In 1982 we celebrated the 800th birthday of St. Francis. In 1983 the 500th birthday of Martin Luther and this year the 500th birthday of Ulrich Zwingli.
Zwingli was born seven weeks after Martin Luther in Wildhaus, Switzerland, January 1, 1484. We as Baptists owe vastly more to him than we do to Luther when it comes to our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Next Thursday we will eat the most poignant communion meal of the year—Maundy Thursday communion. Perhaps Zwingli can help you prepare.
Zwingli took his B.A. and M.A. in Basel, Switzerland, and then served from 1506 to 1516 as vicar in Glarus. During this time his friendship with Erasmus gave him a passionate love for the Greek and Hebrew Bible. In 1516 he became a chaplain to pilgrims at the Benedictine monastery in Einsiedeln. There he copied out Paul’s letters in Greek by hand and made annotations. Concerning this year Zwingli wrote, “I began to preach the Gospel of Christ in the year 1516 before any man in our region had so much as heard the name Luther.”
January 1, 1519 on his 35th birthday Zwingli was called to the Great Minister in Zurich. From here he brought the reformation to Switzerland. He married Anna Reinhart in 1522. In 1523 he prepared Sixty-seven Articles in which he dismantled medieval religion including the pope, the mass, monastic orders, celibate clergy, penance, and purgatory. In the summer of 1524 Zwingli led the clergy and craftsmen into the churches to remove relics and images, whitewash the paintings and decorations, and nail the organs shut.
By 1529 when Luther and Zwingli met at Marburg to argue about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, Zwingli had gone far beyond Luther in departing from the Catholic view of the mass as a reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice and the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ. The Swiss and German Reformation could not be united because of four little words: “This is my body,” which Jesus said at the Last Supper.
Luther argued for the real presence of Christ’s body in and through the bread. Zwingli insisted that the ascension of Christ meant that his physical body was at God’s right hand in heaven. “This is my body” means “this signifies my body.” Zwingli conceived of the Lord’s Supper as the contemplation of the mystery of Calvary. He wrote,
I believe that in the holy meal of the eucharist, the true body of Christ is present in the mind of the believer; that is to say that those who thank the Lord for the benefits conferred on us in his Son acknowledge that he became true flesh, truly suffered therein and truly washed away our sins by his blood. Thus everything done by Christ becomes as it were present to them in their believing minds.
I hope this will be our experience together on Maundy Thursday at 7:45 pm.
Contemplating Calvary with you,