“Impending death and mutual solidarity make the Eucharist cost.”
– Kenneth Stevenson, Accept This Offering
These words reminded me of a book a friend told me about. It is called Torture and the Eucharist, by William Cavanagh. In it, he discusses how the celebration of the Eucharist responded to a serious human rights problem of that time in Chile, which was torture by the military. He draws from this study the conclusion that the Eucharist is what not only kept communities together, but galvanized them towards a response to this crisis. For in the celebration of the Eucharist, my friend suggests, it is the way by which the suffering of Christ which we commemorate becomes real in the lives of families and friends of torture victims.
I would say that this is a very good example of what I mean when the celebration of the Eucharist is meant to be a deeply political act. In asserting that Christ suffers when his body does—a suffering recalled in the passion, death, and resurrection, the Church declares that ultimately anything the world does to harm it will in the end fail. Nevertheless, we as the Church do undergo oppression by the forces of the world, by the forces of Empire. And our solidarity with everyone around the world who takes the name Christian is manifest in the celebration of the Eucharist, a celebration which is not only for us and for now, but also a timeless one.
We celebrate the Eucharist in the power of the Spirit. When the disciples received the gift of the Spirit fifty days after Jesus Christ rose from the dead, they received power to proclaim that ultimately, all things are God’s. They would gather the strength to face persecution, to speak truth to power, and to witness with their lives the reality of God’s impending-yet-present Kingdom.
Maybe if we do take our liturgies seriously, we could recapture the power of the Eucharist as our political response, to compromise ourselves politically by saying that our real kingdom is not this world’s, but God’s.