The eucharist asks us hard questions. It asks if our contemporary Church passes on the word of God to the world, or if withholds that word and leaves the world hungry. If the Church does not pass on what it has received, the world will fill itself up with substitutes, and the Church will gather only a poor harvest. Given the wrong diet, the world overeats, and there is a corresponding shortage being suffered by others outside its view. The Word of God is a form of medicine, that makes a sweet and a bitter drink. This paper then discusses what we mean by saying the Lamb has been sacrificed, and asks in what sense we do, and what sense we do not, eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. It relates the presence of Jesus to the action of Jesus. In a final section I discuss some of these conceptual moves, and show how relating ontology to action allows the sacrament to judge our political relationships. The eucharist is intrinsically a semiotics and an epistemology, and it is these precisely because it is a doctrine about God who feeds and judges us, so the concept of sacrament does not need an further set arguments in justification of religious language..
1. Consuming and being consumed
Modernity, that is the way we live now, is a eucharist. It is a poor eucharist, a meal that does not satisfy, or should not satisfy. And since this poor eucharist does not point to the true eucharist, indeed conceals that there is any other eucharist than itself, we may say that it is an anti-eucharist. Before we demonstrate this, we will experiment a little with an anthropology of man the consumer.
Could it be that human being is a process of non-stop consumption? We consume one and use one another up. We take hold of one another and bite in. Can we even for a moment stop taking hold of everything that passes and cramming it into our mouths? Far from being independent and autonomous beings, each of us has attached himself to others and does not intend to release them. Each of us has to be wrested out of the panicked grip of the others. It is not merely that I have sunk my fingers into you, and that God has to prise you out of my grasp, and when he has do so all will be well again. It is not that this is merely mistaken behaviour, or the neurotic behaviour of a drowning man. The question is whether I am anything other than this behaviour. I may be nothing more than the grip I have on you. I am afraid that, if God extracts you from my grip, no ‘me’ is left. I am fighting for life. I cannot live without consuming, and I am not in any position to be too scrupulous about what I consume or even, distant consequences of my action included, whom I consume.
This ontology of taking and being taken, consuming and being consumed, allow us to ask a hard question. Are we living at one another’s cost? Do we in some strong sense live off one another? In the gospel of Mark (12.40) it is said of the political regime and its apologists that they devour widows’ houses. The letter of James makes the accusation that we consume one another by slander. By bad-mouthing and running one another down, we make one another poor. We fail to render an account of one another that will allow for the redeeming action of God. Since one action of the mouth is very like another, eating describes this effect of destructive talk. Micah has a stronger version. ‘You tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones… eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin…chop them up…like flesh for the pot.’ We may protest that we are doing no such thing. But the poor are being attacked, and we are doing nothing about it. Our accuser holds our inaction to be culpable. First the charge is that we have not fed the poor: we have not given them the material resources by which they can prosper. Then we have not provided them with the justice or protection that would enable them to hold on to their own material resources. The lack of justice and protection mean that they are exposed to forces that rob them of material resource. But Micah’s accusation is not that we have done nothing to help, but that we are complicit in the process in which the poor are stripped and chopped up. We not only do not feed the hungry, but we live off them, in effect feed off them.
But we do also feed one another. The marketing and advertising people feed us. They feed us images of the good life, and we consume them. We enjoy the hospitality of the corporations and eat from every table they spread before us. Each of the images on the screen, and the goods in the store, represents their offer to us. Every corporation promises that, when we take the product they offer, we will more nearly resemble those flawless and contented people who appear in their publicity material. The corporations do not claim to teach us or improve us. They suggest that we are already too perfect for that. They ask only that we allow them to assist us be the independent people we already are. They humbly suggest that they can make our way a little easier. They want to keep some of the demands of the importunate world away from us, to spare us the effort of replying to all the demands on our attention, and so save us time.
A series of perfect offerings and flawless bodies is presented to us. The advertisers and media people come to us bearing gifts and sacrifices. We reach out and take what we are offered. Each service we condescend to accept intends to relieve us of the strain of making our way against all others. Each of these services gives an impression of authenticity and reserve, but all together they keep us disconnected from our real responsibility, and from our joint work of shaping human sociality. Together these offerings prevent us from achieving self-control. When we take them we do not stay in charge with our mind clear, but surrender a little of ourselves. We accept their sacrifice, and thereby sacrifice to them something of our own autonomy. Each offering introduces what it claims to be an easier way of being in the world. It does so by pointing to the simple steps we can take to ensure ourselves greater security, convenience and peace of mind. The people of Jesus Christ are promised the opposite. We might therefore call all these other claims, rival gospels.
As each of us also works for some corporation, in our working hours we make the same claim to those we intend to make our customers. We intend to attract them to the spread we lay out, and draw them into the sphere of our hospitality. We intend that, by coming to our table, they will bring to it more than they consume. Though we claim to wish simply to serve them, we intend to make them our dependents. We have a means of extracting something more valuable from them than they from us. We promise our customers greater autonomy, but we do what we can to ensure that, as regard their relationship with us at least, that this is not the case. Each of us is subject of his own gospel, but conceal it in a message about facilitating the autonomy of the customer. By our offer to serve their autonomy we intend to make them serve our autonomy: we want to hold on them, and have to concede them some hold on us.
