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I am the bread of life

Mafa Emmaus

The Gospel reading that will be read most this coming Sunday is John 6:24-35: “… Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’…”

The Hebrew word manna (מָ‏ן) means “What is it?”! Whatsit?!

Exodus 16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”

Exodus 16:33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of whatsit in it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept throughout your generations.”

It is a good invitation to consider the Eucharist. What is it?

Like light, modelled as waves and particles, there are different models for what it is – the Eucharist.

Transubstantiation

This goes back to the philosophy of Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE), distinguishing substance and accidents. A chair may consist of four legs, three legs; be made of plastic, wood, metal; be coloured blue, black, brown – these are the “accidents” of a chair, not the “chairness” (substance) of the chair.

God, being God, can change the substance of something so that the accidents remain the same. It has all the attributes (accidents) of bread, but the substance is Christ.

Whilst the philosophical categories of substances and accidents may no longer be advocated by many, “transubstantiation” is now more regularly used as a way of indicating belief in the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist” (as if, the alternative would be, Christ is present everywhere except in the bread and wine of communion – a “Real Absence”).

Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ’s body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ’s living sacrificial blood
to redeem the world.
You are truth…

(New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa NZPBHKMA page 541)

Consubstantiation

It is both bread and Christ.

We break this bread to share in the body of Christ… NZPBHKMA p 425

Transignification

We take some cloth, stitch it to some other cloth… it is a flag we are willing to die for; get teary-eyed about at the Olympics…
We take some gold, form it into a ring…
We take some paper, print something on it; now, for many, it becomes their highest value – money.
We alter the significance of something. Its significance to us.

“Send your Holy Spirit that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive may be to us the body and blood of Christ…” NZPBHKMA p 423

Memorialism

What is important is what happens in our minds – not what we receive in our mouths.

“Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.” (BCP)

*****

Different individuals and denominations may focus on or stress one of these models. Like models for light (what is it?) both particles and waves point to the mysterious reality – each model has some truth to teach us.

Queen Elizabeth I said it well:

Twas God the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it;
And what the word did make it;
That I believe, and take it.

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4 Responses to I am the bread of life

  1. I would either say Memorialism differently or add a category, Receptionism. I understand the latter to mean that the important transformation is the transformation of we who receive the body and blood of Christ. This is more than what happens in our minds. This is about the ongoing transformation of ourselves into the likeness of Christ, fed and nurtured as it is by the body and blood. Receiving the bread and the wine by faith is decisive for this transformation, including the bread and the wine becoming for us the body and blood of Christ. What ‘happens’ to the bread and wine is of no interest on this understanding, what happens to us is vital.

    • Thanks, Peter, for the very helpful addition of Receptionism. I think the more-mental-gymnastics approach focusing on the mental “remember” is better with its own heading. I also think there is a lot more work (as with all of the categories) when Receptionism would speak of “we who receive the body and blood of Christ” when there is no such real reception. Could the same spiritual feeding happen if it was not bread and wine we were receiving by faith? These challenging questions might lie underneath the abandonment by some (many?) Receptionists of the bread and wine, replacing them with other objects so that not only what ‘happens’ to the bread and wine is of no interest, but that they be bread and wine is of no interest either? The flip side is really important IMO. If only the bread and wine are transformed, and we are not, then the purpose of the Eucharist is lost. Blessings.

  2. Bosco, as I read this post I kept thinking “both /and” rather than “either / or”. I think it is both fascinating and beautiful that our liturgical prayer speaks multiple layers of meaning into our ritual action.

    Our parish is using a eucharistic liturgy from Iona during this summer season. From the Eucharistic Prayer, after the words of institution:
    “… And as this bread and wine which we eat and drink are changed into us, may we be changed into You; flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, loving and caring in the world.” Receptionism? Yes, but un-enhanced by the labeling, I think.

    Lou Poulain
    Sunnyvale CA

    • I think we are on the same page in our personal approach, Lou. I treat the consecrated bread and wine with great reverence; and it’s also significantly about changing/transforming us; and about treating each other with great reverence; and about treating all God’s creation with great reverence; and as we treat the consecrated bread and wine with great reverence that is part of what changes us in the manner described… Blessings.

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