The Power of Ritual

“This is my body.” It was Easter Sunday morning, in the midst of an up-beat, if somewhat traditional, celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. These familiar words of the Eucharist swept over me with an emotional power I had rarely experienced..

In the short interval between hearing the words and partaking of the symbolic body of Christ, I was enveloped in one of those rare moments of total oneness with all that is. The word “body” became present to me in a way I had not previously experienced. A feeling of connectedness with all mortal life swept over me. And beyond that an awareness of my aliveness being one with the aliveness of the earth and universe.

Later, with time for my theological reflections to kick in, the meaning of that moment began to clarify.

“This is my body,” purports to be the words of Jesus as he gathered with his disciples for their “last supper.” With these words the bread being passed around became a symbol for the mortal life of Jesus. He is, the scriptures tell us, aware that the final confrontation with the earthly powers awaits him. Ere he dies, he wishes to share the reality and purpose of his life with his intimate followers.

“My body” represents the reality of his earthy, mortal, time on earth. He had to live, and be who he was, amidst all the vicissitudes of daily life. He had to eat, sleep, look after bodily needs. He had to deal with the realities of social, religious and political life of his time, which were onerous indeed. Yet, through it all, he hewed out a quality of life that stands as a model for all.

To eat the bread is to take into ourselves the fullness of life that was his. This is a ritual that goes back to the beginnings of human society where the conqueror would honor the life of the conquered be eating the heart or something of the person or animal killed. It is a powerful way of communing with what is highest and best in human life. Hopefully we are lifted to a higher plane.

For me, “This is my body,” moved beyond being only Jesus’ words, to being the words of everyone and everything. My beloved partner is sitting beside me. In a very special way she is saying, “This is my body, given for you.” We share our lives, our being, our bodies. We remain two but are one.

Then there are all the people that surround us. They, too, say “This is my body.” Much of their lives are given to nourishing and enlarging the life of the world.

The earth itself is saying, “This is my body.” The earth is also mortal. Four billion years ago she was born. At some point she will die. During that time she gives her life as part of the universe. We are part of this material, mortal, planet that has brought us forth and makes all life upon her possible. We are “of the earth, earthy” (1 Corinthians 15:47, KJV).

And the sun says, “This is my body, given for you.” The sun, too, was born and will die. Her life is spent pouring out her energy, her being, that nourishes our planet and all the planets. We are born from the sun.

And the sun was born from the death of an exploding star; a step in the cycle of death and resurrection that began 13.8 billion years ago. That’s when a great burst of energy started the process of being transformed into mater, the stuff that is the material universe. We are born from this process. We are born from stardust.

Sallie MacFague names the universe “the body of God.” Energy, God, or whatever the elemental creative force might be, needs a body to work out whatever its purpose might be. The universe says, “This is my body, given for you.”

Whatever my life is or might be, is lived through my body. But my life is more than my body. I am body, mind and spirit. Jesus, too, was who he was through his body. He, also, was more than his body. When people tried to find a way of expressing who he was, they named him the Messiah, the one who would fulfill the purpose of the Hebrews. When his followers moved beyond the Hebrew tradition, they named him the Christ, the elemental force that moves the universe, and us, toward growth and wholeness.

Our Eucharistic ritual speaks of the body of Christ rather than the body of Jesus. We are taken beyond the person of Jesus to that spirit, that energy, that thirst for life that resides within us and within the universe. Our energy is one with the energy of the universe. We are all children of the universe. We are all one. And by incorporating other spiritual leaders of whatever tradition, it could become a ritual of life in which everyone of whatever background could participate.

The ritual goes on with the words, “This is my blood, shed for you.” Here is another great symbol of the essence and energy of life that we could explore. But enough for now.

The Eucharist becomes a powerful ritual moving us toward the quality of life, the level of maturity and wholeness that we must reach if life on earth is continue.

As I look at my life, I, too, say, “This is my body” given for my partner, my children, my neighbor, the earth, and even the universe. How well am I using my gifts and opportunities? Am I growing? Am I becoming a more conscious, aware, mature person? Am I being the person I was born to be?

In my youthful days of ministry, the ritual around the lifting up of the chalice ended with Matthew’s words, “Drink ye all of it” (Matthew 26:27, KJV).

I say to myself, and to everyone; “Drink ye all of it.”

 

 

 

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