We moderns are determined to remain in control. We will not be told what to do. We do not believe we are under any discipline, or believe that we require any. The regime of modernity does not admit to being a regime at all, and denies that it places any constraints on us. It constructs and compels a certain form of life, and renders all other forms of life less plausible, but it does not admit to doing this. It wishes to stay unaccountable, so does not freely concede any account of itself. It offers many descriptions of the lifestyles we may choose, but these are all aliases behind which the regime itself stays anonymous. It does not concede that there is anything other than itself that we can appeal to. If the teachers of modernity set out any explicit teaching it would be possible to challenge them. But they deny that they are making any positive claims, and so deny that they are teachers, much less leaders. But by persuading me that I might make life less difficult for myself, might look after myself better, have more fun, rise above the crowd, they insinuate that I must continuously assert my autonomy over all others. They suggest that all others can only be an obstacle to my own real selfhood. They do not state, but they do believe, that it is me versus the world, that I must not accept any public shaping. Only they can be my assistant in this. The more I ingest of their message about my own autonomy, the more I am utterly their dependent.
Christians have to say that moderns are under discipline, many forms of discipline, which are both their own and alien. When moderns insist that they are not under such disciplines, the Christians have to name some of them for them. Moderns are ruled, not by those who teach and lead explicitly and accountably, by those who exemplify and direct without admitting it or taking responsibility. The leaders and teachers of modernity, though themselves publicity-shy, teach and lead us by the medium of publicity. They provide models of their teaching, which are simply publicised, displayed before us. They surround us, or rather, we surround ourselves, with images which display the life we wish for ourselves. Our public square is filled by images of the life of the flawless human being. The beautiful youthful figures who appear on advertising hoardings exemplify and personify the desirable life. Moderns do not explicitly teach what they intend us to learn, but they put it on display before us. Nonetheless, inasmuch as he represents what is to be desired, the figure portrayed in the advertisement is implicitly instructing how we have to look. The model is our criterion of perfection, and she exhibits what we have to be. This model is the lamb presented to us, flawless and without blemish. She is lifted above us and shown to us, the personification of human being of modernity. She is this year’s sacrifice: another will be required next year. The unexpressed minor premise is that she can help to make me flawless. She is acceptable: I am acceptable only to the degree that I correspond to her and participate in her. What is significant is not how many explicitly believe her promise, but the long term impact of her image on all our behaviour. It is trivial whether we buy the product, but not that we are oriented toward this representation of what it is to be a human. We are all believers in these marketplace cults because our expectations are shaped by the constant public revision of the criteria of it is to be an acceptable human being. We are knowing fools, who take these representations ironically, but are formed by them nonetheless. This display of this flawlessness effects to leach away all my contentment. Those behind this display intend to create a dependence in me, which of course neither model nor hidden persuader will satisfy or take responsibility for. My eyes consume her, and through her I am consumed by those who put her there before me. They put her on a plate for my benefit. Acceptance of her will put me on their plate.
If our public places were dominated by one image, it would be clear that we are under some sort of regime. Since they are not, it is for the Christians, those with the only effective anti-idolatry defence system, to make the public argument that we are dominated by one discipline and regime. Let’s call this ‘modernity’. Of course modernity does not appear to be dominating or to be a regime, because it is not identifiable with a single figure. A torrent of joyful and liberating faces and forms is on display. It is the job of the Christians, who have been warned not to sup with idols, who know they cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too, to ask whether the many faces of happiness on the hoardings really are many or really just One, one single regime. It is all down to the Christians to say that the many hypostases of Youth displayed in the advertisement are the many prosopoi of that callous authoritarian, Modernity, whose devotees we are. They must say that they all represent this one, and that this one is an opponent of God and therefore the opponent of man. Our self-dedication to this figure has massive costs. But these are not borne by us. They are borne by those populations we disenfranchise and make invisible to ourselves. These are those the bible names the poor.
The Church is given the Word of God to pass on to the world. It is given those words of encouragement and warning to communicate to those that need them, respectively the poor and the rich. It is given responsibility for passing on the name of their Saviour to those that need him. The modern Church however does not pass on what it has been given. It is unwilling to interrupt the general agreement that the consumer cannot be questioned, that he can only ever be confirmed in his self-belief. By holding in the Word it was given for the world, the modern Church has made itself ill. It will remain ill until it can bring itself to declare that the consumer is wrong, and clearly say that his bad diet has unhealthy consequences both for him and for everyone else. The modern Church is watching the consumer on a binge, made drunk by everything he has downed, but the Church has been made drunk by the fumes and even that timid spectator is reeling.
