Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The Real Presence

This is my body, he said. This is my blood. Take them, for they are food and drink indeed. The one who does not can have no part of me.

Christians of the sacramental stream have always maintained that the practice called the Lord's Supper is a true sacrament rather than an ordinance. This mystical meal is not something done merely to remember him, though that is indeed part of it. He said his disciples would eat his body and drink is blood, and before he went away, he celebrated the Passover, and told us that the bread and the wine, the most common food of the day, now was his own self.

I believe that insisting on the mere symbolic meaning of these words is symptomatic of the anti-supernaturalism that ran through the Church with the Enlightenment. It is odd how people pick and choose things to believe and reject; the same folks who believe that Real Presence is superstitious, overliteral, and just plain ridiculous will tell you that God does petty things to punish them, that women should wear doilies on their heads in religious meetings, and that God raised a man from the dead. I happen to believe the last one, but the others are ridiculous.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the suffering servant would take our sins and sicknesses upon himself, and this Jesus did. To everything we are vulnerable, he was also. His humanity was just like our own in every way, and in his pain, ours is ameliorated. As he was broken, we are healed, mind, body and soul. This way of healing is important to me, now more than ever.

When we drink the cup of suffering, we in our brokenness of body and soul take the Crucified Lord into ourselves. When we own our brokenness and welcome his, we are healed. I think it's another paradox of the faith, and one for which I am grateful.

His broken Body hung asphyxiating. So did mine. Upside down, even. He shares in my suffering, and I would share in his. I'm not interested in blame and recriminations, for the Lord of the Universe has given Himself as sustenance. And it is enough; indeed it must be.

Because of this great gift, I've chosen to believe that I'm loved, and that purpose, rather than despair, can come from pain and loneliness. It doesn't have to, but I'm choosing just that. My suffering will not be the center of my world. Instead I look to the example of the saints who offer up their own brokenness to help others, a way of offering oneself as a Eucharistic sacrifice: my own body as a gift of thanksgiving, to God, for others. I don't know quite how to do that from my little cell here, so more on that in the days ahead.