Is the Eucharist more powerful than an executive order?

Is the Eucharist more powerful than an executive order? February 20, 2017


On a recent podcast episode with Scot McKnight and Kenneth Tanner, Kenneth made the comment that the Eucharist is more powerful than any of Donald Trump’s executive orders. I want to live in a world where that’s true. I’m just not sure it is. Or rather I’m trying to understand why the church is undergoing such a massive failure to produce a grateful, merciful humanity, which is what we ought to become when our lives are ordered around the Eucharist.

One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read is Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. It was tremendously influential on my understanding of Eucharist. For Schmemann and his Orthodox brethren, every liturgy of Eucharist is an ascension into heaven. When they say, “Lift up your hearts… we lift them up to the Lord,” that moment is literally the ascension. Schmemann writes about this ascension:

The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended. They realized also that this ascension was the very condition of their mission in the world, of their ministry to the world. For there—in heaven—they were immersed in the new life of the Kingdom; and when, after this “liturgy of ascension,” they returned into the world, their faces reflected the light, the “joy and peace” of that Kingdom and they were truly its witnesses. They brought no programs and no theories; but wherever they went, the seeds of the Kingdom sprouted, faith was kindled, life was transfigured, things impossible were made possible. [28]

Wouldn’t that be amazing if that’s what it looked like? Wouldn’t it be amazing if instead of building various empires over the past two thousand years that conquered and enslaved millions of people, Christians had simply become the joy and peace of God’s kingdom? Wouldn’t it be amazing if the transfigured reality to which we have access transformed us into the most humble, gentle people in the history of the world? Wouldn’t it be amazing if our lives exuded the same solidarity for outsiders that Jesus’ life demonstrated? So what we do with the way that Christian behavior throughout history is the most damning evidence one could offer of the failure of Christ’s redemption?

One of the most disturbing youtube videos I’ve ever seen was a Russian gay pride parade that was brutally attacked by a mob led by Russian Orthodox priests in full religious attire. It looked nothing like the beautiful utopian world that Schmemann described. How in the world do they belong to the same tradition as Schmemann? It was one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen Christians do. And it planted a toxic seed that has laid down suffocating roots throughout my soul that threaten my ability to believe in the power of Eucharist. There are times when I wonder if it’s all just a massive act of communal self-hypnosis wrapped up in centuries of bullshit flowery language. Every time that Christianity gets co-opted by things like empire, patriarchy, and capitalism, my faith suffers a torpedo hit.

I so want to live in Schmemann’s world. I remember meeting a Russian Orthodox priest named Victor Potapov who gave my first set of prayer beads. He told me about the transfigured reality that some have entered whose faces shine with the uncreated light of God’s glory. Part of the reason that I fast every Monday and Friday is because I long to see the uncreated light. Experiencing the transfiguration would mean more to me than any worldly power or success. There have been moments when it seemed on the verge of happening. I have spent spurts of time in the transcendent peace of eucharistic life, though I’ve never had an experience that entirely crossed the line into the supernatural.

I want the Eucharist to be everything that we say that it is. But then I look at how many Christians’ lives are defined by fear and scorn for the other. And I want to know what happens when they take Eucharist. Where is the failure occurring? According to my doctrine, it shouldn’t matter what the priest says or believes and it shouldn’t matter what the recipient of Christ’s body and blood says or believes, because God’s grace is the agency within Eucharist. So why are so many Christians so utterly untransformed by it?

One thing the Eastern Orthodox understand is that individualist meritocracy is the antithesis of everything that Eucharist is trying to create. They describe the delusion of self-reliance as the precise curse that Adam receives from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Being woven into the body of Christ means that I embrace my absolute dependence on God and my fellow Christians as well as the endless depth of the mercy that I have received from God and those I have sinned against. The more that I surrender to God and accept my inadequacy, the more impossible it becomes to judge others. For Christians to be the ones who most champion individualist meritocracy represents an abject failure of Eucharist.

The verse that I keep coming back to is John 1:11: “He came to his own but his own did not receive him.” Unless we are transformed into the embodiment of Matthew 25, all the pretty things we might have to say about the Eucharist are nothing more than pious theo-babble. That’s not to reduce the church to a social service agency. Without the humility instilled by worship, we cannot love mercy and do justice. Our lives should be eucharistic, a constant bubbling over of thanksgiving. But we would look very different than we do now if we actually started to live that way. I really want to believe; stop feeding my unbelief.

Detoxify your Christianity this Lent! Check out my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us or follow the #DetoxifyChristianity livestream on Tuesdays at 9:30 pm EST.

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