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.

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