Holy Communion

For Kierkegaard the longing for reconciliation with God begins with the consciousness of sin, in which one becomes aware of one's distance from being a self before God.51 But the consciousness of sin is dialectical in character, inasmuch as it may lead one further away from faith in the continuation and intensification of sin, as described in The Sickness unto Death, or it may become further qualified so as to function as an indirectly positive aid in bringing a person to faith.52 In the latter instance, the consciousness of sin takes the form of a contrite or anguished conscience that sorrows over sin, openly confesses it, and seeks forgiveness from Christ, who takes away the consciousness of sin and replaces it with the consciousness of forgiveness (JP iii. 2461; iv. 4018; UDVS 14, 18-19, 246; WL 201). The place where this happens is in the rite of Holy Communion. It is thus in the posture of penitence and confession, culminating in a heartfelt longing for communion with Christ at the altar, that reconciliation with God in and through Christ's atonement takes place (CD 25161, 264-5, 269). Communion in the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church during Kierkegaard's time was commonly preceded by a public service of confession in which general confession was made by the participants and absolution or assurance of the pardoning of their sins was given by

49 Fairweather (1956: 283-4). 50 Aulen (1950: 112-13, 149-54, 149-56).

51 On the longing for reconciliation with God, see Cappel0rn (2007).

52 See further Walsh (2005: 20-47); Cappel0rn (2004).

the priest before they received communion, which was offered on Fridays, Sundays, and holidays at the cathedral Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen where Kierkegaard communed.53 Kierkegaard composed a baker's dozen of discourses for the communion on Fridays, which was his favourite time to attend communion. It is primarily in this liturgical context and in these communion discourses that his views on the atonement of Christ are expressed. The event for which these discourses were written also accounts for the very personal nature of the reflection one finds in them.

In one of these discourses Kierkegaard speaks of Christ as a faithful friend whose death 'has atoned for my every slightest actual sin, but also for the one that may lurk most deeply in my soul without my being aware of it' (CD 260). As he sees it, Christ did not sacrifice his life 'for people in general, nor did he want to save people in general'; rather, 'he sacrificed himself in order to save each one individually' (272, cf. 293-4). For Kierkegaard, therefore, the atonement is an intensely personal matter, not an objective, impersonal cosmic event or transaction that takes place between God and the devil, nor was it 'a bygone event' that is 'finished and done with' (278). The generation that crucified Christ was not solely to blame for his death, as it is the human race, to which all of us belong, that is responsible. As Kierkegaard sees it, therefore, we are not merely 'spectators and observers at a past event' but 'accomplices in a present event' (278).

By his death Christ 'performs love's miracle, so that, without doing anything—by suffering he moves every person who has a heart!' (CD 280). This statement resonates with Abelard's moral influence theory in its emphasis on the atonement as an act of love that elicits love in return. But in line with the Latin or legal perspective, Kierkegaard also describes Christ's death as 'the sacrifice of Atonement' that 'makes repayment' for the sin of the world and for betraying and crucifying him, in return for which Christ institutes 'the meal of love' or 'the meal of reconciliation for all' (280; cf. JP i. 342; ii. 1223, 1423; iv. 4038). Reflecting Luther's view of the real presence of Christ in communion, Kierkegaard claims that Christ is personally present at the communion table and knows each person who belongs to him.54 Using the analogy of the sun, whose rays penetrate everywhere, he describes Christ as 'humankind's eternal sun' which shines everywhere (272). Unlike the sun, however, Christ makes a distinction between those he knows and those he does not know. If one is not known by him, communion is received in vain, but if one is known by him and belongs to him as a follower, he is always present and accompanies one wherever one goes. Kierkegaard thus says: 'It is not as if everything were settled by someone's going to Communion on rare occasions; no, the task

54 On Luther see Althaus (1966: 375-403).

is to remain at the Communion table when you leave the Communion table' (274). Reconciliation with Christ at the communion table, then, is not finished there but only just begun.

A recurring theme in Kierkegaard's communion discourses is that we are incapable of doing anything at all to make satisfaction for our sin, not even so much as to be able to hold fast the thought of our unworthiness so as to make ourselves receptive to Christ's blessing: 'If at the Communion table you want to be capable of the least little thing yourself, even merely to step forward yourself, you confuse everything, you prevent the reconciliation, make the satisfaction impossible' (CD 298-9; cf. WA 140, 155). Consequently Christ must do everything in that regard. This is perhaps best illustrated in two communion discourses on the woman who was a sinner in Luke 7: 36-50. This woman is seen as a 'prototype of piety' because ofher unconditional sorrow over her sin, her self-forgetfulness and open confession of sin, and especially her love of Christ, which is expressed by the fact that she said nothing and did nothing except weep and kiss his feet in the realization that she was capable of doing literally nothing at all to make satisfaction for her sin, whereas Christ was capable of doing 'unconditionally everything' (WA 140-1, 149, 155-7).55

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