The Pentecost Essay – Second Part

When Christians celebrate the Eucharist, they compromise themselves politically.

Last time I introduced two quotes from Jean Jacques von Allmen on the question of liturgy as a response to the postmodern condition of sovereignty. I then proposed that it is indeed in the celebration of the Eucharist, as von Allmen suggests, that a radical Christian response is possible. In proclaiming the death, resurrection, and coming glory of Christ, and in acclaiming that to God belongs the ultimacy of sovereignty, Christians can claim that Empire, whatever it is, is not the final power over their lives.

Interestingly enough, in Simon Chan’s work, these two passages book-end his description of the early Christians and their response to a much earlier empire. It was in the gathering of the early church, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, that they found the strength to overcome the oppression and persecution of the powers of that age. Becoming a Christian was a dangerous thing. It meant, among others, the real possibility of being outcast. In some cases, it meant outright death.

But the Christians of that age knew then that this was not the real point of their existence. Only with their faith in Christ, which they celebrated in the Eucharist and lived in their world, would the world be overcome. Nevertheless, they knew that the Eucharist, the body of Christ offering itself, implied something real and costly.

Kenneth Stevenson, a British liturgical theologian who has had a large degree of influence on my views on this subject, suggests that it is in the remembering of the Christ-event, in the act of offering, and the act of responding on the part of the Christian, that the Eucharist is indeed a sacrifice. His views, expressed in a thin little book called The Eucharist as Sacrifice Today (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991; available from Claretian Publications), suggest that it is possible to overcome the controversies between Christians on the question of the Eucharist as sacrifice, and it is necessary.

The reason? The Eucharist has become all too common for Christians. He would say that having a Eucharist has become as common as having a cup of tea. It loses much of its power not only to reassure or comfort Christians but also to hurt them. Yes, you read me right. If the Eucharist is indeed the Church, the body of Christ, celebrating a sacrifice whose reality is indeed timeless (and hence the argument on repetitiveness does not matter), it celebrates the equally timeless reality that the Christian is called to live a Christ-like life. It may be joyful, but, in the words of one of my favorite philosophy professors, “it hurts.”

So we may go in peace to love and serve the Lord, and we may leave with a bit of reassurance that things will go well, but in the Eucharist, and in the world outside, we are drawn to the reality that the Christian message will be an unwelcome one. More importantly, the Christian message, far from being accommodating to the world, demands that the world be re-imagined according to Christian terms. What these terms are, I am afraid, cannot be reduced to a political ideology, but the most I can say is that ultimately death has no power, and that the world does not define our total reality.

I will next time talk about a contemporary example, related to me by Fr. Joe Mock.

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