The Church has not served the world with any of the bitter but medicinal bread it needs. The Church has been unable to pronounce the word ‘No’ to the world. It has never made the accusation of idolatry. It does not understand that the confession of the one God is made against the sin and self-harm of the society that has, by imbibing conflicting teachings and disciplines, has halted the process of its own formation. Though the modern disciplines are not all intrinsically noxious they make conflicting prescriptions. The Church has been unable to tell the world that it has been giving itself away to all unaccountable imperatives. It has not spoken up for the world against these, or pointed out how each unchallenged imperative has become a god, with the result that we now we are in their grip. Rather the modern Church has accepted all modern imperatives without a query. It has failed to reject anything as inedible but grazed indiscriminately on everything that passes. The modern Church accepts every accusation levelled against the Christian tradition, every sociological dismissal of theological claims. It is taken by surprise by every cheap re-issue of the old pagan imperatives, and without discrimination regards them as binding on itself. It is drunk on all the messages of modernity. The Church is reeling, and holds on to the tyrant individual of secular society in order to stay upright. Its mind no longer clear, the Church does not know what is happening to it. But more than that, there is no sobering up. Intoxication left too long untreated has become toxic shock and permanent damage. The modern Church that has not confessed the mind of Christ, cannot tell itself apart from the world, so it has nothing to tell the world, which has very acutely realised this. The charge made by God against the world, but not passed on to it, has fallen on the Church.
We have eaten and drunk to the destruction of others. We have eaten and internalised food we have not paid an adequate price for, made by workers we cannot acknowledge. We have not given them the recognition we owe them. We failed to sustain the political institutions by which we could award them this recognition. It is not merely that we eat food and wear clothing manufactured by workers we do not know. It is rather that we remove the institutions by which they could find out who we are and make us responsible and accountable to them. We are covered by workers who are themselves left without cover. What we wear is what we have taken from them with insufficient recompense. Our own financial security testifies against us. We have harvested only the wealth and health from the people. We have not gathered the people themselves in, have not brought them into the feast and given them their rest. We have extracted from them their work, and thrown them away as though they were the husk. We have lived on earth in comfort and self-indulgence. The wealth we lavish on our own built environment is witness to what we have failed to pay our workers. ‘The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord God almighty.’ We have been stripping them, but if their cries reach God it will mean a stripping for us. With this diet of ours we are ingesting too much bitterness; the misery of the unpaid will come home to us. What is outstanding is unpayable. We shouldn’t touch this food without urgently asking God to pay them what we have not paid them. They still have recourse to the highest court of appeal. ‘They cried out in a loud voice ‘How long Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’’ They are asking for what we owe them. How long before the Lord will hear them?
2. The unwelcome cup
It is the work of the Church to exercise the generosity of God. Job describes his exercise of this generosity. He says ‘I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.’ This is how the Church must serve and feed people. It must snatch people out of the teeth of those who consume them. It is to teach them how to pray by teaching them what name to use. It must intercede for them, and give them the whole message of God, putting the words of God into their mouth, and teaching them to intercede for themselves. The Church has not passed on the insight by which people might learn and grow. It has allowed them to remain trapped in the infantilism pedalled by the hidden persuaders. It has not spoken out clearly to these persuader, who are themselves poor, and who cannot themselves take responsibility, because they have themselves received no better image of the human being. The job of the Church is to call to account all the hidden persuaders and bring them out of their hiding. It must point out how they make fools of people, sell them dishonest accounts of the good life which leave them unprepared for the morning after, and without recourse, baffled and helpless. The Church has not gathered and protected the poor, or taught them how to use that name. It has allowed what God has sowed to be reaped by others and so the harvest has been lost. The Church has been complicit in this consumption of the poor; it has given up to the world the little ones who belong to God and the world has eaten them up. This is not merely a matter of economic exploitation, but a failure to offer protection against all the idolatries of the marketplace, individually diverse and inconsequential, but together totalitarian and demonic. The Church cannot talk about poverty without insisting that the criterion of wealth is the much higher definition of man set out by the Christian rather than any other gospel. This gospel is given to the Church to distribute, and to the extent that it has not done so, it is complicit in the process of making people destitute and helpless. The Church has fed the world pap, and it has condoned those others who feed it an even worse pap. It has held back the good wine and the unadulterated wholemeal for so long it cannot remember where it put them. Now what the Church fed the world is being fed back to it, along with all the consequences of this malnourishment. The Church has been commanded to bring the people in and feed them, not leave them out there vulnerable to the predations of all other harvesters. ‘Look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest.’ But the harvest so far has been poor.
Could it be that we have eaten and drunk to the destruction of our own health too? The Church has not waited and fasted. It has feasted too early. It has not passed on the warning about a cup of wrath. It has not heard the words ‘Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel,’ nor has it heard what will happen if it does not do this. The watchman who does not warn his people will be held to account for their loss. The Church has concealed from the world the anger of God, and has inherited that anger for itself. What we have eaten has made us ill. Perhaps that is why the modern Church is weak and sick, or fallen asleep. The Church has taught only that the sacraments are the comforting presence of Jesus, and never that they are the anger and absence of Jesus. Jesus is not here; he has gone; our eucharists are empty. We have made too many meaningless offerings. Better would to fast and repent. The Church can teach its people how to say No, and how to avoid seizing and swallowing everything that appears in the market. Such hopeful action would indicate that the rule of the unaccountable persuaders is not permanent. It would enable the gospel to appear again in public places to help the poor and hopeless discriminate between all the half-truths of the marketplace, and so save some of the gullible from being consumed. We have withheld this bread and this news from those who needed it, with the result that the Lord has withheld it from us. He has cut our diet down to nothing. Still the modern Church has not noticed that it is hungry. There is no teaching in the Church, but we have no longer have the acuity of perception by which we could tell. ‘God is against the shepherds…He will remove them from tending the flock so the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. He will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.’ We made the flock of God drunk and now God has made us drunk on the same cup. The shepherds who let Israel be devoured will be devoured themselves. It is not just that we have consumed one another. God has confirmed that this action is the truth about us.
