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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bread of Life—Liberation and transformation (B18O)

Eucharist at its best, it seems to me, should engender some cognitive dissonance in the Christian. We are awakened, when liturgy is good, to the Good, to God, to who God really is, and also to who we really are. Good liturgy reveals the dominion of God, the "peaceable kingdom" in which the poor and wretched, the meek and peacemakers are the blessed, and throws light on the dark dominion of the "world," which is to say, wherever people have opted for other gods: security, power, money, pleasure, property, consumption, etc. Having revealed the dichotomy of these worlds, the immanence of God's reign and its availability to those who embrace solidarity with God in Christ, the liturgy calls us to metanoia, to a change of interior direction and a change of life-orientation, that quickens the pulse to the new creation, allays fear, and rallies the ragged remnant around the fire.

This, I think, is the "life" that Jesus is talking about in John, whether he's talking about the "bread of life" in John 6 or the living water with the Samaritan woman, or the "resurrection and the life" with Martha and Mary or the "road, the truth, and the life" with Thomas and the twelve. It's the life that is enigmatically but forcefully summoned by John's use of ego eimi, the Greek equivalent of the tetragrammatic name of God from Exodus, YHWH, in all of these and other passages. By invoking the Name from the story of Moses and the Exodus, and by the association in the gospels between the death and resurrection of the Lord with the Passover, we are called to equate "life" with the God of Exodus, the God of freedom. Not just freedom for me and for you, but for everyone. "I am the bread of freedom, the water of freedom, the road, the truth, and the freedom to pursue them, I am the resurrection and freedom even from death and its dire consequences. I came that they might have freedom, and have it completely." Those who had manna still got hungry; those who drink water from the well will get thirsty again; but if you eat me, if you drink me, you will be completely free.

Free from what? Well, we go there together every year in the scrutinies, right? Free from the ethnic hatred and  prejudice like that which was the birthright of Samaria and Judea. Free from the restrictive laws of religion that oppress, or put ritual ahead of peoples' genuine need. Free from the fear of the death that drives us to choose lesser goods, counterfeits of freedom and life. Freedom from gnostic and arcane pursuits of the divine that do not lead through the road that is Jesus, good shepherd, gate, person of truth, and Son of God. 

Still, the sobering truth is that, in the words of Pope John Paul II, we Eucharist-eaters still allow "the tragedy of hunger which plagues hundreds of millions of human beings, the diseases which afflict developing countries, the loneliness of the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants. These are evils which are present—albeit to a different degree—even in areas of immense wealth. We cannot delude ourselves: By our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those
  in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. John 13:35; Matthew 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged." (From the Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum, Domine, 2004, 8.) The Eucharist, even the Spirit's presence that transforms bread and wine into the living Christ, cannot change the way we act toward one another. The legendary Benedictine liturgist and patristics scholar Godfrey Diekmann has been quoted as positing the disturbing question, "What if the bread and wine change, and we don't?", a question which renders theological arguments over the modality of the magnum mysterium meaningless. 

Collaborating in the divine work of transformation means surrendering, means sharing, means gently embracing the freedom of others and committing ourselves to discovering together a common path to God's reign. We know that the path is Christ, who is the road, the truth, and freedom. Christ exposed the truth of the cross, of surrender, as the path to God, who is love, the creative fullness of freedom in self-emptying. The Eucharist, with Christ as the main agent uniting all of us in his eternal act of self-emptying adoration of the Father, exposes our world of counterfeits, violence, and greed for what it is, and introduces in us who have been seduced by its empty promises a redemptive dissonance, awakening us to the truth of who we are. Claimed for Christ in baptism and branded with the cross, we are summoned in our gathering to rehearse, however timidly, the right relationships of God's dominion, to hear the Word of truth, and to break the bread and share the cup of freedom. Thus we are taught to walk with the poor and wretched, to be roused by the word that wakens us to the often invisible structures of injustice and domination, and to start living now, in this world, in the blessed bounty and peaceable solidarity of the the living God.

Here's what we're singing at St. Anne this week:
GATHERING:   I Am the Bread of Life (Toolan, octavo version)
RESP. PSALM:   Psalm 34: Taste and See (Cooney)
KID PSALM: Haugen – O Taste and See
PREP RITE:   We Are Many Parts (Haugen)
FRACTION:   St Aidan (A)
COMMUNION:   I Myself Am the Bread of Life (Cooney, blog post here)
SENDING FORTH:   A Place at the Table Lori True