Contemplation On Communion

Contemplation On Communion June 30, 2016
Icon of Jesus at the Mystical Supper. Photograph by Henry Karlson
Icon of Jesus at the Mystical Supper. Photograph by Henry Karlson

Great is the mystery of the eucharist. God became man, and as man, he has given himself over to us to become our spiritual food. We receive in communion the God-man, he who is perfect man and yet God.

Physically, what we receive is bread and wine, and for many, that is all they can understand. It looks like bread and wine. It can only be bread and wine. They are materialists who limit reality to its physical manifestation.

Others are unable to appreciate the physical nature of communion. They consider what they receive to be physical flesh and blood. While it seems as if they are receiving bread and wine, they believe the reality is that they are receiving physical flesh and blood, and that the appearances of bread and wine are mere illusions making it easier for us to receive physical flesh and blood. They treat the eucharist like Gnostics. They believe that if we were to see through the illusion before us, we would see the reality is that we have physical body and blood before us, with all the proper accidents associated with flesh and blood.

The reality, the real presence, the sacramental presence of Jesus, means we are partaking Jesus, fully God and fully man, and so we receive all that he is in his person, his body, blood, soul and divinity. That is what we receive even though physically, what we eat is bread and wine, which is why the reception of communion cannot be misconstrued as cannibalism. It truly is Jesus, who has become for us food, the bread of life. It is not bread and wine which we receive, for the change which has taken place has transformed the substance from bread and wine to Jesus himself, and the essence of what we receive is Jesus. This is why no matter how much or how little we receive physically, we receive the fullness of the person of Jesus, showing us the difference between the physical accidents and the substantial reality which we receive. And yet, it must always be made clear, the accidents are of bread and wine, so the physical manifestation is of bread and wine, unless there is some eucharistic miracle which transforms the physical accidents to flesh and blood as well.

This mystery should begin to cause our mind to look to the holy gifts with awe. We are already seeing in and through them the great transcendence of the metaphysical realm, where the limits imposed upon matter in physics do not apply. When all who receive communion receive the same substance, equally, despite the inequality of the physical accidents received, we should begin to realize how and why we must not limit our thoughts to the physical manifestation of the eucharist but rather look to the essence of communion, Jesus himself, to understand what it is we are eating when we partake of communion.

And so let us think more of what it is we are doing when we partake of communion. We are receiving Jesus, who is fully God and fully man. We are receiving in a mysterious way the fullness of God within us.

What is offered to us is the God who transcends the universe. We find coming into our being the God, and in God, we find the whole universe is contained. God, who is everywhere present and fills all things, comes to us in the space we make for him. In a mysterious way, by our euchastic celebration, we can be seen to be imitating God in his act of creation, for God, in creating us, made space for us within him, and now we, in return, give thanksgiving to God by making space for him within us.

But when we look into that space, what do we find?

We see the eternal, unchanging, God. The God who contains all of time and space within him is now found in us. And so in the space we have made for God we find God bringing with him all that is contained in the space he made for creation: all of time and space, everything which ever has been, all that is, and all that will be, including ourselves. As we are contained in the space God has made for us, we find, therefore, we receive ourselves in God when we receive the God-man in us.

In this way, God gives us our very selves in and through our reception of him in communion. God not only gives us ourselves in communion, he gives us ourselves receiving ourselves in communion. But then, as we exist in God receiving ourselves receiving ourselves in communion, we also receive ourselves receiving ourselves receiving ourselves in communion. And on. And on. And on. And on without limit. As we partake of divinity in our eucharistic communion, we find this infinite loop of reception where we gain ourselves in a way which confounds the mind. What does it mean? Is this one of the ways God gives us ourselves, and so by giving us ourselves, we find ourselves and receive what we need of ourselves to be made whole? Is this one of the great and neglected secrets of communion, of how it is restorative, of how it is able to reconstitute us anew in God and make us to be the person God desires us to be? Do we receive ourselves and so find ourselves and realize ourselves because we have made room for ourselves by making room for God?

But wait, there is more. We have said that we receive all things because all things are found contained in the space God made for them in himself. Is this not one way we can be opened up to each other and find the meaning of communion as unity with all things properly realized?  Is this a way in which the Logos has come to unite all things? Does this not help us understand how the eschatological kingdom is a feast, a divine feast? The Logos unites all things in himself by giving all things out to be received in this mysterious fashion.

How can the mind even grasp this? It cannot – because it cannot grasp God, just as we receive God in us as food, but never consume him. The kingdom of God, with all that is God, can be found within us – and yet transcends us at the same time. The eucharist shows how this is possible. But only those who seek without grasping will come to an understanding without comprehension and receive the fullness of this mystery in themselves.

 

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