The powerful consume the poor. But God protects the poor from the powerful. The Western Church has been mixing it with the powers of the world, has even prostituted for them. Still it still wants to lower thresholds, produce a blander gospel, another sugary drink, another message of reassurance among a world of messages of reassurance. The modern Church hopes that the world will concede that it has earned its place or right to be heard, and that it will then listen to that other message about the cross and contradiction. But the Church can never earn the respect of the world, or be spared its sneering. The world has no united mind that could give it, but many minds. Only the Church that feeds it the gospel can give the world back its own proper mind.
The regimes of the Western world promise cover and security. But they provide only a partial cover. Those it does not include we must call the poor. The poor have no friends or protectors. No one stands surety for their debt. They must pay their own account but they will never be able to pay it off. All they can do is shake their fist, at us, and ask God how long he intends us to get away with this. These nations cannot but rage, and their rage will become the rage of God against us. To the rest of the world, outside the protection we provide, the Christians don’t look like Christians, but just like Westerners. To us it has been said that ‘If you defile the Land it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations who were before you.’ The enemies – death and sin – God has sent against us. He has set them on us. Only he can call them off. We set ourselves against God until he declared that he was indeed against us. Now God is our enemy. Our enemies therefore are only doing the work of God against us.It is our own God who has bitten into us. He has dragged us from the path. He has torn us to pieces. He has sent these enemies. They are him, at work against us. God has seized the act of man to make it the act of God, to turn the ‘human’ act of opposing God into God’s act of coming to man. The Lord is inflicting on us an anti-eucharist, in which we are on the menu. ‘Come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you… you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk.’ The West is to be served up. It will be served as it has served others, and the Western Church will be the drink.
So far I have related the eucharistic bread and wine to the processes of consuming and being consumed. Now to relate these processes to the event of the cross. The cross is our consuming and being consumed. The cross of Jesus is ‘the cup of the wrath of the nations.’ It is the event promised: ‘I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood as with wine.’ We are made ill by the warning we have not passed. ‘Wake up Jerusalem. You have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.’Then this cup of the anger of God works as a cup of salvation and healing. The cross is our being swallowed by the totality of our death-causing action, and this death then being swallowed by God. The resurrection is the event in which the earth vomits up the first of her dead, the one she could not keep down. Only this one can get this all violence down and keep it down. The God of Israel asks ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ And then he set to work. He trod ‘the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.’ He judges all the nations on every side. ‘Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.’ We are this harvest: we will be cut down, but not gathered in.
So far I have suggested that we feed one another rubbish, and that we all eat all the rubbish we are fed. And I have suggested that we don’t feed one another: we allow many to go without food or other resource, without recognition or voice, and we don’t feed them the name by which they can most efficiently appeal against us. We don’t pass on the name God has given by which he can be appealed to intervene and bring redress.
3. The medicinal Word
The Word of God is the word of the cross. This Word is the sacrament and purgative that drains all these foreign words and alien impositions out of the Church. He removes all the worldly forms of security from the Church and irradiates it directly with the cross, the concentration of all conflict. He passes back to us all our behaviour in the form of one single cup, as unpleasant as dialysis or chemo. To drink this is to swallow the bitterness of our own defeat. The Word is the functioning immune system of the Church who identifies invaders and fights them off. We have been choked and suffocated by material we swallowed but couldn’t assimilate. The breath of this Word scours away everything that does not belong. We are made to breathe in the breath of God. This breath clears our head and makes us sit bolt upright. Now these blockages and constrictions are removed and settings adjusted. He raises the lifeless and set them to work. This bread is the pharmacological demolition of one metabolism and the construction of another better metabolism within us. The meaning of the sacramental elements are unintelligible to the unsanctified. But their meaning is their effect, internally supplied to the sanctified by Christ, their signifier and sanctifier. God lets the unsanctified continue to anaesthetise one another so the world does not hurt them so, and so pointlessly. Those who are being sanctified come off these many analgesics. They take up the pain, recover sensation, and learn to feel, taste and discriminate.
God has grasped us and co-opted us. He did not ask if that was acceptable to us. It could not be acceptable to us. We have not grasped or comprehended him. God has seized us, and we have been baffled and beaten. He does not attempt to persuade the intellect. There is no negotiated settlement. We do not change our mind, for we are precisely no longer in charge. The mind loses control and there is no longer any voice that can freely pronounce the word ‘we’. The machinery of the autonomous mind ran amok, harming those it was intended to serve, and destroying itself. Having cut itself off from all externality and spiralling inwards, it was beyond all friendly advice or instruction. God exercised power of attorney: he wrenched the cables out of the back, administering the coup de grace against us. The conflicted intellect of the modern Church has been shut down.
