Here is a short video I put together on the Eucharist, the highest and holiest moment of the Christian life:
Below is my script for Pause for Thought on BBC Radio Devon:
At the end of Disney’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli sees a girl from the village collecting water, and he is utterly enchanted!
The panther Bagheera and the Baloo the bear are trying to deliver him safely into the village; but whilst Bagheera knows he must go, Baloo wants him to stay with him in the forest.
But, alas, Mowgli is lost to this new world of wonder!
“In World War I Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had survived thirty months at the front; he rescued the wounded – it was his job – under heavy bombardment. A witness remembered his “rough hewn face that Greco had prefigured” and his “total lack of ecclesiasticism.” One of the officers serving with him wrote, “Two features of his personality struck you immediately: courage and humility.” His regiment’s Tunisian sharpshooters, who were Muslims, used to say rather cryptically that a “spiritual structure” protected him when he plucked bodies from the ground in crossfire. In battle, he rejoiced in his anonymity and in the front’s exhilaration. Prescious few men left the Battle of Ypres with a beating heart, let alone a full stomach, let alone exhilaration:
“Nobody except those who were there will ever have the wonder-laden memory that a man can retain of the plain of Ypres in April 1915, when the air of Flanders stank of chlorine and the shells were tearing down the poplars along by l’Yperle Canal – or, again, of the charred hillsides of Souville, in July 1916, when they held the odour of death. . . . . Those more than human hours impregnate life with a clinging, ineradicable flavour of exaltation and initiation, as though they had been transferred into the absolute.” The “clinging ineradicable flavour” was perhaps mud – the mud of Ypres in which two hundred thousand British and Commonwealth men died, ninety thousand of them lost in the actual mud.
Action he loved. His ever increasing belief that God calls people to build and divinize the world, to aid God in redemption, charged every living moment with meaning – precisely why the battlefield gripped him. “The man at the front is. . . . only secondary his own self. First and foremost, he is part of a prow of cleaving the waves.” He dared title an essay “Nostalgia for the Front”: “All the enchantments of the East, all the spiritual warmth of Paris, are not worth the mud of Douaumont. . . . . How heart-rending it is to find oneself so seldom with a task to be accomplished, one to which the soul feels that it can commit itself unreservedly!”
When he entered the war, he was already a priest. One dawn in 1918, camped in a forest in the Oise with his Zouave regiment, he had neither bread nor wine to offer at Mass. He had an idea, however, and he wrote it down.
Five years later, he sat on a camp stool inside a tent by the Ordos desert cliffs west of Peking. He reworked his old wartime idea on paper. What God’s priests, if empty-handed, might consecrate at sunrise each day is that one day’s development: all that the evolving world will gain and produce, and all it will lose in exhaustion and suffering. These the priest could raise and offer.
In China again, four years later yet, he rode a pony north in the Mongolaian grasslands and traced Quaternary strata. Everyday still he said to himself what he now called his Mass upon the altar of the world, “to divinize the new day”: since once more, my Lord, not now in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia, I have neither bread nor wine, nor altar, I shall rise beyond symbols to the pure majesty of the real, and I shall offer you, I your priest, on the altar of the whole earth, the toil and sorrow of the world.”
By Annie Dillard in For The Time Being, (1999), pg. 126-128
EATING YOUR TRUE SELF
“Jesus says, ‘If you eat this bread you will live forever’ (John 6:51). It is so interesting that he chooses taste, flavour, and nutrition as the symbol of how life is transferred and not intellectual cognition. If you live by the momentary identity that others give you, that’s what dies when you die, and you’re left with nothing. Your relative identity passes away, but it is like the painful erasing of an unwanted tattoo. When Jesus says he’s giving himself to you as the bread of life, he’s saying, as it were, ‘Find yourself in me, and this will not pass or change or die. Eat this food as your primary nutrition, and you are indestructable.’ This is your absolute and indestructable identity.
We all slowly learn how to live in what Thomas Merton would call the True Self – who you are and always have been, in God. Who you are in God is who you are forever. In fact, that’s all you are, and it’s more than enough. Everything else is passing away. Reputations, titles, possessions, and roles do not determine our identity. When I hand out the Eucharist bread I love to say to the assembly, ‘You become what you eat. Come and eat who you are – forever!’ You access Great Truth by absorption and digestion, almost never by analysis or argumentation.”
Richard Rohr, YES, AND…
The biblical meaning of ‘Eucharist’ (or ‘Communion’ or ‘The Lord’s Supper’) as it comes to us through the Old and New Testaments, contains a vast array of images and meanings that are there to prevent us from dogmatic one-dimensionalism, but gift us with a multi-dimensionalism of blessing and enrichment:
From the OT:
… a re-enactment of a salvation event.
… the celebration of the sealing of a covenant.
… an anticipation of the messianic banquet.
From the Meals of Jesus:
… a remembering of the table fellowship of Jesus with its overtones of God’s acceptance and forgiveness.
… a sharing in the mystery of Christ’s resurrection appearances in which he ate and drank with his disciples. Continue reading
Bread of the world in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul in mercy shed,
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead;
Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed;
And be Thy feast to us the token
That by Thy grace our souls are fed. (Reginald Heber)
The Eucharist stands as a bulwark against reducing our participation in salvation to the exercise of devotional practices before God or being recruited to run errands for God. It is hard to get through our heads, but the fact is that we are not in charge of salvation and we can add nothing to it.
“We are made, through Christ’s body and blood, God’s sanctuary, God’s holy temple, for the world. Just as bread and wine is transformed by the Holy Spirit to be for us the body and blood of Christ, our lives, our everyday sacrifices, are taken up into his oblation. Through that transformation the sacrifices, so often forced upon us, can become life giving because they have an end.
Our sacrifices can be joined to Christ’s sacrifice not because the Lord’s sacrifice is insufficient, but because the sacrifice of the cross is complete, lacking nothing, sufficient for our salvation and the salvation of the world. The Eucharist (or Communion, or Breaking of Bread) is the self-offering of Christ. Time and time again we are given the good gift to participate in this, the Father’s sacrifice of the Son, that all might know that here sacrifice has come to an end, because the cross is the end of sacrifice.
So [next time you eat the bread and drink the wine] remember the painful sacrifice of the Son, a sacrifice in which we are made participants, and rejoice and be glad.”
Stanley Hauerwas, A Cross Shattered Church, 72