Sunday, December 18, 2011

He is here

"Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle, and the sense of starving hunger."

J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his son Michael, November 1, 1963

The Hound of Heaven, I would add, may have many ways of catching His quarry, not least with hunger.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world....Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him....This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:51ff)

I don't talk theology nearly as often on this blog as I think about theology. And the doctrine of Holy Communion is such a fraught one, over which many a literal war has been fought.

I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not being Roman Catholic, I am not required to believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, and not being an Aristotelian, I'm rather glad of that, because I don't. But the pure memorialist view does not, in my opinion, do justice either to Christ's words of institution or to Christ's teaching in John 6 or to the Apostle Paul's solemn warnings to the Corinthians about Eucharistic abuses and the grave consequences thereof. At a minimum, it seems to me that these Scriptures imply that Holy Communion is a source of real spiritual life and strength--and that not only from the act of meditation on Christ's passion and atonement, but objectively: spiritual food. Beyond that I cannot and do not go--I simply know no farther to go. But, as the Ark of the Covenant was a place where the Lord God met His people and was, in that sense, present, so in the Sacrament. Here God acts. Here God meets man, objectively, on holy ground, in a physical object.

And for that I am thankful. As creatures of flesh and blood, we crave the ability to give and receive tangibly and physically. The Book of Common Prayer says of the Sacrament that Christ has "ordained holy mysteries as pledges of his love." A side note, or maybe not such a side note: Edmund Spenser, when he portrays the lady Charity as married and surrounded by her babies, calls them "pledges" of her husband's love.

Here is the prayer of thanksgiving after receiving the Sacrament. It was, to add to the head-shaking, convoluted uniqueness of Anglican history, apparently written (rather than translated) by Thomas Cranmer, who died because he was unwilling to return to Rome and accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

He "assures us thereby of his favor and goodness towards us." By giving us these gifts and coming to us in them, by deigning thus to condescend to us, He continually assures us, week by week, of His favor and goodness towards us.

I am a Protestant and will never be anything else. I will never even be a high Anglican; indeed, I will no doubt always be so low as to be in danger of falling right out at the bottom. There are many times when I feel a distinct reaction against high churchmanship. What's a nice Baptist girl like me doing in a place like this? But the holy mysteries are not the sort of thing one can whip up in one's kitchen, and if (per improbable) they are to be found in the Welch's grape juice and the broken matzos passed in plates from hand to hand in the churches that teach that they are not there, this is more a matter for trembling and fear than a reason to return.

It is impossible to be insouciant about the use I am about to make of a Gospel music song. I would like to make the usual flippant remark about my on-going and ungrateful project of uniting low Protestantism, Southern Gospel, and liturgical Christianity, but it's not just so simple as that.

The following song is one I cannot listen to without thinking of the Holy Sacrament. Yet that is not what it is about, where "about" is taken accurately to refer to the intention of the author and, for that matter, the performers. Quite obviously, it is a work of evangelical, perhaps even Pentecostal, Christianity. The teaching intended is that Jesus is present wherever "two or three are gathered" and that we become especially aware of His presence when reminded of it in the gathering of believers. That is a good teaching, one worth hearing and remembering. But how can anyone who believes in the Real Presence (in any sense whatsoever) hear "Holy, holy," "holy manna," and "You can touch him" and not think of that other Presence?

"He is here, listen closely. Hear Him calling out your name. He is here, you can touch him. You will never be the same."

So, with apologies to Wes Hampton, to the Gaither Vocal band, and especially to Kirk Talley (the composer), I put my own entirely unjustified personal significance on this song and present it for what it is worth, if there should happen to be anyone among my readers who finds it useful, as a meditation before receiving Communion. "He is Here."

Gaither Vocal Band - He Is Here [Live] from emimusic on GodTube.

3 comments:

William Luse said...

I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

I thought you once said that you were a memorialist.

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Lydia McGrew said...

No, only a wimpy Real Presence-ist as opposed to a transubstantiationist