Friday, August 19, 2005

Why Do We Need to Eat Christ's Body?

Continued from here.

A common Reformed/revivalist response to the Augsburg Evangelical (Lutheran) understanding of the Real Presence is to ask "Why isn't a symbolic understanding of Jesus's statement 'This is My Body' sufficient?" To which the usual Evangelical answer is: "Because that's not what Jesus meant!" Fine enough; I agree. But despite that agreement, I think more is needed. As when people ask about women's ordination, a simple "God said so, so shut up!" answer is not enough. You've got to give a reason (I've made this point before.)

Which brings us back to Dix. As I said in my previous post, he says the Real Presence plays no role in Luther's Evangelical theology. Why? Because, he claims, justification by faith alone deprived it of any role, by removing the idea of a sacrificial meaning to the Mass/Eucharist. In other words the real presence is a meaningless theological doodad unless there it is part of a sacrificial action.

Although I think this is wrong, there is indeed an element of truth here. Why indeed do we need to eat Jesus's real Body and drink His real Blood, the same one that died and was shed for us on the cross? Human consensus supplies an answer: because one receives the benefit of a bloody sacrifice only when one eats the meat of the sacrificial victim.

Look at the rules for sacrifice given in Chu Hsi's Family Rituals, pp. 153-177. An essential part of all the meals is the consumption by the family of the foods offered to the ancestor. The food of the sacrifice is distributed to the congregants with these words:

The ancestors instruct me, the liturgist, to pass on abundant good luck to you filial descendants and calls you, filial descendants, to approach and receive riches from Heaven, have good harvest from the fields, and live a long life forever, without interruption (p. 164).

And in Mongolian, the word keshig which in other contexts means "the unmerited favor shown by a superior to an inferior," especially the favor of the emperor, the reception of which sends the loyal servant into transports of delight, means in other contexts the share of meat in a sacrifice, the reception of which confirms one's receipt of the benefits of the sacrifice and the membership in the congregation worshiping the deity or spirit concerned. As in a famous passage from the Secret History of the Mongols, when Genghis Khan's widowed mother is excluded from the sacrifice on the pretext that she arrived late (but really because rival queens wish to seize rule for their branch of the ruling family), she complains

How dare you leave me out from the grace/sacrificial meat (keshig) of the ancestors, from the reserved meat (bile'ür) and the sacrificial liquor (sarqud), thinking only that Yisugei Ba'atur [her late husband] has died and my sons have not yet grown big?

Today, among the Buddhist Mongols, blood sacrifices have fallen out of favor, but they are still practiced in the ancient cult of Genghis Khan. Owen Lattimore described Mongols rushing forward to receive their share of the sacrificial meat being distributed at one of the four annual sacrifices.

So if we assume this as a general principle of sacrifice, then we have a perfectly good answer to the Reformed question, "Why do we have to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus?" The answer is "Because He is our sacrificial victim and in line with the universal human knowledge about sacrificial victims, one must eat of it to receive the unmerited grace of the sacrifice."

Now at this point, the Zwinglians are certainly shaking their heads at the grossness with which I make clear the pagan origin of the teaching of the Real Presence. And even to my mind comes the stern warning of Moses:

When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee . . . Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them . . . and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods . . . .

But Scripture makes it just as clear that the Lord Himself ordained necessity of the application of the sacrificial victim to the body of the congregant who would worship. First of all we see that bloody sacrifice is the part of the common heritage of mankind (Genesis 4:4, 8:20-22). And in His own ordained cult, the consumption of the meat was intended to make atonement for Israel as was clear when, for an emergency, the meat was not consumed:

And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying, "Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD? Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded."

Likewise with the meat of the Passover and the smearing of things with blood; as Hebrews summarizes (9:22),

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

Left unspoken, but implied, is the necessity physical application of the purifying sacrificial substance, in the old law the blood by sprinkling and the meat by consumption.

Most relevant is Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.

What I want to note here is that Paul assumes an identity of procedure between the Christian church, the temple cult in Israel, and the pagan cults of Greece: consumption of the sacrificial offering results in receiving the benefits appropriate to the offering: communion with the living God, communion with superseded shadows of God, and communion with devils, respectively. The procedure (consumption of the victim) is the same, the result (communion/commensalism with the God to whom the sacrifice is offered) is generically the same, but differs specifically according to the differing nature of the God worshiped.

So we can make it a general spiritual law: To receive the benefits of a blood sacrifice and membership in the community formed by the blood sacrifice, one should consume the flesh of the sacrificial victim. Whether that is to your spiritual life or death depends not on the sacrificial procedure, but on the nature of the spiritual being whose favor is being won by the sacrifice.

UPDATE: As Eric Rasmusen points in the comment box on the post above, not all individual sacrifices will have the meat shared out. The Mosaic system is composed of several types of sacrifices, some (the burnt offering, and the sin and guilt offerings) of which are wholly destroyed, but others of which (the fellowship/peace offerings and the consecration offering) are consumed (cf. Lev. 1-8). The key point is, though, the system mandates the consumption of the sacrificial meat at specified points.

Another account of sacrifice can be found in the Iliad in Book 1, where the Achaeans make an offering to Apollo to avert the plague sent on account of the priest Chryses whose daughter they had raped. After restoring her, they pray:

And when all had made prayer and flung down the scattering barley
First they drew back the victims' head and slaughtered them and skinned them,
And cut away the meat from the thighs and wrapped them in fat,
Making a double fold, and laid shreds of flesh upon them.
The old man [the priest Chryses] burned these on a cleft stick and poured the gleaming
Wine over, while the young men with forks in their hand stood about him.
But when they had burned the thigh pieces and tasted the vitals,
They cut up all the remainder into pieces and spitted them
And roasted all carefully and took off the pieces.

Then after they had finished the work and got the feast ready
They feasted, nor was any man's hunger denied a fair portion (vv. 458ff.)

In addition it should also be noted that in all these cultures, blood offerings are not the only form of sacrifice. Sacrifice of vegetable food (barley sprinklings in Greece, rice in China, the grain offering -- flour and oil -- and shewbread of Leviticus 2) and of liquor are found in all. In all of these cases, a portion or first fruits is presented to the spirit being worshiped, and the rest is then eaten. In Israel, the shewbread was regularly eaten by the priests -- see Mark 2:25ff. All of these things: blood offerings, unbloody offerings, and of course prayer and the proper attitude are part of the human sacrificial system from the beginning with Cain and Abel.

(Continued here)

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