Literal, Figurative and Mystical Beauty

 

How we move and act, when we celebrate and receive communion, communicates something just as important as the words we use in the same context. Our actions communicate that we take seriously Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel. For Jesus says, “…my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” By how we move and act in our Eucharist together, we show that we know his words are true. Our actions display our belief that we have life in him – that we now share his own life with our Father in heaven.

Along with many Christians we know that bread and wine consecrated in the Eucharist become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This links us, as Anglicans, with Lutherans, the Eastern Orthodox, as well as Roman Catholics. For we all recognize that what we receive in our hands and through our lips is no longer simply bread and wine, even if they may still taste like bread and wine. Something happens in the course of the Eucharistic Prayer. And it happens when we pray in obedience to Jesus’ command, “do this in remembrance of me.” What happens is a real change in the bread and wine, so that they become the risen body and blood of our Lord. And this is the key. For the real change in the bread and the wine happens so that there then can be a real change in us.

We need to notice what many of Jesus’ first followers did not understand. His words are multi-layered, and have at least three meanings: Jesus’ words first have literal meaning; his words also have figurative meaning; and third, his words have mystical meaning. With his words, Jesus tells us he is giving himself to us, and that he is giving himself for us. Jim Janknegt’s painting, The Bread of Life, reproduced above, beautifully captures all three meanings.

Jesus’ words to us are at first literal, in the sense that he really means for us to eat and drink, and that what we eat and drink will really be him.

But Jesus’ words, in addition to being literal, are also figurative or metaphorical. For Jesus was not speaking of his earthly physical body and blood when he literally meant for us to eat and drink him. He was referring to his yet-to-be-revealed, risen, heavenly body. Because – as it soon became apparent – he did not leave his earthly, physical body behind for us to partake of. And so, he means for us literally to eat and drink his heavenly body and blood.

And, in addition to being literal and figurative, Jesus’ words are also mystical. When we literally eat and drink his heavenly body and blood, we abide in him – we live in him and he lives in us. When we eat and drink his risen body and blood, we have eternal life with him in God. And we will live forever in the fullness of life, in a state of blessed flourishing. Having refused Satan’s temptation, Jesus does not turn stones into bread to feed himself; he turns himself into bread to feed the world.

 

This post is based on my homily for Sunday, August 19, 2018, which be accessed by clicking here. Jim Janknegt’s painting, The Bread of Life, is reproduced here with his permission. His many paintings can be seen on his website, which can be accessed by clicking here.

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