Eucharist as sign and practice

In my last post several tension where pointed out b/w the political and the cultic reading of Jesus in the Gospels. The first is that each doesn’t need the other to make sense. The second is that the political makes Jesus a repeatable model while the cultic makes Jesus a non-repeatable, “once and for all” representative/substitute. The third is that the political places Jesus within established practices while the cultic makes Jesus the founder of those practices. But as I said, Milbank argues that these tensions only occur when we look at the political/cultic, with attending Christologies and Atonement theories, separated from ecclesiology which in a sense arrives with Jesus, not after.

Now the tension we should focus on in relation to the Eucharist is the one b/w Jesus as either the repeatable example, or the “once and for all” substitute. For either we enter into the practice of Jesus, repeating and extending his politics of forgiveness/atonement, accomplishing the work Jesus began (which is the liberal perspective), or we affirm the finality of Jesus’ atonement, a “once and for all” act of substitution to which we can add nothing, and therefore cannot repeat (the conservative perspective).

Milbank’s proposal simultaneously affirms both perpsective, noting that the Eucharist also affirms both. To begin with the “once and for all” nature of Jesus’ atonement slides into the realm of language. As Milbank says, Jesus is our “substitute”, “representative” on the cross precisely b/c “he becomes totally a sign,… transformed into a perfect metaphor of forgiveness. Only because of Thursday’s symbolic act of kenosis into a world of signs without power, is Jesus able on Friday to activate this sign in his body…This means that metaphors of atonement–‘ransom’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘victory’–are not to be taken realistically, as approximations to an ‘atonement in itself’, an invisible eternal transction happening between God and humanity. Instead, these metaphors represent the actual happening of atonement as a meaning in language.” So, in this linguistic perpsective, in the Eucharist we are exchanging the ‘sign’ of Jesus body which stands in for us as the “once and for all” substitute for us (and signs in language are meant to substitute/represent what is not immediately present). This is Milbank’s reconfiguration of the cultic.

But in relation to the political he says, “If Jesus’ death is efficacious, not just as the offering of an enabling sign, but also as a meterial reality, then this is because it is the inauguration of the ‘political’ practice of forgiveness…This practice (of forgiveness) is itself continuing atonement.” And if this is right, then “it follows that for atonement to be materilly efficacious it cannot be “once and for all”, like the sign or metaphor of atonement, but must be continuously renewed.” From this he concludes that the Church is both the “transmission of the signs of atonement, and the repetition of the atoning practices.”

And to bring be to where I wanted to go with this, Milbank says the Eucharist is both of these aspects at once. In the Eucharist we are exchanging the sign of Christ body and blood which signifies the accomplished act of atonement on our behalf. The cultic sacrifice has been accomplished. But also, in the elements which represent the Body of Chirst, we find ourselves represented as his Body the Church, not separate from him, and therefore enter into his work of atonement, repeating it weekly (or monthly) hoping to find the strength to repeat his work of forgiveness at every moment. (in a sense we are offering ourselves as sacrifices throught the elements, this is Augustine’s view which I mentioned in the Three Bodies post.) For only through our repetition of Jesus atonement can that atonement becomes a material reality here and now.

So in summary (well, all this has been summary, and a not too cojent one) in the Eucharist we appropriate the “once and for all” nature of Jesus’ atonement through exchanging the sign of his Body and Blood, and we enter into his repeatable example through his Body and Blood.

While Milbank’s presentation might not be convincing at all points, his linguistic approach to the Eucharist is very interesting, as well as his linking of the cultic and political. (but i’m not sure i’ve address some of the question for the last post, sorry.) Later I’ll reflect on the practical significance for all this, how it relates to people in my congregation. what do you all think?

political/cultic Jesus and the Eucharist

this post accomplanies my “three bodies of Christ” as I’m exploring my sacramental theology (w/ echos back to the worship/community/individual discussion). This will be in two parts: the first an outline of tensions; the second the Eucharistic resolution.

When we come to the gospels two reading of jesus emerge, the political and the cultic. And when taking the cultic route we generally presuppose Christological and Atonement doctrines. When coming from these two perspectives several tensions emerge.First, the political (his teachings/practice) doesn’t need the cultic (sacrificial death); and the cultic (bloody atonement) doesn’t really to be supplemented by the political. Second, the political reading makes Jesus an example, a model, a repeatable figure who we follow (continuity); but the cultic reading makes Jesus the represetative, substitute, non-repeatable second Adam (discontinuity). Third, the political reading see Jesus as entering into established practices of love, justice, and forgiveness such that he is merely an instantiation of the universal standard; while the cultic reading sees Jesus as the founder, establisher of these practices of love, justice, forgivenss. But these tensions only occur when we look at the political/cultic, with attending Christologies and Atonement theories, separated from ecclesiology.

