In my last post, I wrote about how I wrestle with the celebration of the Eucharist within the Evangelical community. The Eucharist has been reduced to a very privatized, individualistic act with little to no guidance on what we as a community are actually celebrating.
Maybe the celebration of the Eucharist is tied to how I view eating. For instance if I simply look to food as a necessary activity in order to survive, eating is imply a very natural act. The food I eat is absorbed into me – the necessary vitamins, nutrients and minerals I need in order to make the most out of life. I view food as I do almost everything else in life: an object for me to consume with little to no thought on how it impacts others. Therefore, when I come to the Table, the Eucharist is reduced to an act I have to do in order to survive spiritually. I am, after all, a spiritual consumer, looking for what I need in order to make life work. The Eucharist is an activity I can quickly do, in order to hopefully get more Jesus.
If I hold to this view, I am no different than the 5000 people Jesus fed in John 6. Immediately following the feeding, the people wanted to practically kidnap Jesus and force him to be king (John 6:15). When they realize that Jesus has escaped their grasp, they go looking for him (John 6:24), according to Jesus, “Not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:26). In Food & Faith, Dr. Norman Wirzba comments on this situation, “For them, much like for the Israelites in the desert, what they most wanted was fuel to fill a digestive hole. What made Jesus so attractive to them is that he could provide the product on demand” (p. 155).
Jesus then explains to the people, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56).
Jesus is not advocating a natural understanding of eating, where I get a little more of him each time I partake of the Eucharist, for the goal of the Christian life is not for Jesus to be absorded into me but rather for me to abide with Jesus and be altered by him. Dr. Wirzba refers to this as Eucharistic eating: “Eucharistic eating has to do with learning to abide with Jesus so that our abiding with others can take on a Christological form. In other words, Eucharistic eating alters the relationships that make up our lives, gives them a self-offering character, and in doing so changes the practice of life itself” (p. 155). He later writes, “With this kind of eating I am inspired, corrected and nourished by the other without the other being completely destroyed. The other, that is, Jesus, continues to live on in me not as de-formed matter but as food that in-forms life from the inside. This is eating founded on mutual abiding” (p. 157, emphasis original).
The goal of Eucharistic eating is a fuller participation in the ministry of Jesus Christ: namely the proclamation and manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this world. It is the recognition of Paul’s words, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). But this in no way implies that my individuality is annihilated; Paul’s metaphor of the body comes to mind, where Christians are all part of one body, but have different functions. And the body must celebrate the other for without a multiplicity of gifts, the church could not be a body (1 Cor. 12:12-31).
Dr. Wirzba states the goal of Eucharistic eating this way:
Persons who feed on Jesus are challenged to relate to others in a new way. Rather than engaging them primarily in utilitarian terms, absorbing them to suit personal need and satisfaction, eaters of Jesus are invited to extend his ministries or attention and welcome, feeding and forgiving, and healing and reconciliation…. Remembering Jesus, in other words, inspires us to remember others (p. 157-158, emphasis original).
Therefore, as I am part of the local body and we celebrate the Eucharist together, we do so for a two-fold purpose:
First, we celebrate the great love of the Trinity for us in accomplishing what we could not ourselves – our salvation. We feed on Christ, as he is the author and perfecter of our faith, who now sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. The author of Hebrews paints a beautiful picture of what the death of Christ has wrought for us.
Second, not only do we celebrate the fact that Christ has united us to him, we also celebrate the fact that we are united to each other through his body and blood and to be empowered to live for the other as Christ has uniquely gifted each of us. Again as Dr. Wirzba writes, “To participate in the body of Christ is not only to have Christ in me as the one who corrects and transforms me. It is also to have others in me in such a way that what I know of life – what I need, desire, and enjoy in life – makes no sense apart from the fellowship of life together” (p. 172). The Eucharist is the remembrance that we desperately need each other as we learn what it means to abide with Christ.
So how could this understanding manifest itself in the local church practically? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas and will offer some of my own ideas in the next post.