Monday, February 8, 2010

Do It Again!

Another thing you might have noticed about the institution narrative is that it's actually a sort of re-enactment of the end part of the Last Supper. (As my niece would say, D'uh, Uncle Jim. D'uh.) In fact, this sequence is referred to in one way or another both in Mark, Matthew and Luke and also in the letters of Paul.

Now, we've already talked a bit about this whole idea of ritual re-enactment. Maybe too much. (I actually wrote a thesis on the topic, so, be warned...)

Danger, Will Robinson!

But just to encapsulate: a reenactment of an important religious moment is a way of trying to bring that moment into life again in the present. The Last Supper was itself, according to some accounts, a Passover meal, that is, a ritual re-presentation and celebration of God's protection and liberation of the people of Israel from the Egyptians. Each year the Jewish community offers that meal again, and that re-enactment is both an invitation to God to enter in again, in the here and now, and be their liberator, their protector, and it's a statement of faith that indeed in the Passover meal God does enter in again.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In a sense what Jesus did at the Last Supper was take that ritual re-enactment and add a new layer, by identifying himself -- and particularly the death he perceives soon to come -- with God's saving activity. This is my body, this is my blood... to most Jews such an identification would have been not only preposterous, but rend-your-garment and gnash-your-teeth scandal. It's probably more surprising that others at the meal did not immediately seek to betray Jesus than that Judas did.

And in re-presenting this event at every Mass, we're doing much the same as Judaism does at Passover -- we're asking God to be present in that intimate, saving way now, in our lives and in our world. We're asking for an opportunity to experience that saving, loving presence of Jesus in our own lives. We talk about transubstantiation -- but it's not just the bread and the wine we're asking to be changed in the moment. It's us!

And, because we're greedy and what the heck, if you've got God's attention might as well ask for everything, we're also inviting God to finish what Jesus started. Let that kingdom come in full. Make this world right, and us right in it.

If you want another analogy to this whole thing -- when I was home at Christmas I presided at my cousin Mike's wedding. And at the reception my niece Erin came up to me on the dance floor and asked me to hold her hands and spin her around as fast as I could. She giggled uncontrollably as I did it.

And then, when Uncle Jim thought his back would go out and so the fun was over -- she immediately asked me to do it again. Why? Because she wanted to have that experience again. And her siblings and cousins asked, too, for the same reason. They wanted to participate in that experience for themselves.

That's sort of what we're talking about with the whole re-enactment thing.

More tomorrow.

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