Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bread of Life (4): a real process

Jesus says “This is my body.” Now what might that mean? I will devote an entire session to that question, but for now let us just ponder that when Jesus predicts that the temple will be cast down, he says it will be rebuilt in three days, and then when the local people say, 'how can he rebuild the temple in three days?', the answer given in John’s gospel is 'he was talking about his body'. Communion is the new temple: the temple has passed away, has passed to the Old Testament and that which the temple accomplished in terms of atonement, in terms of wiping away sin, reconciliation with God, those functions of the temple are now enacted within the body. Christ’s body is now the temple.

Jesus also says, “Do this in remembrance of me”. Now the 'in remembrance', the word is anamnesis. It is only used in one other place in the Bible, that’s in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, in Leviticus, so there is some debate over exactly what is meant. A key element, however, is this sense that just as with Passover, it is not just a memorial. It’s a re-enactment, you are taking part in the events as you re-enact them. It is a present tense process. In particular there is a sense in which, or a suggestion of, invoking, that Jesus becomes present in the anamnesis. So to do this in remembrance of me, it is do this to bring me amongst you, it has that shade of meaning in it.

St Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 says 'this bread that we share, is it not a sharing, is it not a participation, is it not a communion in Christ’s blood?' Paul is arguing about eating meat from pagan sacrifices, whether it is acceptable for the community in Corinth to do this, and also to eat the supper of the Lord. He says 'well, when you are eating those sacrifices, you are sharing, you are becoming part of the body of the pagans. And you can’t do that because when you are having the Lord’s supper you are becoming part of the Body of Christ'. His argument doesn’t make sense if the process is just a symbolic process, you don’t become a part of the body of pagans if it is just a symbolic act. It’s a real act, there is something real going on. St Paul has a very robust sense of the reality of what it means to share the body and the blood, to share the bread and the wine. Not least because, as he goes on to talk about in 1 Corinthians 11, those who eat unworthily, those who don’t take it seriously, those who are frivolous (which is about not actually believing, not believing in the process, not believing that this is something real going on) - those who eat unworthily are guilty of the body and the blood, which is an expression meaning that they share in the murder, they acquire the guilt of the killing. So they crucify Jesus again. It is saying they are still bound up with the values of the world, the worldly values which crucified Christ, those which put him to death. If you don’t understand what’s going on in communion, if you don’t take it seriously, treat it as this real substantial process, then you are still sharing in the values of the world, and therefore you are still sharing in what murders. It is what kills Christ but it is also what destroys our own inner life.

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