In my last two essays, I’ve shared thoughts on what I consider some of the finer details of our modern practices of Eucharist.
To begin, in part one, I hope I showed what I consider to be the great rhythm we’re taught through our table practice. The body broken and the blood poured out. This is what we commemorate, while we simultaneously celebrate phase two, where the body is healed and the blood poured in. The rhythm at the heart of Eucharist seems to be a cosmic inhale/exhale, body broken/body raised, blood drained/blood filled, battery depleted/recharged. We take this meal to remind us that it’s okay to be caught in either side of the cycle. We share this meal with each other to knit us together and be reminded that we’re never alone.
In part two, I took on a cursory argument for open table theology. I hoped to show what I believe to be a better reading of Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church. That we as the body should be as inviting and welcoming as possible to those “on the outside” and break down the walls and dividing lines that tempt us to exclude and divide. The holy Eucharist binds us together in mystical and metaphorical ways and I for one wouldn’t dare to exclude anyone from the love of God, as demonstrated in the gift of table fellowship. The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Power only inspires bigger and better next to the smaller and poorer, while the upside-down power of the Kingdom equalizes all around the place of nourishment, sharing, and vulnerability. It’s a gift, so please don’t be stingy with it.
In this third and final essay of this series, I’d like to go further to suggest that it all comes from a sadly poisoned theology of the body, tracing it’s deepest roots to an emphasis of Genesis 3, forgetting that Genesis 1 and 2 come first.
In the first 2 chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures, we’re given a glimpse in on a divine dance or a cosmic symphony. The Triune God, who in and among Itself is Relationship in it’s truest form, begins calling out of nothing that which is the universe we know. This Divine Spirit takes utter delight in each “day” of Creation, transfixed and in love with how the earth responds to the Voice. I like to imagine a child being pushed by her mother on a swing, each time reaching the peak before swinging back toward her mother’s arms, giggling with delight and begging “higher! higher!”. The days of Genesis 1 were each push of the swing and God is and is in the child, the mother, and the swing all at once. The purest goodness and delight.
And the final push came when Mother God offered dirt and dust formed in Her own holy image. Adam, mankind, humankind, infused with warm, dynamic, holy breath. Out of this man, God realized that the one not good thing that required righting was that man needed a partner, for without relationship, we are incomplete. Woman, like the cherry on top of it all: Eve. Divine image sealed with a kiss and a human body for the rest of history and eternity. This original goodness, original blessing, original righteousness, holiness, sacredness is jammed packed into Genesis 1 and 2 in so many ways, I can’t imagine tiring of these couple short chapters. This is where the whole story begins. So why don’t we remind ourselves of it more often? Instead, we build up our neural pathways to believe that Genesis 3, the wicked Fall, is the beginning of our story.
To have a fully robust understanding and appreciation for Eucharist, I believe today that we need a fully robust theology of the body rooted in Genesis 1 and 2, where the story really begins. Our bodies are good, infused with original blessing, coursing with the very breath of the Divine I AM. A mix of bone, soul, dust, spirit. A meat bag full of blood, tissue, sweat, and holes that allow food to flow from entrance to exit. Our skin sheds and is replaced. Our muscles tear and rebuild. From our marrow, our bones rebuild themselves. Our eyes blink to keep moist. Our chests rise and fall with our lungs. Our stomachs yearn for food and water many times a day. We digest and poop. We drink and pee. Our hearts beat blood and oxygen to the brain, feet, and toes, with an exquisite distribution infrastructure plan that boasts of no cell being more than 2 cells away from a capillary. Every bit of this awkwardly warm flesh is sustained by a rhythm: heart, lungs, eyes, skin, hunger, sex, sleep. The thing that knits that together, holds your molecules together to stay cells, that’s grace, that’s love, that’s Christ spirit. The Christ that is in you is in and through all, and this spirit teaches us the rhythms of life and death. Modeled in the birth of Jesus, in a body, all the way to his death, in a body, there is again a rhythm that under-girds it all.
One of the greatest beauties of Christianity, that I feel in my body, mind, and heart, is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Creator enters the creation. The author writes himself into the story. The universal, cosmic Christ entered the particular body of Jesus of Nazareth. He was not beamed down to Earth through the Bifröst like Thor, no, He came into the world in a bloody, loud, human way. God saw that it was good and that it was beautiful enough to enter himself as a baby, born to a terrified, homeless, ostracized teenage girl. Christ Jesus, God the All-Vulnerable at the mercy of a mother who had probably barely lived past a decade herself. The Lord incarnate, the Christ in a meat body, painfully and beautifully delivered to a 7th grade age girl, to a world commiserating with her birth pain. This world that was ready and pleading for a cosmic reminder that the body was created to be good and is good.
Each new dwelling place for soul, that is, the human body, begins inside another. The mother/child relationship is itself a wonderful metaphor for the fact that we were only ever created inside the cosmic womb of God’s love. Something bigger than bigness itself had enough love and joy and grace to share that it had to start it off with a Big Bang, with holy Relationship being the ultimate plan for such a vigorously expanding universe. God created a universe that could love it back, just as a mother gestates a child that can love her back. Can you see this holy promise of original blessing baked into it all? Can you see that the body may be good from the start?
It evens means something mystical to me that this Word made flesh was unmade and remade flesh for us. To see that God is willing to enter our vulnerability and suffering, in solidarity, identifying with our pains and death, letting Jesus’ body be ripped to ribbons, nailed to the world’s greatest torture weapon, and left to die. All-vulnerable at death. All-suffering on the cross. All dead on Friday night. All dead, all absent on Saturday. All missing Sunday Easter morning. All human, yet more after being buried. That the Christ would even enter death for us, carrying the flame of original blessing and goodness through death, just to show us that the body is so good, in fact, that it is part of the plan that we keep it on the other side of death. All human, All Christ, All body, All spirit.
If the bread represents a holy body, given and taken freely, I firmly believe that Jesus is also making a statement on the whole of humanity. We have a remaining sacrament through the life of Jesus that chooses to affirm the goodness and beauty of the human body as his temple. We’re not originally born of hideous spiritual deformity, destined to a hell upon our first cries outside the womb. We’re crafted of an Image, of a holy Pattern, the Imago Dei that births us forward full of joys, loves, hopes. Fundamentally, the Eucharist meal reminds me that my body is a good thing, not a tool of the devil and his temptations, or a thing to be beaten into flagellating obedience. Christ as Jesus took up the form of a human body as a baby on Christmas and laid that body down for a time on Good Friday. Affirming the image of the Divine within us was his first holy act on earth, even before he could utter a word. This is a radically new way to be human. I believe Christ is showing us a deep and eternal truth: that every human being is holy ground. Holy ground to be contended with through a high regard for their dignity, their lovability, and their sanctity. We know there is something different in us as humans, we see a soul where we see none throughout the rest of our animal kingdoms. In her work “Aurora Leigh”, the mystic poet Elizabeth Barret Browning says,
Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush is afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit around the bush and pluck it’s blackberries for a pie.
May it be that we learn to have eyes like these. Eyes that see every common bush, every human being, afire with God. A work of great beauty and dignity worthy of respect and love first. Let communion be a reminder of this: that you are loved, not in spite of your body, but because your body and it’s Image of the holy Divine.
“This is the table, not of the church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.
So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”