[this is a wildly meandering meditation on the Eucharist, so brace yourself]
When [Jesus] wanted fully to explain what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal. — N.T. Wright
Tomorrow we will continue to contemplate the aftermath of Pentecost as we celebrate the Mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Last week’s Trinity Sunday was a liturgical proclamation of who God, fully revealed in Jesus and His Spirit, is. Tomorrow, though, we are confronted by God’s unimaginable invitation to masticate and swallow the Flesh and Blood of the slain and risen Son of God. Invited to ingest the One in whose resurrected body creation has passed over (been trans-substantiated) into an entirely new order of existence, i.e. the new creation.
Yes, the One who says, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
The Eucharist is the divine invitation to participate even now in this new order of existence by consuming bread and wine that have, by God’s re-creating power, been “made new” in the new creation. Transubstantiation is neither a bizarre logic puzzle, “it’s bread and not bread,” nor mystic chemistry, nor an imperceptible magic trick. It is a re-creative act of the same Redeeming God who raised the lacerated corpse of Jesus to a new and immortal bodily life. Jesus’ disorienting resurrection appearances reveal a Eucharistic logic, displaying both a radical continuity and a radical discontinuity between the old and the new creations. The fact that He is not recognized by His closest friends until He makes Himself known shows that His risen body has become something of a sacramental sign that requires faith’s interpretation, as it now signifies, contains and communicates something absolutely new.
The transubstantiated bread and wine, having been assumed into Jesus’ risen mode of existence, “behave” like the Jesus’ risen body appearing during the 40 days. Already wholly defined by the law and order of the new creation — transubstantiated — they remain accessible, under the form of mystery, to us who live within the first creation.
In the liturgical celebration of the Holy Mass, the material elements of bread and wine pass over from this world to the Next as a transfiguring extension of the power of the Resurrection into our time and space. In the words of 1 Cor. 5:17, “the old has passed away (archaia parēlthen); see, everything has become new!” In the Eucharist, this is true here and now as the Spirit of Jesus changes the substance of this world, presented as a sacrificial offering, into the substance of “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) that has arisen from the risen Jesus.
In this sense, the Eucharist is future glory crashing back into the present in order, is a reverb of the Resurrection’s Big Bang bathing the cosmos in lux aeterna, “eternal light.”
In the words of an Orthodox hymn, you “taste the Fountain of Immortality” when you eat and drink the “new wine” (Matt. 26:29) of the Kingdom. That’s utterly breathtaking. But what is even more amazing to me is when I consider that this wildly destabilizing dynamism we call transubstantiation (better a verb than a noun) was planted in me, in seed form, at Baptism (cf. Rom. 6-11; 2 Cor. 5:17).
The implication? The transformation wrought in bread and wine is meant to happen in me as well, as I become a new creation, drawn by the Spirit to be progressively sanctified, consecrated and empowered to join St. Paul’s crazed audacity: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). The relics of the saints are material remnants of the wedding of heaven and earth that has been consummated.
The Eucharist exists not primarily to be adored as an object of veneration, but to be eaten and drunk by the Bride who longs to become one flesh and one spirit with her Bridegroom.
A last thought. The new creation is made of love, so how fitting it is that the Son of God chose to fuse His own self-sacrificial love for us with food and drink. Bread and wine are transformed beneath the force of the re-creative words of the God-Man as He inaugurates the second Genesis…. and God said,
Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
The Eucharist is a stunning sign that the transubstantiation of this world into a new creation comes to pass under the form of sacrificial love. When humanity co-labors with God in feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, in being merciful, creation reaches its completion in being ‘divinized.’ Formed by the logic of Eucharist, we boldly profess that God is food and drink, which is simply a more concrete way of saying, “God is love.”
We say in the Creed that Father and Son are “consubstantial,” as the infinite divine substance of each Person wholly belongs to (an for) the other. That is the dynamism of love, the vocation of humanity.
Which all makes sense of why feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty — deeds of mercy — are the criteria for entrance into the life of the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 25:31-46; cf. 1 Jn. 3:17).
At a baptism I attended, the priest said to a deeply divided family, “If you do not plan to love each other, stay away from this water [pointing to the baptismal font] and do not eat from this table [pointing to the altar]. In these we partake of a Kingdom where love is the final word.”
I now gladly allow Annie Dillard the last word:
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.