Monday, April 18, 2011

Eating and Drinking

Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, April 21, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

I have a watch that is both digital and analog. It has an electronic chip in it that keeps track of all kinds of things with great accuracy: It tells the time, it tells the phase of the moon, it tells the temperature, it tells you the time in selected cities of your choice, it has a timer and a stopwatch and all those bells and whistles. It does it with millions of 0's and 1's that all answer one very logical question: Is it on or is it off? Yes, or no?

It also has a face with real hands that go around and around. My ancient brain registers quickly what time it is in relation to where the hands on the clock are. It has a digital read-out, but I never look at it. The symbolic value of the hands quickly wires around the numbers and gives me a relative time--good enough for me.

These two ways of calculating, analog and digital, parallel two ways of approaching religious rites. We approach them analytically, we tease out the theology of them, we line up ideas one after another in cause and effect relationships and we group ideas together because they are similar in important ways. We also approach them analogically. We sense the mystery, we are taken by the multi-valenced power of the symbol, we sense connections that are neither logical nor illogical, but just are.

Tonight we celebrate, more than anything else, Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper. When He did it He recast part of the Seder or Passover meal, but shortly after His death and resurrection, when the numbers of Gentiles increased, the church's understanding of it deepened and broadened to lay the foundation of what we have today. Let's take a look at the celebration of the Eucharist through these two lenses, the analytical and the analogical.

The analytical understanding of the Eucharist fills libraries full of textbooks on the theology of the Eucharist, but it can mostly be boiled down to some basic concepts. The Eucharist is a participation in the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is a way of touching once again that eternal reality of Christ's death and resurrection, and allowing it to form our Christian living. Why it is done as a meal harks back to Jesus' use of a meal and eating images, but if you think that we are what we eat it makes more sense. We nourish our souls on these realities, and let the power of the Spirit so conferred empower our living.

There are basically three approaches to understanding what Jesus' death and resurrection do for us. One is juridical, and it goes like this:

God is holy, God cannot abide anything that is unholy. We sinned, rendering us unholy. But God wants to be in relationship with us anyway. But we can't do anything about our un-holiness, so God did instead. Jesus takes our un-holiness on Himself on the cross and pays the price we could not pay so that we could be reconciled to God.

This one saw its heyday in the Middle Ages and up through contemporary evangelical theology.

The next is pedagogical and it goes like this:

God is holy, but we sinned, rendering us unholy. Jesus came to teach us what holy living is all about, and gave Himself in self-sacrifice as an example of what the love of God is really like. We are called to die to sin and be raised to new life, just as Jesus was, albeit in a smaller way.

This one got its start in the early Church and found a stronghold in the Eastern Church.

The last is relational and it goes like this:

God is holy and cannot abide anything unholy. When we sinned and were rendered unholy the relationship between God and humanity was damaged. Jesus came as the required sacrifice to reconcile us back to God. When we are baptized and when we partake of the Eucharist we are accepting what God has offered, a renewed relationship.

This one is Jewish through and through, informing the earliest Church's Eucharistic theology, and is experiencing a resurgence in the last 30 years or so.

The analogical understanding of the Eucharist is more of an approach than an understanding. We see bread and we see wine, we taste bread and we taste wine.

We do so shoulder to shoulder with our fellow-Christians. We experience that fundamental life-giving experience of eating and know that the experience is more than just eating material food. Eating is nurturing, Jesus nurtures us with His own self, His own body and blood, Jesus calls us to be His body in the world, which means that it is ourselves that we see on the altar, offered to God as a sacrifice of praise, and it is us in union with Jesus that we experience when we partake of the Holy Meal. We find that afterwards we are linked to one another in a fundamental way, we find that we know the same reality together, that of the renewed life of Christ within us, and we face the same challenge together, that of carrying this presence that we have come to know out into the world in the power we have received.

What does it all mean, then? Either way, analytically or analogically, we finally arrive at the same point. In this meal Jesus does something deep within us that unites us to Himself, empowers us to be His presence in a broken world, and sends us out to reconcile the world to Himself. And this is exactly what He did when He offered Himself on the cross, and then rose again 3 days later. So it is fitting to celebrate this meal this night, for tomorrow we celebrate His death so that on Easter we might celebrate His triumphant resurrection!

1 comment:

Michael said...

I would like to start by asking you two questions. One: Can you can give an accurate definition of the phrase: "Lamb of God"? We all know that this is one of the names used for Jesus, like Messiah, Savior, Son of Man, or Christ.

But exactly what is the importance of the name "Lamb of God"? And why is it important to me as a Catholic? The second question I would like to ask you is: Why the Catholic Church would offer The Holy Eucharist every day at every Mass throughout the world in over 3000 languages.

What knowledge do they have that would make them feel compelled to do this for thousands of years? In answering this question, we'll see why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.'" (CC 1324)

For more information on Jesus New Covenant and how everything ties together -- Passover Meal -> Manna -> Prophecy of the New Covenant -- go to The 4th and watch the video! You can also read along while the video is playing.