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What is it?

Gathering of the Manna
The Gathering of the Manna

The scripture reading read most on Sunday was 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?”! 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.” Whatsit?!

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 is it – 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.

image source Musée de la Chartreuse

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11 Responses to What is it?

  1. The first three seem to all be getting that the same thing – what is the meaning of what we do at this table?

    I am uncomfortable with memorial-alone because the reading seems to say “Yes, God did provide Manna back in the good ‘ole days; but I am the bread of life that feeds you now.”

  2. Talofa Bosco!

    I enjoyed this post very much, especially the first part regarding “whatisit”. Reminds me very much of the Samoan word for canned corned beef… “pisupo” named after the canned pea soup first brought to the islands — all canned food became pisupo for a while, and the name stuck to the beef, even today – where it has become a staple in the diet over here. Enjoy some whatisit? and pisupo today! Thanks for a delightful blog! Alofa from Samoa….

  3. Bosco with your permission I’ll print this one as a handout for a group I’m taking on retreat to Kopua this coming weekend. A variety of faith traditions who may find it really helpful.

    • If people put the link to this site on a print-out, I’m very happy for it to be useful and pleased it is, Liz. God bless your retreat, and please pass my greetings on to the community. Blessings.

  4. ‘Different individuals and denominations may focus on or stress one of these models.’

    models is a good word, whether the topic is medicine, religion, psychology, philosophy, science…

    I’ve been challenged on the last one, that science has absolutes. My response is that in fundamentals maybe, v= dr / dt, etc, but much of it is my taking someone else’s word for it: I don’t know how to build a carbon-dating machine, for example! I have to take it on faith when an expert says ‘this is 6 billion years old’!

    When someone else tells me, as many Christians believe here, ‘the earth is only 6000 years old’ I assume they have chosen not to believe in the scientific model ( and suggest they don’t take up a career in geology… )

    ‘This is the model I accept’ or ‘this is the model which fits closest what I choose to believe’ isn’t liturgy but it could be.

    Manna is thought to be the honeydew-secretions of scale insects http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wax_scale.jpg
    What is it indeed!

  5. Thank you, Bosco.

    The penny has finally dropped…we can hold in balance all four modes of presence at our Eucharists and even see them reflected in the carefully crafted language used to keep the various views together in ‘the unity of spirit in the bond of peace’.

    I was once taken by receptionism…a flashpoint concept of presence with a purpose. It seems to focus meaningfully on the actual eating and drinking process which is central to each communicants’ experience of the Holy Supper of the Lord.

  6. Receptionism or transubstantiation…or all the other interpretations…it’s an individual ‘relationship’ with the spirit of love and creation of our universe, be called, go where you are called, but be loving, as Jesus called!

    I personally today choose to believe in ‘pious silence about technicalities’ like the oldest churches. Got that from former US Christian evangelist Frank Schaeffer. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life missing the sacred point in insoluble debate!

    No wonder you are such an amazing theologian ( and rounded human example to so many who will never meet you face to face, and no doubt to those lucky few who interact with you daily ) Bosco…you have looked deeply in at ‘the round world’s imagined corners…’

    • Tracy, you make me blush. I’m an ordinary guy with a bit of an off-the-wall kind of humour. It would be cool, I’m sure to meet you face to face. Those I’ve met in the real world after time online with them, after a few minutes it’s like I’ve known them for so long. Like you – I have little energy for the debates. Blessings.

  7. Bosco thanks again for permission to use this. Kopua was wonderful as always and your exposition really helpful as I had a wide variety of denominational backgrounds amongst those on retreat.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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