Eucharist II

•July 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120727-105141.jpg

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series)

Wine is Joy. Sharing wine together is to ‘make merry’ and celebrate the gifts of harvest and hope. Of relationships established or renewed. Of life that continues through the breaking of bread.

Joy for the reward of hard, gruelling labour has resulted in life, hope and future.

‘This cup is the New Covenant in my blood…’ The hardest and most gruelling of labours…

So too, the Cup at Eucharist is our cup of Joy. We receive it after the Bread of Heaven, which has given of Itself to grant us Life. The red liquid, sweetness and bitterness intermingled, fills the heart with burning.

And Joy.

Joy because New Life, Hope and Future have been reaffirmed.

Joy because life is in the blood, Moses tells us. There is Life in the Blood. We drink in the symbol of Life and Joy, poured out for us. It is the best Wine reserved for us until the end of the Feast of the Lamb.

The priest offers the Cup, full of Death and Birth, Bitter and Sweet, Suffering and Joy. ‘Vernon, the Blood Christ, the Cup of Salvation, poured out for you…’

A sip. Anamnesis. Life. Hope. Future. Joy. Eucharist.

Rest…

‘Take, drink. This cup is the New Covenant, in my blood, which is poured out for you. Do this in anamnesis of me.’

Eucharist

•July 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120726-185944.jpgChallah, courtesy Emily Hanny, a Precious

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series)

Eucharist.

Dining, feasting, fellowship, covenant. These things are all bound up together in the imagery of bread. ‘Let us break bread together.’ Bread, a basic staple of life in the ancient Near East, was hard to come by here in the Holy Land. There’s little good grain land here. It’s so paltry in comparison to the vast fields of Kansas and Oklahoma. So, grain is precious, earned with sweat, blood, tears and probably a profanity or two. That grain is stored and guarded, with the women carefully meting it out to make sure there’s enough to last until next year’s harvest.

Bread is life. To break it with someone is to share life with them. It is fellowship. It is covenantal.

It is momentous.

Such is the stuff of Eucharist. Yes, it is liminal, liturgical and a myriad other things.

It is also the offering of Life, re-enacted at the altar (or Lord’s Table, if you wish). God, the one who spread out the heavens (like a bedouin tent) is our gracious host. He spreads out a table before us, in the presence of our enemies, and he offers to us Bread, the Bread of Heaven. In doing so, he is sharing life with us.

And that Bread is Life itself. In taking the Bread, we are not only sharing life with Life, we are receiving Life himself in us, symbolically testifying to the reality of newness of our lives.

I sup with the Living One, dining on the Bread of Heaven, sharing life with him and receiving Life itself from him. We fellowship. We are bound together in the covenant that is achieved with the breaking of the Bread. It is fitting that my church in Jerusalem uses a matzah wafer: it shatters into hundreds of crumbs and pieces, like the broken, shredded and torn flesh of the Bread of Heaven.

In this covenantal meal, every Sunday, I reiterate my commitment to that covenant. And I receive ‘anamnetically’ the assurance of the Living One’s commitment to his covenantal bonds to me. It is no mere mental exercise. It is graphically, tangibly and audibly expressed as the priest breaks the bread in my hand, saying, ‘Vernon, the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, broken for you…’ and then, as I eat the bread.

‘Take, eat. For this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in anamnesis of me.’

Silence

•July 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120726-084718.jpg

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series.)

Silence.

It is probably ironic to be writing about silence. But, I doubt I can get away with posting a black space entitled ‘Silence’. (Don’t think that I did not consider it…)

In the modern, Western world, silence is hard to come by. Our world is full of sound: the hum of the refrigerator, the buzzing of electrical devices, cars, horns on cars, drivers of cars, phones…you get the idea. And don’t forget the people.

Even without all the modern contraptions and their contributions to sound pollution, there is still lots of sound. Birds, moving water, cats, dogs, the wind, thunderstorms…you get the idea. And don’t forget the people.

So, we cannot escape sound. The quietest place I’ve been to is Wadi Rum, in southern Jordan. There, camping with Bedouin, I was able to walk alone in the sand, sit and hear only the sound of the wind. There weren’t any other sounds. At least no external sounds.

But then I heard it.

The cacophony of my mind. Noise, noise, noise. Even though I can put on a serious poker face and sit in stoney silence, I am not a silent person. I am a noise machine with the loudest part being my mind.

I crave silence now. I don’t think it was an accident that the three major monotheistic religions all started with heavy desert influences (Sinai, Paul in Arabia, Muhammed in S. Arabia). There is silence to be found, to enveloped by, and to be stilled by.

Then you can hear. The Voice is walking about, to and fro. It is the sound of the finest whisper, so delicate and thin. Even fragile.

It causes you to freeze and hold your breath, for fear of shattering that fragile Whisper with your own sound. You hush your mind for fear the sound will resonate from your head and send the Whisper into exile. You strain, listening, listening. You can hear it, though many times you cannot quite make out the words.

