Wednesday, March 12, 2014
eucharist and the rabbi
Rabbi Derek Leman provided St. Andrews with a day of lectures for our annual Lenten Retreat on Sunday. The church hall was full as he discussed the topic of the divine Messiah. Much of what he had to say is similar to what I have taught, so in a sense it was confirmation for me. And such confirmation is very important for one who does not get much feedback on his theological insights and perspective. It was doubly helpful as Derek is a Jew and does not embrace my catholic faith. In Bible exegesis there is a principle that when something is confirmed by different sources it is more likely to be accurate.
His presence among us is always a great blessing because he is a wonderful teacher and faithful disciple of Jesus. Afterward, I was privileged to join him at dinner and several hours of conversation. We both learned a bit about one another.
One topic we discussed heavily was eucharist. Some of us were raised catholic and eucharist is the center of catholic worship (and perhaps identity). We believe it is Jesus' body and blood. Others relegate this eucharist to a secondary (maybe tertiary?) level. It is not seen as vital at all. At St. Andrews we celebrate eucharist at all our weekend worship services, as well as Wednesday morning and Thursday mid-day. Derek said their practice is generally monthly and it occurs after a communal meal. Others shared their Methodist understanding or low-church Evangelical. I do not need to spell out the differences, but merely point out that Christians have a wide range of eucharistic practices and theologies. And some are in direct contradiction of others. So, it does not take long for the question to rise, "how central is eucharist?"
In the minds of some (probably the vast majority of Christians) it is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus. Others say it is a reminder for them, they think about Jesus (remembrance in the weak and typical sense). Some sort of bridge the gap saying that the remembrance (arguably the Biblical sense is this strong sense, of RE-membering, i.e., bringing together some things which have been dispersed) is a spiritual encounter with Jesus. My atheist critic no doubt would say it is a silly waste of time, reminding us of someone long dead on a cross, and providing us with a reality-denying escape.
Because my Lenten focus is seeking Jesus I think this question matters. Assuming that arguments for God's existence are sufficient to prove it is not stupid or silly to believe in God and further assuming that the resurrection appearances are grounds for believing the Biblical God/Father is the true God whom Jesus has revealed, then the next question is how best do we encounter Him?
I think eucharist is "more than a feeling" (reminds me of Boston and the 70's). Others don't. I think I am encountering Someone who is there (in and through). Calling that "real presence" or "spiritual presence", literal or spiritual, does little to progress the discussion. What is an ontological change vs. a spiritual change. If it is only a change in me does that imply Christian communion is a miracle in the believer (it becomes Jesus' body "for" me in faith) or that faith is purely subjective, actually a friendly from of schizophrenia (nothing really happens we just think it does, but it is our reality). If Jesus is present, is it bad so many pass on the opportunity. If He isn't, is it bad that so very, very many reverence the bread and claim He is present?
In the end, God must judge. I am aware that many pass on the blessings I enjoy. SO be it. I no doubt pass on things which they may think are central. In the end, it is about relationship with Jesus and we must embrace the venues which He provides. I am not sure what "spiritually present" means, nor are the people who use the term. Of course, "sacramental" is no less mysterious. Which reminds me, many in the early church simply used that term "mysteries" to describe the eucharist (as in "the sacred mysteries").
What matters most is seeking Jesus (in faith, love and obedience). Catholics, Evangelicals and Messianic Jews do not agree on all the details. There is food for thought there. God seems willing to let people make mistakes in faith. My task is to seek Jesus. Eucharist is a central place of encounter. If you fail to accept that or believe it I will allow the Judge to determine what that means. I cannot. I want you to show me similar latitude. In the meantime we can all pray together, "Jesus, bread of life, feed us and save us."