(Continuation from part one)
“Eucharistic,” a word that meant basically nothing to me a year ago has become the all embracing concept for understanding the depth of the salvation that Christ provided. Indeed, it has become my means of understanding almost everything about the Christian life, and will probably serve as the basis for most everything discussed in these articles.
That Christ was the perfect Eucharistic Being, and that He bestows this Eucharistic life onto His disciples is something I never understood. And I’m embarrassed to admit it having lived and studied theology for many years with focused attention on such issues. It’s like a boxer who’s trained for most of his life but never realized he could throw a right hook; what’s more fundamental to boxing than a right hook? Equally, what’s more fundamental to Christianity than the Eucharist?
Yet, the Eucharist is perhaps the most ignored and misunderstood event in independent, charismania Christianity. I say “event” and not “doctrine” because the Eucharist is not primarily a doctrine. As Zizioulas explains, “It is in the Eucharist, understood properly as a community and not as a ‘thing,’ that Christ is present here and now as the one who realizes God’s self-communication to creation as communion with His life, and in the existential form of a concrete community created by the Spirit.” In short, it is Christ understood as Eucharist that one encounters God made flesh (the incarnation of Christ), a reconciliation of the created world with God; God assuming not just human flesh but assuming the actual elements of creation in His own body.
After all, are we not what we eat? When Jesus ate and drank here on earth did not the food He took into His body literally become His body, just as what we eat becomes our body? If natural food was transformed into the body of the incarnate God then all of creation joined in the reconciliation of the incarnate Christ.
What this means is that every moment, every place, and every person Jesus came in contact with was a divine, sacramental, event of communion between God and His children via the created world. Every moment! The sacrament of communion, or the Lord’s Supper (i.e. the Eucharist), which Christ instituted and the Church has perpetuated ever since, is much more than a simple “remembrance” of Christ. Orthodox priest and theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, gave an excellent introduction to the Orthodox view of the Eucharist:
“First, the sacrifice is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice; secondly, it is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ; thirdly, the Lamb of God was sacrificed once only, for all time…The sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.”
In essence, the elements of communion—the bread and wine—are not symbols in the sense of theological abstractions meant to provoke the imagination, but rather they take on a true and mysterious transformation. This “transformation” is a work of the Holy Spirit, and the Orthodox Church has always been more interested in preserving the mystery than explaining the mystery, (since it is inexplicable to begin with).
But, my response was always, “so what?” Isn’t Christ always present with His Church anyway? Why must we have some ancient and cryptic ceremony and wave a magic wand over the elements to “bring them to life,” so-to-speak? Besides, if Christ was with us in the flesh would He begin severing fingers and offering them to us in order to bring us into communion with Him; it’s the same thing, no?
The point of the elements becoming the “sacrificed Lamb” is not to worship a loaf of bread and cup of wine. The point is that base, natural, ‘material’ elements, when offered to the Lord with thanksgiving in the Holy Spirit, are returned to us ‘sanctified,’ or endued with the presence of God—the elements have literally become a divine ‘meeting place’ of communion with God and the whole Body of Christ (i.e. Church) from ages to ages. It is an event which invites us to an even broader understanding of God’s intended purpose for our interaction with our world. When Christ ‘saves’ a person He makes them into what they were originally created as—priests of creation, Eucharistic beings: receiving the gift of creation from God, offering the gift back unto God with praise and thanksgiving, and receiving the gift back again ‘spiritualized’ in a continuous cycle of communion and love.
Alexander Schmemann (Orthodox priest and theologian), described the Eucharistic life in terms of the fall of mankind: “The fall is not that he (humanity) preferred the world to God, distorted the balance between the spiritual and material, but that he made the world ‘material,’ whereas he was to have transformed it into ‘life with God,’ filled with meaning and spirit.” The ‘original sin’ is that mankind ceased to be hungry for God and ceased to see his whole life as depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God.
Must quit before this article becomes monstrously long.
Salvation is not initiated and completed in a 5 minute ‘head bowed, hand raised, mouth confessing’ moment. It is the entire journey of one’s life with Christ becoming more and more Eucharistic—“conforming to the image of Christ,” “from glory to glory”—undergoing a transformation from an existence of autonomy and death to an existence of communion and life in Christ.