4. The good harvest
4.1 Bread makes men
The bread of the eucharist represents men. It represents men because it makes men. It is body-stuff, person-stuff, the very particular stuff of the one chosen and anointed man. Jesus Christ is that man. He is the fullness of man, the criterion of man. He is the sacrament. Inside us this sacrament tears down and rebuilds us on a proper foundation. The sacrament is agent, we the passive recipient of this agency. It constructs us. The first instalment of living bread receives and integrates the second, the first and second receive the third, and so on. Seed makes wheat makes bread makes people. The crop won from that seed is fuel and preparation for the real crop, of persons. The crop of crops is those children the Lord presents to you and you accept from him. They are his harvest. He has set us to this work, and gives us a share in this crop, so they will also be our harvest and reward. We are sowing people and reaping people. But seed alone is not sufficient to make people. To the seed must be added time, for ripening by sun and rain. And to the time must be added work, of waiting, testing, reaping, threshing, willowing, grinding, baking and putting food on the table. The bread is not to be considered in separation from crops and harvesting, and all the actions of the hospitality of God. The spiritual harvest dispenses itself as one material, specific harvest after another, each one just at the right time. The Father sends this harvest to the Son who swings his scythe, as eager as all the company of heaven to see what will be brought in. The extent of the catch, and knowledge about outcomes, times and days, is the business of the Father only. This bread is daily bread: it not only comes to us in time but it comes to us as time, ripening time.
4.2. Sacrifice and service
Now we must say something about work, service and sacrifice. What is the sacrifice offered? We are. We are the sacrifice; we are the harvest. We will be presented to God in his temple. There it will be declared before all powers and authorities that we are the finished article, the work of God brought to completion. We will be the body of which Christ is the head and whole definition. First though we must say that that Father gives the Son the world, his inheritance. Then we must say that the Father gives the world the Son. He presents the world with this gift, of himself, in the person of the Son. Then, when many aeons have passed, the Son presents the world, us included in it, to the Father for his inspection and approval. The Son continually holds the first instalment of the future world, the finished creation before the Father. The future world is entirely present in the Son and given to the present world in the person of the Church. The sacrifice is not our sacrifice. We do not sacrifice Christ. He sacrifices us. We are his sacrifice. He makes us holy, and then presents us to the Father for his approval. The three terms ‘sacrifice’, ‘sanctification’ and ‘sacrament’ all refer both to the work of making holy, and to the finished product, that is made holy. Sacraments bring us into being, and sacraments are us, finished, made holy. But these sacraments are not given into our hands, as though it were then a matter for us to decide what to do with them. They are built into us, as a set of instructions is programmed into a device. Sacraments are instalments of holiness. They make us compatible with one another, and they make us distinct from one another, and when we are integrated and freed from one another, we will be completed, holy.
But it is not merely that we are being made into finished product. We will ourselves be workers. We will be alive and active and busy. We be given the work of presenting people and making them present. We are being inducted into this work now. Our job is to bear them to the throne for the inspection and approval of the Father, just as we are ourselves borne. They, like us, are borne first in the form of a range of promises that there will be such people. These promises are the first-fruits: they are tokens of people, people-instalments which will become living people. We bear this future people by bearing their voices and their needs to the throne. We stand in for them until they are ready to be there with us. We speak for them; we pray – for them. That will be our job and our life. So this bread includes all this work, in which our whole life consists.
The labour service of God
The Father gives, and the Son receives from the Father. He employs and returns to the Father all good things. The Father gives us to the Son; the Son nurtures and prepares us, and when we are ready, gives us back to the Father. All this giving and receiving we may call the labour service of God. The Father gives the Son to give to us all good things. He sends that company and power – the Spirit – by which we are drawn after him, to enter heaven behind him, as his men. The Father gives the Son the authority and discernment to dose the fullness of his reality slowly to us. He supplies us with all those faculties and abilities that will give us the fullness of the being of the Son. He dispenses the world to us slowly in order to allow it to act as the environment within which we can grow the faculties and abilities of the Son. These things he gives us will form that framework. All things are to provide us with the support by which we can move on from lesser to greater competence in the faculties of Christ, to become his hands, his servants. For the baptised, purified community the things of the world announce their maker to us. So for the Christian community, water and bread and wine are God’s opening gambit. By them we learn that these are first instalments. By them we discover that the world is not thing, but course of lessons by which the action and hospitality of God becomes steadily more obvious. These emblems and servants induct us into ever-increasing levels of the full reality of the being of God. They represent the work of this Reality himself – the Word – speaking himself out to us, lending us the fullness of his being, but only as fast as that being himself prepares us to receive his fullness. He does this by supplying us with a succession of subordinate things, each an emblem of the being it is supplied from above, and leads us up to the next and clearer emblem, through a chain of ever improving approximations of perfect reality. In the course of practising and trying out these new faculties we are to present him with the products that are evidence of our learning. We are to send him gifts. What we have to send up from God’s inspection is one another. Christ adopts us as his sons, and like a good son presents us to his Father. Jesus is able not only to make sons of us, but to make of us obedient sons, ourselves able to bear sons to the Father.
