Give: A Spirituality of the Eucharist in Four Parts

(This is the fourth and final post in a four-part series.  To see my intro from Part 1 about my inspiration for this series, click here.)

Give

As I was reflecting on this final action of giving, I realized something I’d not noticed before.  In each of the three Gospel accounts where the Last Supper is described in very similar detail, (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23) one thing is not made clear to me…did Jesus take the bread and wine and give it all to his disciples, or did he keep some bread and wine for himself, too?    It wouldn’t matter that much, of course, if these actions of his at the Last Supper weren’t, for me, so closely tied to his actions throughout his life.

Now I am left wondering here, how do I interpret this act of giving in the Last Supper?  Is it an act of total giving?  Or is it his final act of sharing (where he gives others nourishment, but also takes some nourishment for himself) before finally giving it all on the Cross?

Here I have only questions.

Theologians everywhere are probably rolling their eyes because there is a common knowledge among them to which this housewife is not privy.  No matter.  In my readings right now, I do not know for sure.  Still, even in my not knowing, I find meaning in my closing this four-part blog series with more questions.  Doing so best illustrates, I think, a final and frustrating point for Christians everywhere regarding the life of Jesus and all his actions:  an invitation into God’s Mystery.  Because in our world of instant money, instant streaming and instant access, sitting with questions and allowing a mystery to unravel can leave one feeling highly unsatisfied and uncomfortable.  After all, this is America, for crying out loud!  We need answers!

My best example of the gift of asking questions and waiting for answers, though, is Jesus himself.  In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus asks far more questions than he answers;  and what answers he does give generally come in the form of parables or similes  (“The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44) which are, in their own special way an invitation into further Mystery.

Indeed, the more time I spend with Jesus in the Gospels, he is almost never about giving answers. He is instead always about drawing us deeper.

Deeper into ourselves.

Deeper into God.

Joining the part of ourselves that is spirit, to the part of God that is human.

For me, it is where “deep calls to deep.” (Psalm 42:7)

But, regardless of whether Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper were of total giving or of sharing (lest we forget that John skips over the details of the meal itself entirely and reminds us that Jesus’ final act was to kneel down and serve  [John 13:1-20]) what we can see in Jesus is that he does leave us with one final shocking example of just how far we have to go before we may fully understand what it means to give.  It was only days after sharing (or giving away?) bread and wine with the apostles in the Last Supper, that he showed us what giving of ourselves—fully– really looks like as he allowed his arms to be hammered open on the Cross.

And so it is these four actions in the Last Supper:  take, bless, break and give, that I try to be open to every time I celebrate the Eucharist.

Like life itself, it is a process.

Like life itself, I do not do it well most of the time.

But also, like life itself, thankfully, I have Jesus to lead me through it and draw me in to the Deep.

And on this final day in the week of Thanksgiving, one thing of which I am certain is this:  whether we are offering gratitude, sharing our lives with others, or giving ourselves up in an act of service or love to our fellow-man, our actions echo those of our Lord in his final hours.

And that is reason enough for us all to give thanks.

Advertisements

Take: A Spirituality of the Eucharist in Four Parts

A few years ago, I was studying the history of the eucharist for a presentation I was going to give to my adult faith formation group.  As I prepared for my presentation, I was forever changed by the words of Tad Guzie in The Book of Sacramental Basics when he said:

“Most people, when they are asked what are the eucharistic  symbols, will answer ‘Bread and wine.’  (What answer did you just give?) That is the answer that medieval theology gave.  Bread and wine are the matter of the sacrament, the words of institution are the form.  But the original eucharistic symbols are actions, not things.  The original eucharistic symbols are breaking the bread and sharing the cup.” 

This got me thinking about the four actions of Jesus during the Last Supper when he took, blessed, broke, and gave bread and wine to the apostles.  (Matthew 26: 26)

Since eucharist is a word deriving from Greek that is generally translated as “thanksgiving,” and since here in America we will be celebrating a national day of Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to spend some time looking at how some of our most difficult moments can be celebrated, through Jesus’ example, as an offering of “thanksgiving.”

As we head into our Thanksgiving holiday, I will touch each day on one of these actions of Jesus, and what they might mean for us as we prepare ourselves to “give thanks.”

Take

I have read a few reflections by others on how we can interpret Jesus’ directive to his apostles when he said, “Take it;  this is my body” (Mark 14:22, NIV)  For instance, Henry Nouwen interprets “take ” as “choose”1 and Ronald Rolheiser and Joyce Rupp interpret “take” as “receive;”2 but,  to me, what Jesus is saying here is “accept it.”  And the “it” that we are to accept?  Well, I believe is whatever life we’ve been given.  For instance, in my life, when I follow Jesus’ directive to “take it” it means I am accepting that in this moment I am a white, middle-aged, middle class, female American wife, mother and housewife who also blogs and writes.  Some of these things could change.  Some of these things cannot.  But the only way to truly “give thanks” for the life I’ve been given, is to accept my life (in this moment and in all future moments) for what it is in each moment.

One of the best ways to do that is to follow God’s example through the life of Jesus and apply his experiences to my own.  As a result, through Jesus’ example, I know that the human journey is one that contains moments of deep love (John 13:1) , and great joy (Luke 2:10), where some of us will be fortunate to see –and even participate—in miracles (John 4:48).  (Try telling any mother that the experience of childbirth isn’t a miracle. I’ve given birth three times!)  The human experience is one in which I will also know wonder (Mark 9:15) , blessings (Mark 5:34) , and friendship beyond measure  (Mark 2:1-5).  Accepting the life I’ve been given, however, means I cannot deny—because Jesus certainly didn’t–that part of the human experience will also involve temptation (Matthew 4: 1-11), suffering (Matthew 26: 37-38) , agony (Luke 22:42-44) and death (Luke 23:46).  It will likely include experiencing what it means to be misunderstood and misjudged and unappreciated, too (Matthew 27:27-31), but it will also include resurrection (Luke 24:5-6).  From this vantage point– this “big picture” view–  it is easier to see that every part of our life, both the so-called “good” and the so-called “bad,” is God’s gift to us.

