Thursday, April 14, 2005

Eucharistic Revelations

Here’s the first attempt to combat my fear of obscurity. A shot at contributing something of worth to the global discourse. A ‘moving out’ to somehow be encouraged that I’m not alone with my thoughts. Who else out there is plagued by questions of simplicity, demanding children of complexity – or is it the other way around? Anyway . .

Having just moved into a new position with the Church of Ireland Youth Department [my first taste of Anglicanism] I’ve been afforded wonderful opportunities to engage in ‘high church’ activities including robed gatherings, highly iconic exchanges, call and response worship [liturgies] and generally all things ‘ancient’ [or at least seemingly so].

For some time now I’ve been pondering the symbolism behind the Eucharist, or Communion as many of my mainline Protestant Family refer to it. As many of you who have made a lifestyle of Christian Church attendance know, bread and wine – or possibly the less threatening wafer and red juice – are the common elements used to symbolize the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And not simply his body and blood, but much more - the sacrificial giving of Himself for each individual human being past, present and future. This tradition in Christianity has its origin in the very actions of Christ as recorded [in one instance] in the book of Matthew found in the New Testament. Here, after a relationally awkward exchange, as Jesus and His closest followers – the Disciples – were eating a meal together, Jesus suddenly and intentionally breaks into dialogue of the deepest kind. He begins attributing special meaning to some of the most common ‘eatables’ on the table at which they are all ‘reclined’. And as smoothly as only the Son of God can do, Jesus lays the foundation for the redemption of the cosmos using these two everyday, accessible, commonplace food items.

Imagine the situation - you and some friends are out in a local eatery discussing finer things in life, such as up-and-coming sports personalities or the latest album released by a favorite artist. Suddenly, out of nowhere arises a comment from one of the group that causes everyone else to stop what they are saying and take notice. You know, it’s one of those “Where did that come from?” moments. We’ve all been there. The only difference in this situation is that Jesus is breaking down what the love of God will actually cost the God who loves . . . His Son. Ouch.

Back to the food items mentioned. The Bible says while they were eating Jesus took bread from the table, thanked God for it, passed it around to everyone and said “Take and eat; this is my body.” What did he just say?! This is my body? Okay, We’ll assume that the disciples were clued in by this point and knew Jesus’ angle on this one. He took bread to symbolize His body. Jesus then continues by thanking God for the fruit of the vine in a dinner cup, and after passing it around he says, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Okay, it’s at this point where I may have lost some of you, wondering to yourselves just what exactly was in that cup? IT DOESN’T MATTER. It’s not the main issue here. Stay focused. The point is that these two items, the bread and the fruit of the vine were the most basic dietary elements available to the first century Middle Eastern resident. It is bread and ‘wine’ that would have graced the table of nearly every family in that time and place. The modern equivalents are our Big Mac and Coke. More than 31,000 locations in 121 countries worldwide – McDonalds! Bread and wine were just as accessible to the historic Jew and even more so.

My question: could Jesus have been saying more than we traditionally interpret in this evening meal shared with friends? Is it possible that these most basic food items, offered in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death, carry in them a whole new dimension to the Eucharist?

Something to consider – maybe in using the most basic dietary elements of the time, Christ meant ‘do this in remembrance of me’ to mean as often as we feed our bodies we’re to remember Himself as food for our souls. He did, of course, refer to Himself as ‘the Bread of heaven’. Maybe, just maybe, our gratitude is to extend into every sphere of our daily lives, symbolized in the daily meals of which we all partake. Could every meal begin to take on such profound meaning in our lives? It would seem too commonplace to reduce our ‘high church’ ceremony, the silver [or gold] plated cups and serving plates and somewhat sporadic observances of Communion, to the simple daily grind experience around our messy kitchen tables and fast food drive-through . . or would it? Isn’t God found in the dirt? Wasn’t the Saviour of the world brought into the realm of humanity in a barn full of livestock? Wasn’t it true that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” [Isaiah 53:2]? This Leader of humanity didn’t wear the Versace of the day or sport the major ‘bling’ of the high society around him. He was common in His humanity and only set apart from us in His sinless divinity.

Yes, God is here with us in our daily grind of life [Emmanuel], and thus it makes sense that Christ may have envisaged a depth of remembrance that incorporated the scope of basic human activity – such as eating a meal. The ethos of the gospel would be preserved in the simple things of life: the mundane, the ordinary, the humdrum of the deeply weighted spiritual realities of this present moment - not solely relegated to ‘official’ observances in the context of church buildings.

So as you have your next meal, allow the reality of nurturing your physical body be an act of remembrance of the deepest kind, pointing to the death – and ultimately the resurrection – of the Son of God who nourishes your very soul.