But, you know the most important thing: you are in the Presence. He is here, with you, in a Thin, Dark Space. The only liturgy necessary is to sit.

Then the Presence whispers, ‘Peace, be still.’

And the raging storm ceases.

A warmth washes over you and shabbat comes to your soul.

Pursue silence. Fight for it. Eagerly strive for it.

Seek the Silence where the Finest Whisper is found and receive shabbat.

Incarnational

•July 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120725-061236.jpg

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series.)

Incarnate: a) invested with bodily and especially human nature and form; b) made manifest or comprehensible

Matter matters. There is something about matter that requires, no demands something equally ‘matter-ed’ in order to interact. It is an effect of creation. Ideas, concepts, and other non-corporeal things do not have quite the impact upon physical things, or in our case, physical beings as some sort of corporeal act or creature does.

How often do we hear, or have we requested, a tangible expression of some intangible sentiment? ‘I just need to see that you love/care/worry, etc.’ So, we give gifts, tokens, aid, donations, food, touches, and acts of service. It is visible and tangible.

It is incarnational.

Beauty, love, provision, thought. These are incarnate around us in sweeping vistas of mountains, flowers, birds, the affection of a lover, the written words of a friend, a hug, fruit hanging on a tree in its season, the rain, the afternoon breeze which sweeps away the oppressive heat of high noon, creating the ‘cool of the day’.

Or, as the apostle Paul puts it: ‘Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made’ (Rom. 1.20).

God, who is Spirit, has chosen to create and interact with a corporeal and physical world. More specifically, he has created rational, physical beings who need physicality in order to comprehend. And so, God incarnates.

We hear of his footsteps in a garden that he has planted. We hear of fire, a thundering voice, bushes that do not burn, clouds and smoke.

We hear and read his word: his will, his intentions, his goals, now on stone, papyrus, parchment, wood and paper.

Our God incarnates.

We hear and experience that most unlikely of incarnational moves of our God: he appears in a Galilean handyman, who reveals the Invisible God by teaching, judging, healing, weeping, touching. And he gives us the most upside-down incarnation of our God and our God’s deepest desires.

Our God’s love, sympathy, intent, rule and sovereignty is incarnate in a broken, mutilated corpse, hanging enthroned upon a Roman cross.

The Eastern Church says that even if the events of Genesis 3 had never occurred, the Incarnation would have. God desires relationship with his people and his people are physical beings who require corporeal expressions. They say the God-Man was always part of God’s intent rather than a consequence of our broken choices.

That is a comforting thought. Our God was always going to be Incarnate.

He continues to be Incarnational: in his created world, in the beautiful creative acts and generosity of humanity that defy our brokenness, in his Called Out Ones, in the reading of his word, and in the breaking of bread – Eucharist.

Our God incarnates. He moves through liminality, the Dark Spaces and Thin Places. He looks for us, finds us and reveals himself in incarnate ways to our physical senses. He is terrifying and yet, familiar. He meets with us: sometimes in the Dark Spaces, sometimes on this or that side of the Thin Place. But, he is moving, meeting.

He has met with us before: in the Garden, in the Bush, in the cloud and fire, in the Tabernacle and Temple, in the voice from heaven and through the voices of women and men. He has met with us at Capernaum, Samaria and Jerusalem. He has met us at supper in Emmaus, in the sounds of the People Praising, in the Theatre of the Liturgy and the Eucharist. He meets with us still.

For he is incarnational. He is Incarnate. This is what he does.

Kavod.

Holy, holy, holy Lord. God of Power and Might. Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He, who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.

Mystery

•July 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120724-081035.jpg Mt. Hermon, from the Sea of Galilee

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series)

Mystery: Something not understood or beyond understanding.

I think it goes (and should go) without saying that the Living God is a mystery. And yet, this modern world, with all of its gadgets, toys, bells, whistles, and the continual exponential growth in what humanity learns about its universe, whittles away at the mystery.

Many things that the ancients once attributed to divine fiat, are now re-understood in terms of the structure of the solar system, or how weather works, or maybe plant biology.

There are many things that supersede human understanding. I have a friend who is freshly in love. He’s wicked smart, motivated, and a good bloke. However, he is twitterpated. No amount of ‘understanding’ pheromones, hormones, and whatnot will adequately explain my friend’s twitterpation. It should not be explained. It is one of those things that defy understanding, ‘the way of a man with a young woman.’ Proverbs does not elaborate, but I’m sure it is describing the drunken effect of twitterpation on the man.

Mystery.

Such is our interaction with the Living God. He is Mystery. In spite of all the systematic theologies, creeds, and catechisms, when we come before the Throne of Heaven, we realise that he is Mystery. We believe that this Living God is most fully revealed in the Person of the Risen Christ. Yet, how well does the Church comprehend him? Homoousious anyone?

Mystery. It is important, no, utterly necessary. I want and desperately need God to be Mystery. I barely comprehend myself. Yet, if I can ‘comprehend’ my God, then he is smaller and more pathetic than myself and not worthy of worship or allegiance. The quest for certainty vis a vis God, I think is part and parcel of the American need for 5% growth, security in investments, and good health in spite of high fructose corn syrup.

