Christianity is best understood as a way of life before and from God, and thereby as participation in the community of disciples. Through this section, therefore, I argue that central to the identity ofChristian practice is a social act which relates space to place and globality to locality. That act is the 'time-laden and social'21 eucharist. How is the community of the eucharist to be interpreted for the common realm? If to participate in the eucharist is to participate in the cross and resurrection of the God-body, how might such participation be understood?
I begin by noting my agreement with Dietrich Bonhoeffer that 'Christ existing as community' called Church has a threefold form: community, word and sacrament.22 Furthermore, Bonhoeffer makes the valuable point that the sacraments address the natural human being in his or her embodiment: 'The sacrament is the form in which the Logos reaches man in his nature.' '[I]n the sacrament he [sc. Christ] makes use of our body and is present in the sphere oftangible nature. In the sacrament, Christ is by our side as creature, among us, brother with brother.'23 We are thus reminded
21. Hardy, Finding the Church,p. 21. 22. Bonhoeffer, Christology, pp. 49-59.
23. Ibid., pp. 53, 57. The restrictively gendered language requires correction.
that the eucharist has - as the basis of its sacramental sign - material elements. Later, explicating the mediation of Christ as the centre between God and nature, Bonhoeffer writes:
[I]n the sacraments... elements of the old creation are become elements of the new. In the sacraments they are set free from their dumbness and proclaim directly to the believer the new creative Word of God... Enslaved nature does not speak the Word of God to us directly. But the sacraments do. In the sacrament, Christ is the mediator between nature and God and stands for all creation before God.24
Although a theology of the eucharist is more than can be attempted here, for a political theology of nature the material elements of the eucharist are sacramental by their reference to Jesus Christ. That is, neither the material nor the Christological reference can be lost if the sacramentality of the eucharist is to be explicated. Both the bread and wine and their orientation towards Christ are thereby required. How is their relation to be understood.?
To begin, we must note the abiding relation between the eucharist, the passion and the table-fellowship of Jesus Christ. Although I do not wish to be drawn into a discussion as to whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal or not, that the eucharist has a central anamnestic aspect is not to be doubted. Indeed, such an aspect of remembrance may, as Wolfhart Pannenberg suggests, be construed broadly: 'We have to evaluate the tradition of Jesus' last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion in the context ofthe meals that he had with them in the preceding period ofhis earthly ministry.'25 By such reference, our attention is directed a second time to the theme of nature in Jesus' ministry. Recall that in chapter 7 I argued that the table-fellowship of the God-body presents a dynamic of generosity in which the hungry are fed and sinners made welcome. Such remembering must, of course, be understood theologically: the recollection of the memory of the crucified One is always to be associated with the presence of Christ by the Spirit. 'But it is of decisive significance', notes Pannenberg, 'if we are to understand eucharistic anamnesis that we do not see here merely an act of human remembering of which we are still the subjects but the self-representing of Jesus Christ by his Spirit.'26
24. Bonhoeffer, Christology, p. 64.
25. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1998), 111 ,p. 284.
Certainly, if we follow and develop the work of Oliver O'Donovan,27 the eucharist is to be understood in relation to the passion of Jesus Christ. For O'Donovan, the passion is recollected in the eucharist and invokes the Church as a suffering community. Although O'Donovan stresses the connection between eucharist and suffering - 'The eucharist is the sign that marks the suffering community... It determines the identity of this society by reference to the passion: it is the community of those who have not only gathered to God's Christ, but have died with him.'28 - the link between eucharist and place is less clearly set forth. That is, the passion is not, in my view, merely a report of a death, but is an account of a particular death, at a particular place, Golgotha. Thus, in Christian eucharistic construal, place is associated, first, with suffering.
The resurrection, in O'Donovan's interpretation, is enacted in the observance of the Sabbath and calls forth joy by the community, not least in the acknowledgement of the 'recovery of creation order'. Here O'Donovan's account is especially interesting: 'Gladness belongs to the creature, as glory belongs to the creator ...If the church's gladness is the gladness of creation, that means it is the gladness of Jesus himself; for the renewed order of creation is present in him.'29 We may add further: if the renewed order of creation is present in the God-body, then the eucharist is a sacramental means of participation in this new order, in which humanity and nature are understood together in a social concep-tuality. As we have already seen, in Jesus Christ is the election of nature as social. Eucharistic theology cannot fall behind this insight. Thus the eucharist, a celebration of and participation in the resurrected life of the God-body, joins again humanity with nature. The God-body who is other in the eucharist is the source and destiny of the sociality of nature and humanity, and provides a sacramental mode of participation in that destiny. And, to be sure, important practical consequences follow from such participation. In a few wonderful sentences, O'Donovan makes this point: '[B]ecause we ourselves are God's work, not mere observers of it, our pleasure is part of that good order of things that God has made; so that by delighting in the created order, we participate in it. Our very joy places us within that order, and by our gladness the ordered creation of God is made complete.'30 What is suggested by the eucharist is the character
2 7. Oliver O'Donovan, The Desire of theNations:RediscoveringtheRoots of Political Theology
(Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 174-92.
28. Ibid., p. 180. 29. Ibid., p. 181. 30. Ibid., pp. 181-2.
of our place in the world and the ways in which we share in a common creatureliness.