Our worship, work and sacrifice
Bread is work. (John 4.34) ‘My food is to do the work of him who sent me… Look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest…I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’ First it is someone else’s work. Later it will also mean that we are set to work. To work with your own hands is to take the part of a server, not a master who has everything brought to him. It is not to offer another man’s work as your own, or to make offerings that are not yours to make. The servant does his master’s work and eats his master’s bread. And the work is to believe in – that is, to follow, serve and wait on – the one he has sent. We are to feed the sheep. We are even to provide the food. Their growth will be at the expense of our own bodily health and well-being. Bread is the work of feeding. The apostles ‘devoted themselves to…the breaking of bread’ All the apostles asked was that they should ‘continue to remember the poor’, the very thing the apostle Paul was also eager to do. The apostle Paul came to Jerusalem to bring his people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. He gave the Jerusalem Church something to give the poor, something that would make them poor no longer, and give them a gift that would permit them to come into the temple. Paul had been carrying the bread of life to every outpost, so of course he was pleased finally to be able to take and present to Jerusalem evidence of the fruitfulness of this sowing, in the form of tokens of new harvests all over the world, so the sower and the reaper could be glad together. To remain idle and fail to go to work is to be inert, inanimate, or pre-animate. It is to fail to come to life.
4.3 Hungering and thirsting
There is no calling on God without desperation. If you are satisfied with what the present and the living give you, if you receive from them all the recognition you want, you will not need to go to distant or the dead. If those present don’t give you what you want, you must appeal over their heads to the ancestors and to the tradition. You must examine the Scriptures to find satisfaction. When you find that it does amply provide the resources for satisfaction you may also come to feel that the present enjoys a very poor diet. So it is not so much that we call on God before he feeds us, but that having first received from him, we learn to call him. The food he feeds us makes us call on him to feed us more. It gives us an appetite and makes us greedy. His bread spoils our appetite for any other bread. The better we are fed the more vocal we are in demanding to be fed again. No more appetite loss.
What we are fed is different each time. The day before yesterday was Trinity Sunday so (Common Worship Year B) it was Isaiah 6, Romans 8 and John 3. Three times the Son addressed us, three courses he fed us. These were (Isaiah 6.1-8) ‘In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord, sitting on a throne high and lofty, the train of his robe filled the temple,’ and (Romans 8.12-17) ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…when we cry Father it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ and (John 3.1-17) ‘You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ But we are not left to face these words alone. We are given the response to make. We were given Psalm 29, ‘Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name.’ We call our rulers to make their public acknowledgement of their accountability to God, to confess that they are also under authority. So we are given the bread and the right words with which to acknowledge our receipt of it. Our responding to it is the act of our taking, or rather being taken, by these three words. Our saying the response is the first instalment of the hearing, comprehending and obeying that voice and those words. This nourishment is our life and, as I have said, life means work, and this work includes the work of making public requests and representations for more. We are fuelled to be demanding, and to request and demand from God what he is waiting give us.
5. The Lamb sacrificed
Much discussion of sacrifice and Christ’s death is deficient because it does not distinguish these four issues.
(1) The Lamb is Israel.
(2) The Lamb determines Israel.
(3) The Lamb carries Israel.
(4) The Lamb feeds Israel.
(1) The Lamb is Israel. The Lamb is the Israelite. He is the embodiment of unblemishedness, pure and impregnable. There is not a mark on him; he has no weak point. The lamb is the emblem of the Israelite who presents him: their being is analogous. In bringing with him into the temple the animal which is an analogy of himself, the Israelite is as it were wearing a heraldic device that displays what family he comes from, or presenting God with a picture of himself. Each of us holds his sign, and the Lamb is the sign of Israel. It is not about killing that sign, just about displaying it. Here the semiotics must be structuralist: something is being expressed, not caused. The lamb is the sign of the Son. The Lamb is the Son, is Israel, first-born, consecrated and accepted (Exodus 12). The Passover lamb is guiltless, innocent, blameless Israel, carrying no guilt of his own. Nothing of Egypt is can claim him, so he can escape Egypt: death cannot hold him. The Lamb doesn’t die for Israel. God presents Israel to God: the Spirit presents the Son to the Father. The Father present his Son as king to Israel and Israel receives as their king the Son the Father sends. The Son brings Israel to the Father; the Son presents Israel to the Father. Being without spot, no one else’s spot is able to cling to him.
(2) The Lamb determines Israel. The lamb is taken into the temple to be presented and displayed there. This lamb has been selected from all other lambs. It is taken out of the flock, set above its fellows. Many male lambs are born, but all but one are reckoned not worth keeping. He is our choice. One only is selected as the animal which will determine the future of the whole stock. He alone will be the father of all. All future offspring will be his. God (Colossians 1.22) has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body. God has decided which physical body shall be decisive and mandatory, and shall determine the future. He has settled the argument. He has picked this one and promoted him to be the one. He has chosen his Son. Of all the sketches drafted and bids tendered, this one has been appointed. This one is acceptable, all others are not. He is the image and criterion for us. All can be measured only from him.
(3) The Lamb bears Israel. The lamb carries others. Being himself without deficiency or burden, and therefore of illimitable strength, he is able to carry others. This is (John 1.29) the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Unlike the other priests, he ‘does not need to accept sacrifices day after day first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people.’ He is therefore tireless, of limitless endurance and resource, and so able to supply to his whole people whatever is missing. He is a beast of burden, patient, strong and indestructible.
(4) The Lamb feeds Israel. The lamb is also a gift of material support. He is the alms for the Lord’s people. Once the lamb is accepted as a gift-service to the poor it must be prepared and served to the poor. The carcass of the lamb is opened, filleted and prepared and cooked. That one stage of this is that the lamb is slaughtered is not intrinsically more significant than that a grain of wheat must be plucked before it can be milled.
