A different teaching
In 1989, Daniel Ciobotea read a paper at the Indonesian consultation designed to bring to a summation the process discussing spiritual formation in theological education which began on the little Scottish island of Iona two years previously. One of the headings in his paper was “Rediscovering the liturgical life of the Church as a process of spiritual formation and theological education”. He commends the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper as a key element in this.
The place of the Eucharist in theological education practice is a difficult one to describe since denominational traditions as to its meaning and practice divide us. Ciobotea, for instance, was a representative of the Romanian Orthodox church and I am a Baptist. But I think we can all agree that associating the Eucharist with theological education has some solid reasons behind the idea.
Firstly, it is a silent teacher. Nouwen is famous for affirming that theological education is the wordiest profession of all. We study, speak, write, mark, words all day long. The Lord’s supper speaks but not especially to the ears (although the Word is read). The elements on the table, the sight, the taste, the touch, even the smell of the bread and wine are there for our other senses. It “proclaims the lord’s death” without words. What a relief in a typical theological college or seminary to enter silence and be taught without words around the table!
Secondly, it is an affirmation of community. In a profession that is running away from traditional community at a great rate, the lord’s Supper says we who are gathered here are one body because we all partake of the same loaf. You can do a great deal of theological education at a distance but you cannot conduct the Eucharist over the internet. To affirm community in Christ at the beginning of a semester in hope and then again at the end in thankfulness, is glorious.
Thirdly, it is a personal renewal ceremony. Seeing Christ crucified for you, experiencing the re-assurance of the forgiveness of sins and gladly taking Christ again as Saviour and Lord are the great spiritual actions of the table. How often the spiritual lives of students (and staff) become jaded and old in the intensity of handling spiritual things in a higher education way. It is not difficult for theological education to deaden spiritual lives. We need these personal moments of renewal.
Fourthly, it maintains the centrality of the Gospel. Students get to be very sophisticated Christians – almost as much as teachers of theology. They feel they have grown well beyond the milk of the Word, the beginnings of the Christian life, and are now complicated, sophisticated Christians, not simple Christians anymore. The Eucharist forces us to hear the Gospel again, as Christians, as theological students, as theologians and keep it central in our lives and our theology.
Jesus’s words “do this” are surely spoken into theological education.