In his essay “The Name of Jesus” (in The Word Made Strange), which I have been summarizing above, John Milbank seeks to move beyond a merely political (liberal) and cultic (conservative) reading of the gospels, while still upholding the a type of high Chistology and Atonement. His basic premise is that “Christological and Atonement doctrines…are theoretically secondary to definitions of the character of the new universal community or Church.” These doctrines are the end of an argument concerning the nature of the church, and what happen through Jesus.

He says, “The gospels can be read, not as the story of Jesus, but as the story of the (re)foundation of a new city, a new kind of human community,” and we must therefore make an ecclesiological deduction of the incarnation and the atonment. In a sense, Jesus arrives with the Church. Jesus is presented as the founder (beginning) and the culmination (end) of the new community. He is both the seed and the tree; the foundation and the temple; the cornerstone and the capstone; the head and the body.

When we focus on Milbank’s ecclesial deduction of the atonement we can see how he links together the politic and cultic and how it bears on our understanding of the Eucharist. As we will see, the Cross and the Eucharist represent and inaugarate both a new meaning in language (the passing of signs) and a new political practices.

but enough for today. sorry its so heady.

easter break

I’ll be taking a break from blogging from now ’til Easter. but then I’ll have some more thoughts about sacraments from John Milbank…whoever he is?

peace be with you. geoff

"Three Phases of Spiritual Formation."

last monday a group i’m part of called up/rooted had Brian McLaren in to talk about the “three phases of spiritual formation.” This is my summary of the gathering (which was initially posted here)

Brian McLaren, of Emergent, started of his presentation with two clarifications. 1) The term “spiritual formation” is a Catholic, or non-evangelical, way of saying the “Great Commission.” The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, but too often evangelicals make converts without any spiritual depth. So the practices and phases of spiritual formation is a means toward fulfilling this commission. 2) We can’t let the idea of “spiritual formation” turn into pietism, or a cultivation of our own individual soul, neglecting the world we live. We need to balance the inner life of contemplation (viva contempletiva) with the our outer life of action (viva active). So Brian says we must have a spiritual formation for global transformation; or, aim at global transformation through spiritual formation.

From here Brian outlines what he sees as the three phases of spiritual formation (gathering material from both the Western [Catholic/Protestant] and Eastern [Orthodox] traditions of Christianity).

The first is the phase called “viva purgativa” (or “catharsis” in the East). This is the stage of revulsion and expulsion. It is a time of purging our lives from sin, temptation, distraction. The Torah (Old Testament Law) teaches revulsion through its prohibitions. And the act of confession is a type of expulsion where we name our sin, and then separate ourselves from it; “That was me, but not now!!” is what confession says.

The second phase is called “viva illuminative” (or “photosis” in the East). This is the state of light, illumination. In this time we are allowing the light of joy and truth into our hearts and minds. This happens through scripture, prayer, meditation, and creation.

The last phases is called “theosis.” This is conceived as entering into the divine life of God. As an iron in the fire begins to glow brightly, as if the fire were inside it also, so too we can receive the divine life of God such that it lives with in us. Some might call this a mystical experience of God; and others would just call it sanctification.

Brian reminded us that we must keep in mind that these phases are not a linear progression (once we are done the first we will never go back), but better understood as seasons of life which we entering rhythmically (repeating yet with variation).

Then we entered into a time of Q&A with Brian, kicking around these ideas. and we can continue here also.

my question for us is, can a theology of theosis fit with our typical understanding of atonement. I think not. I think we need to retool both the protestant understanding of “atonement” an the Orthodox understanding of “theosis”. what do you all think?

this is a test

of the emergency rss station. i’m currently trying to fix my rss feed b/c my former generator went under and I don’t to code. if anyone has suggestions please let me know what to do.

the three bodies of Christ

the three bodies of Christ: or reflections on the Eucharist; or my may toward sacramental theology.

In Explorations in Theology: the Word Made Flesh, von Balthasar makes this great connection between the historical body of Christ, and the Mystical body of Christ. These two (historical, mystical) are connected via the sacramental body of Christ through scripture and Eucharist. as he says, “to make it plain that the historical and the mystical body are not two disparate things but are a unity in the strict sense, there exist two means to effect incorporation, two means which bring about the transition from the first to the second bodily form: the eucharist and scripture.” And this linking is accomplished through the work of the Spirit of Christ. In a sense the sacramental body of Christ is all we ever really know, it is reality b/c only in scripture can we meet the portrayal of th “historical” body (not to be confused with the literal physical body which we have not access to–except perhaps iconographically, which is still of portrayal); and only in the Eucharist we meet the “mystical” body which constitues the Body of Christ. And all this is rich in temporal (linking future w/ past), liturgical (worship and sacrifice), communal (unity and peace) aspects.

