Christian history has grown increasingly divided and conflicted, flesh-hating, body-despising, woman-fearing, sexually neurotic, and earth ravaging – the litany of consequences of our failure to truly eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Humanity is too long and too tragic to bear at times.
[We have attempted to solve the mysteries of Christ] as a rational problem. And the effect of all this left-brained rationalising is to sever the Eucharist from its roots, from the ground in which it is nourished, to drive it higher and higher into a latter-day scholastic cloud. And that is where Eucharist, and for that matter the whole of the Christian gospel, has gotten lost – a critical factor in the widespread disillusion with institution-based faith. Like the disciples in Luke’s picturesque account of the Ascension, we are gazing upward, into the skies, looking in the wrong place. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
I too have assumed that Spirit comes down into matter, after the fashion of the metaphor of the annunciation to Mary, to name just one of many such images. And if Spirit comes down, much as a person of high social status might condescend to visit underlings, it was inevitable that I would assume that the goal of religious life is elevation, ascent, an upwards movement, a rising higher and higher. And many scriptural texts seem to support this strictly one-way traffic in religious intercourse between the human and the Divine. Indeed, even John’s text paradoxically contains this strange little aside which has probably inspired much Christian flesh-hating: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”
Likewise, many of the church’s prayers, doctrines, rituals, and pious writings lend support to this rocket-ship spiritualising. And the inflating effect of all this is actually devastating, so I have finally recognised. And how I wish that I could undo some of the worst of its consequences in my own life! In fact, flesh is the vital element! Not up-high-in-the-clouds Spirit, but down on the ground flesh! Now I see that at precisely those moments when I have been ‘spiritual’, up high, flesh has invaded. For this is the necessary compensation for an inflated, one-sided, excessively spiritual religion. When our feet are off the ground it is flesh which will save us from ourselves, flesh which will make us whole and complete. This must be why Jesus says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us.
And that is precisely the gift and the mystery and the scandal of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We are offered salvation from our one-sidedness, by the eruption of flesh. And not merely the flesh of a 2000 year old historical legend, somehow preserved through memorialising and high piety. The communion Jesus undergoes with himself, eating his own flesh and blood at the last supper, as Saint John Chrysostom observed in the fourth century, is the communion which all humans are invited to undergo. Those who eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Humanity, which is all humanity, will indeed have eternal life 5 – because one-sided and excessive spirit is made whole through the medium of humbling and grounding flesh. In the Eucharist what each of us must eat is not a 2000 year old memorial – as the Book of Common Prayer tragically enshrines – but that part of our own despised fleshiness which we have excluded and rejected.
Extract from “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?“, Fr. David Moore, St Lukes in the City, 23 Aug 2009