Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christian Spirituality and the Five Senses - Taste

"Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).  Since it is Thanksgiving week, what sense could I talk about other than taste? Instead of talking about turkey and other foods associated with the American holiday, though, I'm going to primarily talk about the food associated with the real Thanksgiving - the Eucharist (which is the Greek word for "Thanksgiving"). 

If there is one thing that Lutherans are known for, it might be food.  The stereotype is that we all eat jello,  German Lutherans eat sauerkraut, Swedes eat meatballs, Danes eat  Æbleskiver, and Norwegians eat lutefisk.  If the stereotype is true, then I'm definitely glad to be Danish instead of Norwegian.

While those foods (except lutefisk) are good, it is somewhat sad that we are primarily known by those foods, and not the food which Christ gave to us - the Eucharist, which is the "true body and blood of Christ." (Martin Luther, Article VI of the Smalcald Articles).    

It was not supposed to be so. The Reformers adamantly stated: "At the outset, it is again necessary, by way of  preface, to point out that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it.  Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord's day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved.  We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things." (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV).

But, somewhere along the way, Lutherans forgot their heritage - the Eucharist was celebrated less and less frequently, and practices were adopted which compromised our belief that Christ is truly present in the Supper.  Some of that was due to necessity - the lack of ordained ministers to serve immigrant congregations on the American frontier prevented weekly communion, for example.  However, those special circumstances became the tradition, which has only recently been overcome through the recovery of weekly communion in many congregations (including, thankfully, the congregation where I now serve).      

As noted by Orthodox theologian, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, the gathering of Christians to eat the meal instituted by Christ at the Last Supper has been central to the life of the Church since apostolic times:   

"'When you assemble as a Church...' writes the apostle Paul to the Corinthians.  For him, as for all of early Christianity, these words refer not to a temple but to the nature and purpose of the gathering.  As it is well known, the very word 'church' - ἐκκλησία - means 'a gathering' or 'an assembly,' and to 'assemble as a church' meant, in the minds of the early Christians, to constitute a gathering whose purpose is to reveal, to realize, the Church.

The gathering is eucharistic - its end and fulfillment lies in its being the setting wherein the 'Lord's Supper' is accomplished, wherein the eucharistic 'breaking of the bread' takes place.  In the same epistle St. Paul reproaches the Corinthians for partaking of a meal other than the Lord's supper in their gathering, or assembling for a purpose other than the eucharistic breaking of bread.  Thus, from the very beginning we can see an obvious, undoubted triunity of the assembly, the eucharist and the Church, to which the whole early tradition of the Church, following St. Paul, unanimously testifies."

(From "The Eucharist" by Alexander Schmemann, p. 11).  Accordingly, the "just me and Jesus" kind of spirituality that has infiltrated modern Christianity violates the very heart of the faith that Christ gave to the apostles, which envisions a gathering in Jesus' name to break bread. 

As Pope Francis wrote this week in paragraph 47 of Evangelii Gaudium, "[t]he Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak." Luther wrote that in the physical act of eating and drinking according to Christ's command, "life and salvation are given to us in the sacrament." (Small Catechism).

A meal which is powerful medicine and nourishment? A meal which gives us life and salvation?  That is a Thanksgiving meal we can all celebrate.  

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