Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Eat me, drink me

This coming Thursday (the Thursday after Trinity Sunday) is Corpus Christi, a Day of Thanksgiving for Holy Communion. Recently a friend wrote asking me why as Christians we are told to ‘eat the body’ and ‘drink the blood’ of Jesus when we take Communion. I offered some thoughts, and, as they may be of interest to others, I thought I’d lightly edit them and share them wider. They come, as I said to my friend, with the caveat that they will likely raise more questions than they answer!

In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, the blood of an animal, such as a lamb, represents its vitality; and bringing the animal to God was a symbolic way of bringing our vitality to God. Of saying, ‘this (blood) represents my intention to live for God’.

By the way, it does not have anything to do with dealing with sin. That was the scapegoat, an animal on which the high priest placed his hands, confessed the sins of the people, and sent the animal out—alive—into the wilderness.

Now, the Last Supper is a re-imagining of the Passover meal. The Passover pre-dates the codified sacrificial system, but not the understanding on which it is based, about blood = vitality and vitality = desire to live for God, in covenant relationship (as we see in personal sacrifices offered prior to the codified system).

The people had been in slavery to a system behind which was a pantheon of gods in rebellion to the one creator God (Yahweh), whose ultimate agenda was the destruction of humanity, made in God’s image. For example, it is elohim—gods, created beings, some of whom are loyal to Yahweh (we often call these ‘angels’) and some of whom are rebellious—who decide to destroy the earth in the Great Flood, and Yahweh who acts to save Noah. It is elohim who tell Abram to sacrifice Isaac, and Yahweh who prevents it. This is essentially airbrushed out of translation because of an evolution of thought, through monolatry to ‘pure’ monotheism, through seeing Yahweh as so utterly different to the gods that they come to be viewed as having no genuine agency; but in fact, they do have agency (just as humans do). I did warn you this would raise questions...

In the lead-up to the Passover/Exodus, Yahweh has been in a series of confrontations with the gods of Egypt, defeating them again and again in order to free his people. Ultimately the only god left standing is the god of death, the dog-headed god we know by his later Greco-Egyptian name, Anubis. And yet, Pharaoh has consistently chosen to stand against God—he is dead-set to back his own elohim—and in the end, God gives us what we choose. That is free will. In the final plague, Yahweh demonstrates sovereignty over the Egyptian gods (including over the structure of primogeniture, and the claim that Pharaoh embodied Horus in life and Osiris in death) utterly defeating Anubis, so that the dog cannot even growl at any of the Israelites, human or animal, (Exodus 11:7) and providing a way out for those who accept it. He tells his people to share a meal, to strengthen them (physically and socially) for the journey ahead, and to daub the blood on the door posts and lintel. Vitality. The physical sign that they are choosing to live their life for God.

So, what has this to do with Jesus? Jesus says, to paraphrase, I replace the lamb as the sign that you are bringing your lives to God and choosing to live for him. My blood. My vitality, as a representative of your vitality. And my body, to strengthen you. Eat, and go. (Death is about to be humiliated, again.)

At the Last Supper, Jesus says his blood is shed for the remission of sins. Remission is a better translation than forgiveness (and so here the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is better than that of Common Worship). He is not saying his blood gives us God’s forgiveness, but that his blood—his vitality—not only symbolises our desire to live for God but sets us free from slavery to sin. That’s the exodus moment within the wider covenantal backdrop; the rescue to which God, as covenant partner, is bound.

Jesus does deal with our (collective) sin, of course; but by being the scapegoat who is removed outside the city wall, not by being the lamb who was slain. This is another aspect of the salvation won through his obedience, a salvation for which we have to resort to ‘thick’ symbolism to speak of, as it is beyond the scope of other forms of expression: it is messy, and graphic, and epic in scale, and catches us up in the drama.


Old Testament lectionary reading for Morning Prayer today: 2 Chronicles 28.

This is a stunning chapter, the sorry record of the reign of king Ahaz in Jerusalem. Ahaz so fully rejects Yahweh as his god and covenant partner that Yahweh hands him over to the gods of the surrounding nations, who looked to overwhelm Jerusalem. Even then, Ahaz looks to enter into contract with the gods who have defeated him, rather than return to Yahweh and be rescued.

Yahweh also hands Judah, the territory over which Ahaz reigned, to northern neighbour Israel. Israel and Judah are sisters, both in covenant with Yahweh, both at times faithful and unfaithful (and Israel on the whole even more unfaithful than Judah). Israel inflicts a heavy defeat upon Judah, and carries off both captives and plunder.

But then something significant happens. Wise voices speak out against this course of action, identify it as going too far—as being guilty of the very lack of restraint by which Ahaz has shown himself to be such a bad ruler. And these voices are listened to. The captives are freed, and taken part of the way home, to a city of shelter, an oasis; those left naked, clothed from the plunder; and those left weak, carried on donkeys.

Restraint is a virtue in short supply today; as are compassion, and restitution for those who have suffered injustice. All too easily, we find ourselves, in our moment of triumph, to be the ones who have been carried away, captive to some destructive power.

Monday, June 17, 2019

On time

There are two kinds of time.

There is chronos, or chronological time, we measure in hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, millennia, ages...

and there is kairos time, we experience as having the time of our life, or as going through a particularly tough time.

The Church year is divided into Seasonal time and Ordinary time.

The Seasonal half—itself separated into the Christmas Cycle (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany) and the Easter Cycle (Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost)—relates to kairos.

The rest of the year—a small interlude between the Christmas and Easter Cycles, and the long weeks between the Easter and Christmas Cycles—relates to chronos. That is why we call it Ordinary, as in ordinal numbers: the first, second, third, fourth, fifth etc. etc. weeks.

We’ve just gone back into Ordinary time. Which isn’t to say that we don’t experience kairos joy and sorrow, but, rather, that we learn to pay attention to time passing.

Elijah gave me a little book of Greta Thunberg’s speeches for Fathers Day yesterday. Which is a great way to begin Ordinary time.

Wake up! We are running out of time to fundamentally change the way we collectively live...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Of clothes and a spirituality of clothing

A big favour:

On Sunday 30th June one of the set readings is 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14. It is the story of Elijah being taken from the earth in a heavenly chariot of fire; and of Elisha, who was like a son to him, inheriting his cloak. It was a piece of clothing heavily invested with identity and memory and legacy. As certain items of clothing so often are.

I wonder whether anyone would be brave enough to tell me your stories of the experience of:

going through the wardrobe of a parent, spouse, or child who has died;


wearing an item of role-related clothing that has been passed down to you by someone else (or a line of others) who have worn it before you;


of buying your clothes predominantly from a second-hand store;


of a time when a change of clothing empowered you to step more confidently into a new chapter of your life.

I might be interested in sharing those stories with others, with your permission, and in anonymised form if you would prefer.

You can direct message me if you would be willing to respond.

Thank you.