with him. Now, since he has only one body, of which he makes us all partakers, it is necessary that all of us also be made one body by such participation. The bread shown in the Sacrament represents this unity. As it is made of many grains so mixed together that one cannot be distinguished from another, so it is fitting that in the same way we should be joined and bound together by such great agreement of minds that no sort of disagreement or division may intrude. I prefer to explain it in Paul’s words: “The cup of blessing which we bless is a communicating of the blood of Christ; and the bread of blessing which we break is a participation in the body of Christ. . . . Therefore . . . we . . .are all one body, for we partake of one bread” [I Cor. 10:16-17, cf. Vg.]. We shall benefit very much from the Sacrament if this thought is impressed and engraved upon our minds: that none of the brethren can be injured, despised, rejected, abused, or in any way offended by us, without at the same time, injuring, despising, and abusing Christ by the wrongs we do; that we cannot disagree with our brethren without at the same time disagreeing with Christ; that we cannot love Christ without loving him in the brethren; that we ought to take the same care of our brethren’s bodies as we take of our own; for they are members of our body; and that, as no part of our body is touched by any feeling of pain which is not spread among all the rest, so we ought not to allow a brother to be affected by any evil, without being touched with compassion for him. Accordingly, Augustine with good reason frequently calls this Sacrament “the bond of love.” For what sharper goad could there be to arouse mutual love among us than when Christ, giving himself to us, not only invites us by his own example to pledge and give ourselves to one another, but inasmuch as he makes himself common to all, also makes all of us one in himself. (Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion 4: 17: 38)
I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Communion the same way again. And that’s why I keep reading.