Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eating Christ the paschal lamb

For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5.7).

Lately taking the communion has proven to be a more significant and powerful component of my spirituality than it had previously been. Particularly I am impressed by the fact of eating the bread and drinking the wine: through this act of chomping and destroying, I take Christ into me.

There are two elements here: the misfortune and tragedy that the body has to be broken, the food chewed and the wine swallowed; and precisely for that reason, the tremendous kenotic grace and love of Christ who offers his body to be destroyed in this way for the sake of my receiving life and being transformed into the likeness of God.

On the one hand, the food has to be chewed and deformed and ground and consumed entirely. The body of Christ had to be beaten, his head had to be stricken with rods, his hands and feet pierced with nails, the flesh of his back open with the whips. The nation of Israel and the whole of the creation had incurred a curse because of sin, and the proper wage for sin is death (cf. Rom 6.23). And looking at the curses of the covenant depicted in Deut 28, Jesus' death on the cross by the Romans and Jewish leaders is a perfect summary of the death to which the law condemned Israel: an unnatural, early, and unjust death, at the hands of foreign oppressors in the midst of inter-Judean social strife. And insofar as the whole of humanity had been condemned to death, this especially paradigmatic accursed death of an Israelite for the sake of Israel is a death on behalf of a death-condemned humanity as well.

But on the other hand, Jesus willingly lays his life down for his sheep (John 10.11). He says: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (6.51). Jesus humbles himself to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2.8), one man dying for all men (2 Cor 5.14) and taking the burden of the curse of the law upon himself (Gal 3.13). Though it is costly, though it is unfair, though it means sacrifice and pain and suffering for himself, God is happy to give himself for the sins of his creatures because he wants life, not death (Ezek 18.23). Jesus Christ is the bread of God . . . which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (John 6.33), the bread that comes down from heaven, from which anyone may eat of it and not die (6.50).

The proper attitude in taking the communion, therefore, is one of reverence, humility, shame, and gratitude: I am ashamed and sorry, Lord, that my sin has brought this upon you; but I am eternally grateful, from now and to eternity, that you are willing to die for my sins so that I may live with you. Like one hymn says:

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature's sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.