Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the eucharist as the great leveler

richard beck preaching about the last supper. words paraphrased from Unclean p. 114. cartoon by rob g

When was the last time you heard that from the pulpit? And what kind of response do you think such a statement would get?

In his book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Richard Beck says:
...the Last Supper is a profoundly deep and powerful psychological intervention.
The Last Supper becomes a profoundly subversive political event in the lives of the participants. The sacrament brings real people - divided in the larger world - into a sweaty, intimate, flesh-and-blood embrace where "there shall be no difference between them and the rest."
(p. 114)

Beck also talks about the Eucharist as the great leveler.

Jesus' example of table fellowship, which we continue as the Eucharist, breaks all the rules about who is in and who is out. It levels flat the usual ways that we use to separate ourselves from one another -- social status, wealth or lack thereof, ethnic and racial differences, and all the rest.

The early church in Corinth broke the rules by mixing social class et al. in ways that did not happen in their society. Rich and poor were to be equals in the body of Christ. That didn't always work as it should, and the apostle Paul addresses several problems in I Corinthians 12.

I'd love to quote three pages worth of Beck's writings on this, but will resist the temptation. So... get the book and read the section on Hospitality. Seriously. It is phenomenal and if you've read much of this blog, you'll know that I keep referencing it and quoting from it.

But here's what I'm wondering about: How does this work now?
Can the Eucharist be the great leveler today?

We are not a small marginalized community where our faith pushes us together despite differences in social status and strata and all that.

Most of us do not live in a small village with only one choice of church. We live in big cities where some intersections have three or four different churches and if they aren't the right ones, we can drive down the street or across town to another one.

We (by which I mean, the local church) are majorly segregated along racial, political, economic, theological, philosophical, sexual, social status, and other lines.

Thus, when we are at the Table, it is usually with those who are like us. We are not stretched, our moral circle is not crossed or erased. The body of Christ is missing an arm and a toe and sometimes, its heart...

In fact, we are usually not at a literal table. We are in pews passing the trays of bread and wine along the row, or we go up and stand in line to receive at the front. The people outside of our moral circle are in another pew or somewhere else in line. In any case, easy to ignore, easy to leave out.

Even in this context, the Eucharist can be the great leveler. Think of the significance of seeing everyone welcome to the front and drinking of the same cup, especially when some are people who in general society would not be associating with one another.

But what about those differences that are not obvious like race? Or those differences that do not stand out so much even if we know them, like socio-economic? Much easier to ignore during the Eucharist when it's in pews or in lines. Much easier to keep our moral circles intact and to just not notice those outside of our circle.

I wonder how being gathered around a literal table might help with this, especially with a common loaf of bread and a shared cup. Sitting around a table like at a family dinner. Seeing one anothers' faces and looking into each others' eyes....

I wonder if there might be a Eucharistic equivalent to the popular "ashes to go", which would break open our moral circles and our arms to embrace one another....

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