Without these distinctions we have incoherence. Christian teaching on sacrifice issue is incoherent much of the time, because it understands sacrifice on a pagan basis of propitiation, rather than a scriptural basis as sanctification. Sacrifice does not mean kill. It means present holy.
6. This is my body…this is my blood
‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me… this cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’ Now we have to say something about the words of Paul about eating and drinking together, and of John about eating, even chomping (chogein), the flesh of the Son. (John 6.53) Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Our understanding of the processes of eating and being eaten, sacrament, must be related to the event of the cross. The cross is an eating and a being eaten. And the resurrection is the event in which the earth vomits up the first of her dead, the one she swallowed but could not keep down.
6.1 First we must say that we do not eat the body of Jesus.
We eat the substance of the estate of Jesus. We eat the product of that estate, receive its hospitality, eat the work of his workers. He calls his estate and his servants his body, because that is how he regards them. God will not allow separation of his being from his work, or the separation of his people from himself, so we can say that it is his work and hospitality we eat, and his work and his hospitality is him. Then we must say that it is we who are sown, reaped, threshed, winnowed, milled and baked. We are refined and disciplined as a son, to make the son appear from the servant.
The Lamb does not die for Israel. We have said that the sacrifice is a matter of presentation and display for public approval. God presents Israel to God. As the Spirit presents the Son to the Father, so Israel presents the Lamb to God. The Lamb presents Israel to God as the Spirit presents the people to the Son, and the Son presents the people to the Father. God presents them, so they are presented – not killed, but made alive. The death of the lamb is of no significance within the logic of this sanctification. The lamb becomes alms for the Lord’s people, a gift of material support for them. Granted, once the lamb is accepted as a gift given to the poor, it is killed in order only that it be prepared and served to the poor. That the lamb is despatched is not intrinsically of any more significance than that it is cut up and cooked.
The wine is not the blood of Jesus. But the death of the animal, and the blood of Jesus does not belong to the conceptuality of sacrifice, but of the Christus Victor. The doctrine of the wrath and holy war of God belongs to the Christus Victor. The Christus Victor does not pour his own blood. He is covered with the blood of his enemies, who were themselves covered with the blood the poor. ‘Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?’ He answers ‘I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood splattered my garments and I stained all my clothing.’ They cut the poor with their mouths and are they are cut down. So when we hear that ‘We have been justified by his blood’ we understand that this blood spent on us is the lives of the prophets he sent, the troops he threw against us. Their death is on our bill. But the effect of their being sent is that we have been captured, placed at his side, so our account is now his account, and he bears our cost.
6.2 Next we must say that we do eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus
Jesus’ own material is the material that repairs and sustains the world. The world is his word, his act and product. All the substance the Son supplies to maintain and sustain the world is nothing but his act, word and effort. He supplies it. It is his life, domiciled in us, living him in us. He lives us. We are the freely willed outcome of his living his life for us and with us. ‘Our’ life is him, living through us and with us. He is our fuel; we run on him. As we receive and breathe his breath, so we live his life. We have none of our own. The life and breath of other masters cannot sustain us. ‘Unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.’ If you live any life other than his that is no life; if you drink any blood other than his you are running on ‘empty’. For his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. ‘There is the bread that comes down from heaven which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ As long as we go on eating this bread and sourcing our life from him we will be renewed without limit. ‘If a man eats of this bread he will live forever.’ His master’s concentration on him will sustain him. ‘This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.’
The wine is the life of Jesus. Jesus is the original and full testament, undiluted and unadulterated, the original and mature wine. Other teachers can only teach something other than themselves. They teach what they are not. What Jesus teaches – that is himself. Other teachers can only offer a meal that they have themselves received, not their own work or resource. Jesus does not feed his people with anything he has not made. He feeds his people the food that is identical with him. He has not relied on another’s work, is not retailing someone else’s product. He has worked, so can feed us with the work of his own hands and property. This is the body – his – that he feeds us with.
7. Sacraments as semiotics
I have said that modernity is dizzy and reeling from the cup that it first doled out and which God then made it drink down itself. The world is constituted by many sacraments, some good, some bad. This paper did not start with an argument for the meaningfulness of the religious conceptuality of sacrament. It did not then proceed to argue for the relevance of the eucharist to everyday life. The conceptuality of sacrament does not have to be first established. It has to be used. It is the conceptuality by which modernity can be diagnosed. It is an ontology. And we use it to diagnose the world. Its use reveals the world to be made up of taking, biting and consuming, in which we consume others and are ourselves consumed. But God has acted: he does not let us be consumed: instead we may live out of his hand.
I have offered an account of sacrament in terms of God’s seizing and transforming action. In this account sacraments are our epistemology. Our things are taken out of our grasp and used against us. What we thought we knew, we find we don’t know, and must now know in a different way. They are not signs, but devices by which we are formed into the shape of Christ, the new definition of humanity. To follow the conceptuality of sacrament we have to understand the utterance and performance of public ceremonial. Such an pragmatics approach understands that meaning come from the manipulation of well-understood public symbols because these symbols refer to audiences, and this is because audiences take these symbols to refer to themselves. Pragmatics understands further that audiences refer to themselves by symbols, and that the manipulation of public symbols changes audiences and brings social groups into being.
