A Theology of the Other in an Ecumenical Reality (Part 2)

“The Beauty of” and “in the Eucharist”

Is there a greater example of ecumenism that is readily available like that of the Lord’s Table? It is within this sacred ritual that we experience the clarion call to connect with the Lord in service. It is this call that invites all who will, to come and sit at the table regardless…and God will do the changing, reshaping, redeveloping and the saving. Timothy George tells the story of William Carey going to India:

William Carey went to India as missionary to share the gospel of Christ with those people. He served seven years and did not win a single convert to Christ. But once he began to win people from Hinduism to the Christian faith, and they desired to be baptized, he refused to baptize them until they would renounce caste because caste was one of the artificial forms of distinction. He saw that you could not really be a truly baptized Christian as long as you kept caste. The one dramatic symbol of breaking caste was being willing to share a common meal with an untouchable. When you can breach that barrier and come to the table with me, then we are in some ways involved in katallagē (reconciliation) and then you are ready to be baptized. To say you are a Christian and still separate yourself and remain at table with your own kind is a pretty good sign you have not really accepted Jesus as Lord. Well, that was a very prophetic thing for Carey to do in India, but it was based on this same principle that we are talking about.[1]

Carey’s story exhibits how the Lord’s Table breaks down the variables of difference and designates them as gifts. At the Lord’s Table the Eucharist becomes the feast of the “chosen.”[2] This is not exactly exclusive or inclusive language but an ontological analogy to the believer.[3]  The inclusive language is actually an exclusive behavior hidden within progressive rhetoric. While the exclusive language is discriminatory with disregard for social progression and awareness. Within these two frames of thought, two polarized conclusions, sit at the table while the grace of God mediates reconciliation. Thomas White describes his use of analogy as having an” ontological foundation” in a “propositional mode of signifying realities” that is characterized by “analogical terms.”[4] A further explanation of this thought centers around the concept that an “analogy is sometimes meant to denote one of two senses more precisely than another, neither sense of the word is meant to exclude the other, nor are they meant to be identical, but rather interrelated, as the analogical mode of signifying realities as “being” is meant to signify in fact the real distinctions and likenesses between the analogical modes of being in the things themselves.[5] The conclusion justifies the reconciliatory presence of the Lord’s Table that provides seats for all while mending the broken.

The Eucharist breaks down barriers translating them into familiar avenues for those who have been disenfranchised by life. The Eucharist is the incarnation in pragmatic form at its best. The incarnational aspects of the Eucharist represent a robust engagement and invitation to connect. Matthias Scheeban articulates,

“The Eucharist is meant to be the continuation of the Incarnation . . . As the elevating and transforming power of the Incarnation is continued and perfected in the spiritual mode of that body’s existence, so the union of the invisible with the visible, of the divine with the human, which we observed in the Incarnation, is distinctly brought out in its sacramental existence.”[6]

The Eucharist is the residual, eternal effects of Christ coming and dwelling among us. [7]It is the Eucharist that allows authenticity where pretenses become fragmented by acts of love. This is the moment when we identify that the Eucharist is a reconciliatory agent. Racism, sexism and classism are trumped by invitation- the invitation to come and partake. If you are invited to engage in the Eucharist, then all of our “isms” are subpar. Christ through his work on the cross, recalibrated our realities to make them whole in order that our “isms” would take a backseat to his presence.  St. John of Damascus writes, “He in his fullness took upon himself me in my fullness and was united whole to whole that he might in his grace bestow salvation of the whole man. For what has not been taken cannot be healed.”[8] So within this healing and restoring of the whole, we find that our” isms” have been recalibrated to resemble Christ. In this Eucharistic recalibration, we continually come to the table re-dressed because of the deeds of Christ. Thus, all perception is centered on Him and not us, which calls for “high functioning reconciliation.” The admittance of all at the table ignites the flame of ecumenism that places Christ at the center. Regardless of the denominational differences, Christ recalibrates individuals through his redemptive work done through the Eucharistic experience.

The TCTCV appropriately engages the process of ecumenism when addressing the subject of communion. Their understanding of cultural aesthetics without surrendering overall unity is handled with precision and care. There are clearer outlets for cultural expressions, but, at the same time, unity has to stay at the forefront of the mission.[9] The understanding of this legitimate diversity embarks in new areas, highlighting the intentionality of ecumenical dialogue.[10] The Eucharist provides an opportunity to display an image of Christ that needs to be revealed to those that have become disenfranchised to the gospel. It serves as an invitation to the “Other” that they are welcomed despite visible differences –the freedom to participate without being locked in, or provincial.[11] The TCTCV declares that Christians are called to be in solidarity with the “Other” as a sign of love because Christ sacrificed himself for all and now gives in the Eucharist.[12]

 

[1] Timothy George and Robert Smith Jr., “A Conversation on Race and Reconciliation”,  The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 8 No.2, (Summer2004), 54-55

[2] The TCTCV emphasize that there are sacramental elements and ordinances that have been followed by the church for years. The WCC wrestles with the notion that these can be interchanged to meet the desired need of the body of Christ. When it comes to communion some denominations’ view it as sacramental which opens the door for more opportunistic responses to participate. But, other view communion more from an ordinance perspective which allows for more institutional control. The combining of the two by the WCC bridges the two together to get to a more convenient and common solution, that will inevitably become a win-win situation for the church. Ibid. The Church, 25.

[3] Through him all things were made (John 1:3): The Analogy of the Word Incarnate according to St. Thomas Aquinas and Its Ontological Presuppositions., Thomas Joseph White, ed., The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God?, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011,248.

[4] Ibid.,White

[5] Ibid.,White.,248-249.

[6] Matthias Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, translated by Cyril Vollert, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1951 (from 2nd ed., 1887), 522.

[7] See John 1:14.

[8] Translated by E.W. Watson and L. Pullan. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 9.,Chapter 6 Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1899.), Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/33043.htm

[9] Ibid., The Church,16.

[10] The TCTCV coined this term legitimate diversity to find ways where God gifts could be used to enrich the lives of all while allowing all to have their own cultural connectors. As stated in TCTCV, “There are limits to legitimate diversity; when it goes beyond acceptable limits it can be destructive of the [very] gift of unity. Ibid.,17

[11] Marianne Afanassieff, “The Genesis of “The Church of the Holy Spirit” ‘, in L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit, Nicholas Afanassieff, translated, Marianne Drobot, Cogitato Fidei 83, Paris: Cerf, 1975,17.

[12] Ibid., The Church,25.

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