Thoughts on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
This homily benefits from the contribution of Christina Gschwandtner in her reflection for the community on the phenomenology of Eucharist with attention to this Season of Advent. Her “Further Reflections” is a gift to the community as we begin liturgically our path toward our 10th Anniversary.
A difference within the word “we” is that on the one hand it refers to a collection/group of persons either who we are, as in we are Christians, or what we do, as in we walk. On the other hand “we” can indicate recipients of grace at a depth of connection well below (or above) the collective surface, as in we the Community of Mary of Magdala. It’s at that level of grace we experience Eucharist, this communal experience that Professor Gschwandtner, who I will herein refer to as Crina, explores for us and presents for our thought and sharing.
Crina writes. “The first ‘last supper’ was a communal meal at which Christ as host shared a meal with his disciples, both commemorating the fellowship they had enjoyed with each other and foreshadowing what was to come.”
Too often the experience of Eucharist is a solitary one, too often encouraged by the institutional church. At Mary of Magdala Community we accept the challenge at each Eucharist to resist such isolationist tendencies and rather fully participate in becoming Christ with and for one another. We allow ourselves to share in and respond to what occurs in our community meal. I/We intend to shape and form my/our love for Eucharist as I/we experience it as community members.
These intuitions and intentions form the structure of our communal Eucharist experience. Crina goes on, “Eucharist is gift, given to us; maybe our giving to each other – or even ourselves to each other.” And later in the same paragraph, “Do we only ‘receive’ this gift or must we become gift in some way?”
A popular understanding these days of Eucharist is to see it as an overwhelming gift, an absolutely one-sided showing of eternal love, or, as in the words of the French philosopher, Jean Luc Marion, a totally saturated phenomenon. In this view we humans take no part, we play no role in creating this experience of overwhelming divine grace. All we can do is partake, observe and acknowledge our own insignificance in the making/fashioning of such a gift. A person who experiences Eucharist in this way is left with no other choice but to adore the gift.
As mentioned above, this is a popular understanding, in some quarters, of the experience of Eucharist and I present as evidence of such popularity the practice of Eucharistic adoration. I do not disparage this practice. However, I support the notion that adoration does not reflect the experience of Eucharist historically, communally, or spiritually.
Jesus, before he died, gathered with his friends for a meal and gave himself totally to them in food and drink thereby fulfilling his Incarnate reality. The Word became flesh so that flesh can become Word doing it at a communal meal. Recently it occurred to me that if the experience of Eucharist was intended to be primarily one of adoration then it would have made more sense for the Resurrected Jesus to wait until after he was killed and rose again. At his first post-resurrection appearance while he was on the beach astounding the disciples by eating real food then that would have been the time for the first Eucharist. Now that’s a Savior that can be adored.
But he did not do that. Why?
I’d say because being fully human and fully divine the context of a meal that includes both memory and anticipation challenges us individually and communally to recognize that we, at the level of grace, are destined for divinity. As we become Christ we become the gift that is as mundane as a meal and as intentional as forming community.
A fully incarnational awareness in this destiny which we participate in is what the Danish theologian, Niels Henrik Gregersen, partially means in his use of the term “Deep Incarnation.” Not only is Word become flesh, the Incarnate Christ shows that Eucharist is about the fulfillment of all creation. And when it comes to adoration I am always reassured by the adoration by contemplation that Thomas Merton practiced. Some of my favorite offerings from him come when he writes most deeply of his connection with the divine following time spent in the woods. His Abbot recognized his desire to be alone and away from monastery rules and chapel practices. So, he assigned Merton the job of manager of the trees on the monastery property. It gave him the chance to find the best location for his hermitage.
Crina writes that every Eucharist includes memorial and anticipation. “It (Eucharist) is an affirmation of memory and calls forth anticipation.” Since we are in the season of anticipation let’s take a look at that. We look forward to praying, sharing, and singing The doing of Eucharist regularly and with full communal participation creates anticipation – sort of like a divine Catch-22! We build community on the back of every previous gathering together and in this way experience the desire to return.
We owe it to each other to bring to the table the daily experiences of our lives, the cultural celebration and integration of art and fullness of expression, the mysterious inspiration of wonder at all creation.
“We anticipate Eucharist,” Crina writes, “because it is a regular expression even habitual in some way; it has shaped us in the past. It is precisely through this regularity, this formation of bodily, mental, emotional, and spiritual habits, that we become prepared for encounter and transformation.”
By bringing all this to Eucharist we renew our bond with the Incarnate Christ and make a world in which our survival is based on our shared hope.
A Prayer (JR)
Messiah, come without delay.
You are the gift that gladdens hearts,
enlightens minds, encourages spirits.
Strengthen our confidence in your
presence and in your guidance. You
reveal the ways in which we grow, change,
and transform ourselves into Eucharistic
gatherings of love.
Anticipating your arrival each year with
Advent hope we make real this community
of sisters and brothers in Gospel ways
of justice and peace.
Maranatha, Come, long-awaited One.