Greed, in other words, prohibits faith. But the inverse is also true. For it is in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist that we have the prismatic act that makes possible our recognition that God has given us everything we need.
The Eucharist not only is the proclamation of abundance, but it is the enactment of abundance. In the Eucharist we discover that we cannot use Christ up. In the Eucharist we discover that the more the body and blood of Christ is shared, the more there is to be shared.
The Eucharist, therefore, is the way the Christian Church learns to understand why generosity rather than greed can and must shape our economic relations.
So ends this article by Stanley Hauerwas on greed and the economic crisis. This isn’t really a critique of Hauerwas’ article, but on the apparent weakness of Eucharistic theology in general. Assuming you come from a faith tradition where the Lord’s Supper is understood as a sacrament, whereby something actually happens, rather than an ordinance, which is more along the lines of a memorial act of symbolism, why is it that the Eucharist appears to be so powerless?
I have seen multiple articles, whole books even, which advocate for a Eucharistic theology as an answer to various problems in the world. I’ve even preached a sermon or taught a lesson or two with such emphases. There is supposed theological power in the Eucharist. Hauerwas says that it is through the Eucharist that we are taught about generosity, not through sermons or Bible studies. Can taking communion every Sunday make us more generous people?
It doesn’t appear so. Plenty of other examples of the apparent failure of Eucharistic theology to form Christians could be cited as well.
So, my questions are:
- Are these theologians off their rocker? Are they making communion into something it isn’t?
- If not, why isn’t there more power in the Eucharist? Or is it there and we just aren’t noticing it?
- Or are we missing the interpretive element in our teaching and sermons? Do we need to exegete our practices more for our congregations?
What do you think? Can the Eucharist be a bedrock for mining theological insights for Christian formation?
Chris Duckworth says
Let’s replay your scenario using the Bible, rather than the Eucharist.
Lots of people read the Bible and yet somehow do idiotic, sinful, and shameful things, too. But isn’t the Bible the Word of God? Or, at least, it is a collection of sacred stories about God and God’s people, including a particular Person who was, is and shall be forever the Living Word of God? Isn’t this Bible a book with stories that point us to God’s faithful work in the past and promised work in the Kingdom to come?
And yet, all that Good News which is found in the Bible doesn’t seem to be enough for a wretched humanity, even the wretched ones who claim to be faithful and take upon themselves leadership of the church on earth … for we’re still wretched, sinful, God-awful failures. Lord, have mercy upon us.
For sure, some can have an unreflexive, almost fundamentalist approach to the liturgy and the sacrament, in the same way that some have an unreflexive, almost fundamentalist approach to the Scriptures. For some, the prayers and rites “work” (in their minds) simply because they are said and done in a certain way. And perhaps it is these kinds of folks whom you are critiquing.
But apart from performing the rite, it seems to me that anything done liturgically must also be taught, exegeted, examined, and unpacked for its meaning. But what percentage of your worshiping community attends education? What percentage of adults within your worshiping community attends education? Liturgy, while perhaps being the main thing in Christian community, is not the only thing.
In response to your questions …
1) The theologians are (generally) not off their collective rockers. The sacrament is powerful.
2) The living sacrament came to us and we put him on a tree. How much easier it is for us to miss the point when his presence comes to us hidden under the form of bread and wine?
3) Yes, in general we need to teach and exegete and reflect a whole bunch more.
If the ways we perform the rites, the ways we share the eucharist, the ways we live into our Christian community do not nurture relationships – with God and with each other – than we’re failing at doing the things our Lord would have us do. The readings for this coming Sunday point to relationship, for example, much more than they do to any “right” way to perform a rite. Our rites – which are terribly important but which cannot be confused for the things to which they point – and the ways we speak about and teach about these rites must foster relationship and community.
A bunch of blabber … sorry.
No, not a bunch of blabber. It’s good stuff to think about.
I like your analogy, but I guess where my push-back is coming from is in the article’s assertion that the Eucharist is the primary way to teach people about greed. It is a way, even a good way–I agree with that for sure. I’m just grappling with the thought that telling someone to take communion is a better way to teach someone about greed than something else, serving the poor, for example.
Then again, “better” is not a theological category. 😉
Patti Gibbons says
Matt, I think your third question is the key here. Simply telling anyone to do any particular practice, sacramental or otherwise, does not adequately convey the purpose for such practices. I would say this is particularly true in traditions who impute an importance on such acts as a means of grace to the individual and the community.
When those particular sacramental acts – in my tradition there are seven – are undertaken, there ought to be sufficient preparation and then a means for on-going growth and understanding within the church. I would call that discipleship. Why do we do these things? Why do we hold them holy? Why to they become acts of particular significance? What do we bring to them? What does God bring to them? What is the intersection point?
There is your lesson, but there will always be an element of mystery. It lies in the action God takes. What does God do? The sacramental practice says “Grace.” What is the grace of the Eucharist? We all come as we are, forgiven, together, sharing what we have, that which God has given and for which we have just given thanks and praise. We have made our offering, and we humbly come to Him to receive from His abundance. But also, he comes with us, within us, having generously taken up residence by his Spirit in the hearts of those who believe. A wonderful paradox – we in Him; He in us; together to give and to receive. Having learned this, we cannot fail to see generosity modeled and acted out literally and figuratively. Failing to learn this, it is rote tradition empty of the grace which is is designed to embody.
In this light, the Eucharist conveys the generosity of both the manna God provided to His wandering people, and the having everything in common so that none among the was in need modeled by the early believers. Surely there are other biblical points in between, but they make the case, I think.
If we practice the sacraments, then is it incumbent upon us to teach the reasons for that practice. We don’t hesitate to tell people that daily bible reading and prayer are key practices for discipleship, and we extol the virtues and benefits of so-doing easily. We ought do likewise with our sacramental practices.
Chris, that’s a good point. But I think Matt’s on to something here. In my time serving within Anglicanism, I heard a lot of mini-sermons on the Eucharist, and even a few full-on sermons on the Eucharist (usually during on “Instructed Eucharist” Sunday). Many times they focused on how “Eucharist” means to “give thanks.” The end message was usually true, but most times it was a case of “right message, wrong verse.” I couldn’t help but wonder if we had overstepped what the Eucharist–as we have been instructed in the Bible–is supposed to be about.
Anglicans and Roman Catholics are the best people to speak on this subject since they typically have the highest view of the Eucharist. Thanks for your thoughts.
I think the best solution lies in exegeting our practice like we would a scriptural text.