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“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #114

“Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (1 Cor. 10:18).

Paul here points to a covenantal reality that undoes quite a few metaphysical theories about the sacraments. What is happening in the Lord’s Supper is not a one-off situation. It happened to Israelites “after the flesh” in the time of the old covenant. The same thing happens to pagan worshipers when they sacrificed (v. 20), resulting in fellowship with devils.

This is a covenantal connection, and it is the way the world is built to work. We have only two appointed sacraments in the Christian faith (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), but nevertheless the world is jammed full of “sacramentals.” Those sacramentals may be participated in by faith, or they may be seized in rebellion, and they remain what they are regardless. A man may become one flesh with his wife (Eph. 5:31), but if it is with a hooker, the unity of flesh still happens (1 Cor. 6:16). One man communes with Yahweh at His altar by eating part of a roast, and another man communes with demons by eating the same part of the roast from another cow, and this all happens without any changes whatever happening to the meat (1 Cor. 10:28). The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The meat is not demon-possessed, and the meat doesn’t have Yahweh in it. We participate in the world sacramentally, which is to say, we do so by faith.

So whatever was happening when a man sacrificed to Aphrodite, and slept with one of her priestesses, it was not anything like consubstantiation, transubstantiation, or mere memorialism. Nothing was happening to internal essences while leaving the external accidents intact. Neither was it a mere sign pointing to something else happening someplace else entirely. It really was fellowship with devils. And whatever happened when a man brought a peace offering in ancient Israel, it was not the meat of the sacrifice turning into another substance. Nevertheless, that man was truly becoming a partaker of the altar.

This kind of covenantal participation does not require a priest, or special magic words. Ours is a covenantal participation at one of two possible tables, and we do so by virtue of simply being alive in this world. The only question is where we are partaking by faith, not whether we are.

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