At least every Sunday I preside at the Eucharist. In my younger days I used to be very precious about the theology of this rite: how Christ is present, how it is sacrificial, etc. I was a staunch defender of seeing how my identity both as a Christian and as a priest was tied up in this rite.
I say I was. Nowadays, I think (with all due respect to my ordained colleagues, many of whom will disagree strongly with me I think), that such questions are both missing the point and also a clever circular argument for preserving the power and position of the priest – the alchemist who takes the base elements of bread and wine and transmutes them into the gold of Christ’s very body and blood. If only the priest can do this, power, prestige and authority is assured. And who says this is so? The theologians, who are largely the priests of the church. Very circular. Protectionist. A closed shop.
As this struck me some years back, I became cynical about the whole thing. It was a zen monk who reawakened my love of the sacrament. A man with no Christian baggage was able to look deeply and reveal to me what I now hold as my truth.
It is not some quasi-magical rite with a priest as alchemist. It is, instead, a revelation, a moment of awakening to how things really are in themselves.
For in the taking of bread and wine are we not dealing with life in all its ordinariness? Nothing special, as my Zen friend might say. In the offering of the blessing, is it not uniting that ordinariness with transcendence, the transfiguration that reveals ordinary life to be the utterance, the Word, of the Divine? Is not the breaking open an epiphany that the nature of Divinity is that of living kindness that carries complete courage and the vow to save all beings, the bodhisattva path my monk might suggest? Is not the sharing the moment that reveals this very life is our life, that our ultimate ground of being is in all – that, to extend Jesus’ metaphor, that we and the Father are One? And the one who takes, blesses, breaks, shares, is the one who invites us all to look deeply, with insight and deep love, not because he or she has the power, but because the communion reveals an ultimate truth – all are one. No separation. No illusion of separate selves. The Inviter is Nothing Special.
The sacrament is not a parlour trick. It is not the power game of clerics. It is not a magical incantation to turn lead to gold. It is the ultimate revelation of ourselves, who we are at our core, of the nature and character of divinity itself. If outward signs are the means, the inward grace is not something that suddenly becomes: it already is. It is. Is.
It is an ultimate moment of mindful insight, of satori, of awakening, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear: in this rite we are indeed what we eat. The Divine presence is revealed in bread broken and wine outpoured. Now do we bring OUR presence to the table and recognise the call to allow that life of Christ to be revealed in us?