To focus on the liturgical and communal (worship/community) Augustine primarily sees the Eucharist as a participation in the “unity” of Christ and the “scarifice” of Christ. In Augustine’s hermeneutic whenever he see the physical body of Christ mentioned, he immediately bring to mind the mystical body of the Church. So if Christ is Sacrificed, so to the Church is sacrificed. Therefore, the celebration of Eucharist is an act of sacrifice/offering by the Church to God in worship, just as Jesus offered himself. Also, Augustine sees the Eucharist as the ultimate location of peace and unity. As he says, just as many grains of wheat make one loaf, so too do many loafs (i.e. many communion loaves) make one Loaf (the Body of Christ, the Church). As he says in his Easter Eucharistic service, “Be what you see; recieve what you are.” Be unified as this loaf is; recieve this loaf as you only possibility for unity.

shifting back to the three bodies, there is not a progression from one to the other for they are all linked simultaneouly, or even retroactively. Just as on the road to Emmaus the two disciples did not recognize the physical body of Jesus until he broke the bread of communion (the symbol preceeding the reality), so to we can not enter into knowledge of Jesus outside of the practice of Communion. Logic may proceed from historical to sacramental to mystical; but experience is the reverse. (I think Jen make this point clear a month back when she was talking about pnuemetology).

So, all this to say, that Communion/Eucharist holds a very important place in my theology and practice as the sight of entering into the Story of Redeption. In a time when many are trying to be “participatory”, “interactive”, and full of “multimedia” I can’t help but think that God gave us all the participation we needed in the Eucharist. And when people are talking about interracial dialogue, gender reconciliation, and a general peaceful co-existence, I can’t help but think that God gave us the means to accomplish it in the his Body.

new rss feed

not very exciting or profound, but here is my new rss feed b/c blogmatrix went under. so copy it into you reader, or get one at bloglines.

I’ve been spending my time fixing my blog and running a gathering called up/rooted with met with Brian McLaren last monday. I’m still recovering. but tomorrow I plan on jumping into the “three bodies of Jesus” as my introduction to the Eucharist.

oppressive communities

oppressive communities: two questions are raise: from urbanarmy, isn’t freedom and meaning found in the Missio Dei? (and we all would love to here how you answer this). and from anglobaptist, what are the boundaries/distinctions of the community? And my initial question concerning “oppressive communities”. I’ll start from this last question and then work back through the other two.

First off, What do we mean by oppressive? I would contented that from one perspective, God’s realationship is the most oppressive in history. A strange, distinct God, gathers a people to Himself, give them the divine Law by which to live by, threatens them with exile if they don’t live by, and then does send Israel into exile. “What a one-side, totalitarian, relationship of oppression and injustice,” said the Enlightened Modern Individual, primarily concerned with individual rights and freedom, scorning anything that might limit the individual will. But within the context of God’s salvific story, this community of Israel is seeing at liberating. So we need to be careful how we judge oppression. (more could be said, but real oppression is not the limiting of individual liberties, but class/gender/racial structural injustice).

So, from a modernist perspective of community as the “gathering of individuals” the oppression question is raise very early, and frequently (in terms of worship style, expression, dress codes, gifts of the spirit, or bare legalism). So, let’s get beyond this.

If we begin with community, then might the natural question be, “how do we define this community? what are its boundaries and distinction?” and of course we must ask this. (see joe myers Search to belong on all this. it’s great.) I could through out a couple: baptism and eucharist for certian define, limit, and initiate into the Church. I wouldn’t go right to the Reformers “wherever the Word is rightly preached”, but would rather say, “wherever Christ is followed” and by this I mean the practices of repentance/forgiveness/reconciliation, healing, liberating oppression, loving the marginal, etc. These practise for me really define the Church as distinct from the world. But notice that these are free acts of love/grace, giving concrete meaning to our lives and the community’s.

Which brings us to missio dei…when our lives are “oppressively” ordered around the Mission of God, to save the world, to bring reconciliation, and LIFE, as it is particularly revealed in Jesus, we become free. In a sense, when we pursuing God’s purposes we are free to do whatever we want.

again there is so much more that could be said about the missio dei, the community of the Kingdom, and how, or if we should, and what kind of distinctions/boundaries of the Church. also, more could be said of the oppressiveness of Jesus (who said, “pick up you cross and follow me!”), but that can wait. I feel like this wasn’t very helpful…i think i need to narrow what i’m talking about next time…