Presence and the question of where Jesus is
Contemporary discussion of the eucharist that restricts itself to the question of the relationship of two presences, that of Jesus and that of the eucharistic bread. Where these two presences are understood to have only a static and extrinsic relationship, we miss the point. The world is intrinsically the hospitality of God for us, and we and the world are being transformed and re-orientated through God to one another, so we become properly the recipients of that hospitality. The majority Western tradition has a dualist account of language as representation and correspondence. There are things, and for each thing there is a word, so we have a simple job of matching word to thing. It understands the thing to be subject to decay and change. Over the longer term words are also subject to decay and change: only pure concepts, words without speakers or hearers, are trustworthy. Augustine instructed us that sacraments are visible words. Discussion of the sacraments has taken its cue from this conceptuality of symbol and thing symbolised, signum and res. The problem here is that concept of thing (res) now implies that our world is made up of inert and neutral things. But the Christians must remind themselves that there is no neutral economy of nature, no thing exists outside the covenant of creation. Everything that is, is created by God for our benefit, and is to be made alive by being given its orientation by us, and brought into use by us in thankfulness to God. The res (thing) here is God. God sends ahead of himself the hospitable things of the world to us as tokens (signa) of himself, like Jacob to Esau.
If we understand that God makes things for us we are not limited to a choice between a representative (mimesis) and a constructivist (poesis) understanding of meaning. All things refer to God who directs them to us; they are all the act of his hospitality. Luther understood that words make things. Words come in the first place from God, and their nature and effect are determined by him who utters them. Things are visible words, words that make themselves visible and tangible, and they remain words even while they are things. Sentences, not in words, are the units of meaning. Luther understands naming as an act and event, of creating something that before wasn’t there, and which does not persist without continued re-speaking. Over the middle term words become acts, and over the long term acts sediment one on another to create bodies. Things are the epiphenomena of utterances laid down one on another to become the pathways along which the communication of subsequent generations moves.
Is Jesus present in or as this bread? This is the traditional formulation of the question. Discussion of bread and wine through much of the tradition seems to be carried on in ignorance of the Old Testament. For this reason we went on a quick tour of the evidence. On our return we can give two answers. Jesus is absent and distant from us. He is in action against us, present only as wrath, as our enemy, who employs our enemies against us. And he is present and near, in action to save and heal. There are then two eucharists – a No, and a Yes. The No is spoken to intimidate us into hearing and repeating that Yes, until we become its obedient recipients, and the No of the bad eucharist disappears, revealing the Yes of the good Eucharist. So we must say that he is risen, he not here, not in this bread. He is far from us. He has been taken away from us, so we have been left behind, while he has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. The act of the bread is the act of the renewed and renewing promise that he is coming.
To discuss the eucharist in terms of the static presence or location of Jesus misses the point because the presence of Jesus is not in question. He is present, but we are not, or not yet. He is present with the Father, to the Father, in the presence of the Father, and as a result of the Father. It is the Father, not we, who is the criterion of being and of location. The question of eucharistic presence must be asked in terms of where we are, or even if we are. We are scarcely here, flickering present, and he is steadily and reliably present. It is our presence that is in question. If the presence of Jesus represents the full 100%, our presence never makes it above the 1% mark. We are ghosts, poor images jerkily appearing through great interference and white noise. We appear for a moment before vanishing again. The result of your poor concentration on me is that I am a poor and intermittent image. The signal keeps cutting out because you don’t know how to sustain it, that is, me. My presence is your work. Your presence is my work; you are responsible for me and my being, and I for yours. Luckily for both sides, your being and mine is the work of the Son. Since the Son does not have to worry about his own being, he has concentration enough for us. The result of the Father’s concentration on the Son is that Jesus is solid and steady. His unbroken concentration on us holds us, gives us continuity, and increasingly gives us more continuity, you more of my being, a better steadier more competent version of me, and me more of your being, an enhanced and more nearly perfected version of you.
Discussion of eucharistic presence is made difficult as long as we view past, present and future as separate hypostases. We rightly say that God is all future. But this is not at all to say he is not present. He is entirely present – the Son present to the Father at the right hand – and he is entirely future. Future and present are not mutually exclusive in heaven. The three terms past, present and future witness to what is established. It witnesses to the past that is presented and thus which is now never past. And it witnesses to the future that opens and frees that present that the past establishes. It is instituted by the Son, constituted and freed by the Spirit. God has come to us in the fourfold action of taking, giving thanks, breaking and passing on. He passes this action of his on to us. It never ceases to be his, whilst continually becoming also ours. Rather than talk about eucharistic presence in terms that, when not tied to the narrative are inevitably substantialist, we must talk about bread as the action of Jesus. Discussion of action really does fully account for the being and presence of Jesus, when it is understood that this action is approved by and so present to the Father. This bread-act brings us into being. It makes you actual to me and me actual to you. It actualises us, one to another. This bread act of God puts us before one another, and free us. It integrates into one another and frees us from and for one-another. In taking this bread we are being made more and more human. We are given our function to shepherd and draw together all the dislocated beings and become the first instalment of the being drawn together of all things.