Hear our voice, O Lord, according to your faithful love.
Robert Mapplethorpe. Roses. 1988.
The meal that transforms us
We have bread and wine before us. We toiled for them, but they are still finally gifts. And we are thankful for them, for the life that God gives. We take the bread; we break it and share it. There is enough for all. No-one is outside the invitation to this feast, but there is a warning. If we truly share and eat we will be changed. As we eat the bread which is Christ, he becomes us. We become his body. So as we eat his body we eat ourselves—but not in a way that destroys, rather in a way that multiplies bread, flesh and hope.
It isn't magic. You don't need Aristotle's theories of essences and accidentals to understand what is going on. It is simply a way of saying that as we consume and are consumed by the love of Christ in each other, we nourish each other and are nourished. So is Christ present in this bread and this wine as we share them? That is the question that the church has often fought over in strange metaphysical ways which show us how easily we miss the point.
Of course Christ is present. But not in the bread and wine alone (the Roman Catholic Council of Trent called that idea "the sin of specificity", you may like to note). Christ is present in the whole event—in the people, in the sharing, in the words, in the gestures, in our hearts and in the new possibilities for the world that will flow naturally if we allow Christ's presence to change us. But Christ's presence is not just a comfort. It is a challenge. A test of our integrity. In our Anglican services we say these words: "We are one body, because we all share in one bread." And the world shouts back, silently: "Hey, you Christians. Is that really true? Are you one body? Do you share the bread of life, or do some get loads of it while others starve? And not just at the Communion table, but in the real world, for Christ's sake! How goes the economy of Christians? Do they live as brothers and sisters who sit at table together? Does this breaking of bread mean anything, or are you kidding yourselves? The test is how you live.
That is how we will know whether you are united with Christ, or just going through a little act." Perhaps this is why the Eastern Orthodox talk of service in the community as 'the Eucharist after the Eucharist'. [Continues tomorrow …] Simon Barrow. "Being Consumed Again by Love," in Fear or Freedom: Why a Warring Church Must Change. (London: Ekklesia, 2008), pp. 117-123.
Per Gunner Petersson: Aftonland. Mogens Dahl Chamber at the Church of Holmen, Denmark.
May God our Redeemer show us compassion and love. Amen.