Life is not like this and neither is God. He is Uncertain in that how he communicates what we call his certainties: love, compassion, patience, forgiveness (and whatever else in systematic theologies), is unpredictable. They show up in the faces of a devout Muslim observing Ramadan, inviting me into their air conditioned shop, or an Orthodox Jewish man inviting me into relationship in sharing a familial loss. Or, the Palestinian Sunbird chirping outside my window.

He is mystery. To experience him is to enter into the Mystery. We step forward into the Unknown, into the Dark Space, the Thin Places, through liturgy, into liminality. We give up the illusion of control and certainty and sometimes realise, we are standing with our feet firmly planted in both the heavenlies and on earth. We partake of the bread and the wine and anamnete the mystery of living in the Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Embrace the Mystery and see who you find there and the truly baffling ways in which he reveals himself…

Kavod.

Great is the Mystery of Faith: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.

Iconic

•July 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120723-062238.jpg Rublev Trinity

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series)

Iconic. The word lingers in my mind as I keep revolving around that fancy word ‘liminality.’

A bare bones definition of an icon is something that both represents something else and makes that something else a present reality. Icons live and move in the language of symbolism and within the realm of liminality.

Icons need not be religious paraphernalia. Photos of loved ones, tokens from a sentimental moment in time, diplomas, wedding rings, etc. All of these things represent something else and make those ‘something elses’ real and present in our reality.

In Eucharistic terms, this is called anamnesis, or recalling to mind. In an anamnetic act, something is brought to the fore of our conscious thinking, thus making it ‘real’ to us in that moment. I look at my wedding ring and I (warning: making up a verb here) ‘anamnete‘ my wife, my vows, our relationship, my commitment to her. The ring is iconic which causes anamnesis.

So too, our religious icons: be they literal icons hanging on the wall (like the Rublev Trinity), a treasured Bible, a rosary, a hymn or song, a necklace, or the Eucharistic elements themselves. They represent and make present something else. Ostensibly, they make present in a unique way, The Other, The Living One.

In the Eucharist itself, it symbolically points towards the Body Broken and the Blood Outpoured. The bread and the wine represent our Paschal Lamb and they make present the reality of what his sacrifice has done through anamnesis. As the bread is broken, first before the congregation, and then in my hand, I hear the words, ‘Vernon, the body of Christ which was broken for you.’ This follows with, ‘Vernon, the blood of Christ which was shed for you.’ I anamnete the Christ’s victory over sin and death, and the reality of that Victory and my participation in his Victory is made real and present ‘anamnetically‘ in my consciousness.

Icons are Thin Spaces. And then I remember, as Christ is the icon of the Living God, so too are we icons of Christ (2 Cor. 3.18, 4.4). We are Thin Spaces; liminal zones. Somehow, we represent the Risen Christ and make him present in the reality around us; for others.

Amazing. Frightening.

Kavod.

Dark Spaces

•July 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

20120722-061304.jpg York Minster, York, England.

(Another episode in a ‘Thinking Out Loud’ series. Note, credit for the term ‘Dark Space’ belongs to Aubrey.)

What comes to mind when you read the words ‘Dark Spaces’? Or perhaps, just the word ‘Dark’? Darkness has been fought against – think of how much light we moderns live with, even after sundown? How much city-glow do you live with? I’ve periodically pondered what it would have been like, living without electricity and access to instant light. All that stands between you and total darkness is the fire you can create and keep alive through careful tending.

Total darkness: the realm of beasts, bandits and bumps in the night. We do not like it. It is liminal. We cannot see and all becomes eerie and unfamiliar. Darkness seems to have the power to turn this world into some other world.

And yet…it is into the Darkness that we are called. It is a good Darkness, where one walks by faith, not by sight. Here, this world merges with that of the Unseen. All that we are familiar with is still there, but yet, somehow transformed. The substance of the air can become thin.

And then you hear it. Or you feel it dancing along your skin. You hear ‘the sound of…walking’ or you feel the reality of the Presence.

Darkness heightens all of our non-visual senses. In that Darkness, we perceive and move in a different way. Darkness is heavy and brings a hush to things. We instinctively whisper and move gingerly, so as to leave no audible trace.

The Dark Spaces are where we can be: anonymous, silent, trusting, still. Dark Spaces are free of data, advertisements, noise, and busyness. Dark Spaces are for Being. Being fully human in the presence of the True Man, the Risen Christ.

The Dark Spaces are holy places; places of reverential silence. Dark Spaces are a taste of the World to Come, where the Heavenly and Earthly are one and where The One dwells with his creation. It is where all things keep silence before the One seated on the Throne, the train of whose robe fills the Temple. It is where one cannot help but whisper, ‘Kavod’: Glory.

Dark Spaces are Liminal. And lovely.

Iconic.

Glory.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, world without end. Amen.