It is ALL gift, or, as Richard Rohr says, “Everything belongs.”

Accept it.

“Take it,” urges Jesus.

And give thanks.

1.  Life of the Beloved, by Henri J.M. Nouwen

2.  Our One Great Act of Fidelity, by Ronald Rolheiser and The Cup of our Life, by Joyce Rupp.

Impossibly Grateful

One of the down sides of having something you perceive to be “impossible” happen for you at a young age,  is that it becomes pretty easy to believe that “impossible” things will become possible for you just because you write them down and want them to happen.

I think for years I believed (still do sometimes, when I forget that I know better) if I just wanted something enough, willed it into my life, it would happen.  Then, when those things did happen, not knowing any better, I’d call it “karma” or “dumb luck” or a “blessing.”  And as long as life continued on, more or less as I planned for myself, than it was easy for me to continue believing that way.

The problem came, though, when suddenly life was not going according to my plan.  People I loved died for no reason, friends turned on me, distance came between me and the ones I loved.  What was I to make of my “dumb luck”, then?  Was this what I’d willed for myself somehow?  And, if so, how could I will it away?

Very often, for most of us, it is in these more desperate hours that we turn to  God.  What do I have to lose?,  we reason.  And so we try our hand at prayer.  We hope that the Being we are praying to somehow picks up on our invisible “smoke signals” of desperation and makes things right for us.  But until then, we have to live with the unknown.  Which can feel a lot like suffering.

But then eventually, somehow, in a way we can’t explain, things do get better for us.  Easier somehow.  Is it time that has healed our hurts?  we wonder.  Is it maturity?  Wisdom?  We don’t really know, but life is suddenly good again, so we do not question.  We simply pick up the pieces and move on.  Hoping for the best, once again.  Perhaps a little more cautious now, but moving forward all the same.

And that’s a shame.

Not that we move forward, or that we remain hopeful, but that we Do. Not. Question.

On a spiritual level, if we do not begin to question our own thinking at some point, especially when life is “good,” then it becomes really easy to say that either God does not matter at all because he has no part in anything we do, or contrarily, that when we make “good” choices God “rewards” us for them, and when we make “bad” God  “punishes” us for those.

Because I’d been brought up a “believer,” I never really considered not “believing. ”  Instead, my belief system for years was more that of  “reward and punishment.” I was especially mindful of it in college and my early adult years.  I’d go to church to “earn God’s favor,” and I’d find life looking up for me.  Then I’d get cocky or bored or self-righteous, stop going to church for a while (which for me was virtually the only time I would pray), and eventually find myself struggling again.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that this makes God moody and vindictive.  A God who wants for us what is good, only when we ourselves have earned that goodness.  A God who then punishes us unless and until we can figure out where we went wrong.  This is very often the God we are introduced to as children in nearly any Old Testament story:  God creates the world and it is good.  Woman (and man) makes a wrong choice, therefore they are punished.  They begin to make better choices,  life gets better.  The world they populate continues to make bad choices,  so God sends a flood to wipe the earth clean.  It goes on and on.

Hopefully all of us at some point, reach a time in our lives when we are forced  to ask, Is this really the God I believe in?  One who gets great joy out of watching me walk through a minefield of missteps and explosions only applauding me when I’ve avoided the mine?   And if we don’t ask different questions, force ourselves to see a bigger picture–ask God to show us a bigger picture– we can all too easily think this is how we are meant to live.  As if God is some sort of Master Programmer who insists on making us guess the rules of  the game.  The problem here is that, if we don’t question Who it is we believe in, we might easily end up believing in a God whose love we must earn, and we forget entirely about the God who from the very beginning “looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen 1:31)

For me, it wasn’t until I  became a parent myself that I finally began to ask the bigger questions.   Suddenly, I had to take into account what I would teach my children about God.  And I had to take into account how I felt about my children, and weigh that against what I believed God felt about me — one of His children.  This helped me grow a bit and see that while, yes, I do punish my children from time to time for making bad choices, I also –most of the time, in fact–am simply content to let them be, discover, learn and grow on their own.  They do not have to earn my love.  Ever.  Because, as the famous movie line goes, “They had me at hello.”  And if I, in my fallen human state, can feel this kind of love for my children, I reasoned, then how much greater must God’s love be for me?  For us all?

The  journey becomes easier then, when we change to that mindset.  Suddenly, from this perspective we realize that the question is not “What did I do to deserve this suffering?,” but rather, “Have I ever done anything to deserve any part of my life–good or the bad?”

And the seed of gratitude is planted.

Gratitude is often the “cure” for just about anything that ails us.  In a state of gratitude, I am reminded that nothing is promised me.  Not wealth.  Not fortune.  Not fame.  Not motherhood.  Not marriage.  Not success.  Not recognition.  Not power.  Not wisdom. Not even My. Next. Breath.

It’s all a gift.  Freely given.

From the vantage point of gratitude, I can see that while I’m disappointed because I’m not getting what I want right now, at the same time, I can see all the things I’ve been given up until now that I also didn’t deserve.

For me this makes God a much more lovable Being.  A Being worth believing in. Someone with whom I really wouldn’t mind spending all of eternity.

That is the pilgrim’s journey that I am celebrating this holiday.

It is the best and only way I know to honestly “give thanks.”