Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Vicissitude of Insides and Outsides

Let’s talk about viscous things. You know what that is? It’s when something is thick and sticky. The more viscous, the more it sticks. If something gets really viscous, it’ll stick hard and never come off.

Let’s talk about viscousness as we talk about transubstantiation.

Do I believe in transubstantiation? I don’t know. What I do believe in is viscousness.

I don’t know whether the Eucharist transubstantiates. I’m agnostic on that. But I can tell you that, if the Eucharist is just a symbol, it’s not very viscous. If Eucharist is just a symbol, then all we need to say is “I believe” and we’re saved. You buy into the symbol and you’re a part of the group; you’ve claimed your membership and now you can hold that symbol up high as you group-chant around it.

That’s not very viscous. It doesn’t stick to you very much.

Okay, well, what if the Eucharist transubstantiates? Now its outward accidents look like bread and wine, but don’t let that fool you! The inward essence is actually the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Well, okay. If you say so. I get that Basil the Great told new converts that it couldn’t look like Christ’s body and blood because then we Christians would be cannibals. And that is frowned upon in most cultures.

But that’s still not very viscous. I get that, if we feed on Christ, he nourishes us and that by saying that bread and wine is actually Christ, we can consume him and be nourished by him in a physical as well as a spiritual way. But that’s still not good enough for me. That still doesn’t stick to me.

So what is viscous? Let me tell you, it is Christ’s guts.

“Wait… eww… that’s gross. You can’t talk about the Incarnation that way!”

Why not? If you open someone up to take a look at their organs, will they not bleed? If you go poking around in there, or put your hands into their blood, will that not stick to you?

If you cut out a piece of that person, couldn’t you take them anywhere? And if you were to eat that piece, would that person not nourish you?

“But that’s not what we’re doing with the Eucharist.”

Why not? You said that the Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood. And, as we have seen, pieces of a person’s body and gallons of their blood is not a topic for the faint of heart. But grant me that, if you put your hand there, in the hole in his side, he would stick to you. A part of Christ would be viscous enough to stick to you. But you are right, it is disgusting. It’s revolting. But aren’t we supposed to be revolted?

When you look at any depiction or image of what Christ really would have looked like on the cross, should it not cause you pain? To see God, born as a young girl’s son, raised into a man, recognized as something divine and there he is; hanging on a Roman cross, nailed there by human hands.

That forehead, now covered in blood, held low under a crown made of thorns.
Those hands, God’s hands, and we put the iron nails through them.
Those legs that walked across the desert, now can hardly hold the weight of the man on top of them.
And that skin, once healthy and smooth, now is torn to ribbons by a scourge and cut open by a spear.

Why shouldn’t we be revolted?

When we go to that cross, Christ’s body and blood is viscous enough that it will stick to us and we will take it away with us.

And here you are, telling me that this clean little wafer and this clear cup of wine are Christ’s body and blood?

I will believe that if you will believe me that, as each of us take this, we reach into Christ’s stomach and pull out a little bit of him.

Have you ever, accidentally, eaten a bite from a gluten-free loaf of bread? If you’re not ready for it, it might make you sick. The texture of it on your tongue is not crisp like a wafer. It’s like clumpy putty. You’re not quite sure whether to chew and swallow it, if you weren’t ready for it to get into your mouth. I did that once. I thought I may have actually taken a bite of a person.

But the things is that both sides are true. Look at those wafers. They are crisp and clean. They are simple, resplendent, magnificent.

They’re set in opposition to what I told you, about blood and guts; the sticky stuff from a person that will get on you and you’re never quite sure whether it’s all gone.

But when we break bread for the Eucharist, we see both. Christ is both. At the Last supper, he sat calmly with his friends, making prayers, passing food. They were clean and clothed. When Christ is on the cross, he is bloody. He screams to heaven, demanding from God knowledge of divine presence. He is tortured and naked.

When we break bread for Eucharist, we see both the inside and outside. The outsides are clean, like the crust of a newly baked loaf of bread. But the insides are viscous, like Jesus, they are the picture of human suffering. We are revolted.

But the divine presence in Christ is real. And as Christ died for us, as Christ offered up himself for us, these gifts are for us Christ’s body and blood to sustain us and unify us to himself.

Do I believe in transubstantiation? I don’t know. But I believe everything I just told you. You make your decision.