A Eucharistic Theory of Culture

A Eucharistic Theory of Culture April 13, 2016

The Lord’s Supper models a proper meal, but for that very reason it models a properly ordered community, the right order of human society. How we eat together, with whom we eat tells us what kind of community we are.

It also presents a model of work, creativity, culture, the whole realm of human making. In the Eucharist, we don’t eat grain, but bread. We don’t drink water or eat grapes from the vine; we drink wine. Both bread and wine are cultural products, the result of human labor. We need to plant and harvest grain, transform grain into flour, and mix flour with other ingredients, bake it, to make bread. Wine-making is a complicated process that takes enormous skill and knowledge.

In making bread and wine, we are mimicking the creativity of God, who takes hold of the creation, breaks it down, puts it back together in new ways, gives is a new name, pronounces it good. Bread- and wine-making imitate the creative work of God.

We do this all the time. We remake what comes to us in creation. We cannot help but do this. No human being exists in a purely natural environment. We transform it all the time. It’s the way we are in the image of God the Creator.

And what does the Lord’s Supper show us about our making? Our making is ordered toward worship. Bread and wine stand in for all our cultural products, and we bring them into the presence of God. Protestants don’t believe that Christ is re-sacrificed in the Lord’s Supper, but we do believe in a sacrifice, a sacrifice of praise and self-offering. And that isn’t just ourselves but the products of our hands, the things we manipulate and manufacture. These are fitting offerings to God. And God accepts – even commands – that we bring these cultural products to Him.

Not only on the Lord’s day, but every day: We offer our works to God in worship, specifically with an act of thanksgiving. When we bring bread and wine – and, by implication, everything we make and do – before the Lord, we do it with thanksgiving. This is remarkable: After all, we made the bread and wine. And yet we thank God for them. We thank Him for the products of our hands, because even the things we make – even our works – are His gifts to us. Paul says that thanksgiving is an act of consecration: Every created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. When we give thanks for what we have made, we are consecrating the works of our hands to God. And having given thanks at the table, we are trained to live lives of continuous Eucharist, continual thanksgiving, giving thanks, as Paul says, for all things at all times.

We bring what we have made to God. But He doesn’t take it from us. We bring what we have to God, and He shares it with us. And so the things we make become means of communion with God.

The Eucharist is the way the world ought to be: Raw creation cultivated to grain and grapes. Cultivated creation brought to its fulfillment by cooking. Cooked creation enjoyed in the presence of God. Cooked created enjoyed together, by a community of worshipers. Cooked creation given in praise and received with thanksgiving. The final end of all things is the marriage supper of the lamb, and in the Lord’s Supper we anticipate that final feast, the feast that is the culmination of all creation. History is heading toward a wedding and eternal wedding reception, and our lives are to be spent readying the world for the wedding feast, a wedding feast that we are already enjoying now.

In the Eucharist, we bring creation to its fulfillment. We transform the creation into things useful and enjoyable for us, and we give thanks.

And so the Supper Supper reveals us to ourselves. This is what we are created to do: To be priests and kings, ruling the earth, transforming it from glory to glory, and joining it all in one great Eucharistic banquet.

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