This line of thought may be developed a little further if we note that, from the perspective of the ascension of Christ, the passion and resurrection may be drawn more closely together than maintained by O'Donovan. We have already seen that the resurrection socialises. The eucharist remains the core activity by which the identity of the Church is maintained and its community built up. In fact, for a political theology such a formulation is too anaemic: as William Cavanaugh notes: 'The eucharist is the [church's] true 'politics'... because it is the public performance of the true eschatological City of God in the midst of another city that is passing away.'31 Such a community is committed through its participation as social in a social act to witness publicly to the social character of creaturely reality. Thus, as a political act, the eucharist embodies the goodness of the created order as liberated by the God-body from futility and sin, and invites the recovery of the acknowledgement of the goodness of the created order, precisely as social.32
Of course, the association of the eucharist with the place of Golgotha and suffering is never absent. However, the eucharist is also the sacrament which, in its acknowledgement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the defeat of evil powers and the surpassment of death by sacrifice, clarifies the un/natural circumstance of humanity. It is correct, as O'Donovan suggests, to associate the resurrection with joy and the recovery of creation order. Yet the eucharist, as re-enactment of the table-fellowship/Last Supper of Jesus Christ from the perspective of the community of the resurrection, also indicates the relations of eucharistic community to the wider society. In the eucharist, eucharistic community is bound in sociality to the wider ecological society, and interprets and clarifies it. If, as Rowan Williams argues, the eucharist is God's 'guarantee of hospitality',33 such hospitality has no ecclesiastical restrictions, and encompasses the non-human.
31. William T. Cavanaugh, Torture andEucharist: Theology, Politics and The Body of Christ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 14.
32. Part of what is meant here by social is captured by John Howard Yoder's remark, in 'Sacrament as Social Process', Theology Today 48 (1991), 33-44 (here 37), that 'What the New Testament is talking about in "breaking bread" is believers' actually sharing with one another their ordinary day-to-day material substance [sic]'. The reference to the materiality of the elements is not, however, developed; indeed, Yoder rejects a 'sacramentalistic' account of the eucharist (38) that might have enabled him to make the connection.
33. Williams, On Christian Theology, p. 217.
The eating of bread and the drinking of wine constitute community: material elements are central to the eucharist. As Pannenberg notes: 'Basic here is the fact that the fellowship with Jesus Christ that each Christian receives in the form of bread and wine unites all Christians for fellowship with one another in the unity of the body of Christ.'34 Yet such unity cannot be had except by the presence of the material elements, bread and wine, that is, by reference to the Last Supper and the earlier table-fellowship which the bread and wine summarise. Thus, in the eucharist, 'sacramental nature' is not only God's way to human embodiment, but is also taken up into the action of the remembrance of cross and resurrection of the God-body. That is, the un/natural event of eucharistic practice draws in non-human nature and re-establishes the un/natural fellowship ofthe Church.
Here may lie the truth in the following comment by Terry Eagleton on the significance of the eucharist for nature: 'of man's eucharistic relation to nature, the material world: in the symbolism of bread and wine, man's products cease to be alien to his life and become instead, the pliable medium of his expressive communication with others.'35 What is right about this comment by Eagleton is the stress on the deep relation between nature and the eucharist as a sacramental indicator of the preservation of humanity by nature. What is wrong is that nature does not become plastic in the sense of being at human disposal, but rather the reality of humanity's natural conditions are underscored in eucharistic fellowship as having their own, proper, eschatological orientation. As un/natural, therefore, the eucharist is an eschatological event, indicating the destiny of human and non-human nature.36 In such fashion, the false construal of space is criticised 'sacramentally'. For example, in a discussion of baptism and eucharist, Barry Harvey argues that, 'The church's existence as other thus signals to a world come of age the ultimate (i.e. eschatological) triumph of time (in the sense of the perfecting of creation) over colonized space, thus interrupting the processes ofsupervision that mark the modern world.'37 This is not, as Cavanaugh reminds us, to give up on the
34. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 111 ,p. 292.
35. Terry Eagleton, The Body as Language: Outline of a 'New Left' Theology (London: Sheed and Ward, 1970), pp. 46-7.
36. As Cavanaugh notes, Torture andEucharist, p. 226, the parousia is central to correct interpretation of the Eucharist.
37. Barry Harvey, 'The Body Politic of Christ: Theology, Social Analysis and Bonhoeffer's Arcane Discipline', Modern Theology 13:3 (1997), 319-46 (342).
metaphor of space but rather to construe it eschatologically.38 Eucharistic criticism thereby informs a liberative pedagogy and directs attention to the spaces of'decontextualised' others who, in this sacramental perspective, the God of the God-body has not abandoned.
Nor is the eucharist to be supplanted by different forms of practice, as Michael Northcott has suggested. Discussion of local issues - although valuable on other grounds - should not be added to the rite nor should the liturgy be displaced by other activities (such as environmental cleanup). Northcott correctly notes that: 'The Eucharist affirms not just place as building or land but place as community, for in the Eucharist, wherever it is celebrated, the people of God are reconstituted as a community ofbelievers whose meeting creates a sacred place.' Yet the question here is: how do the material elements of the eucharist in fact construe place.? If it is true, as Northcott notes, that: 'The Eucharistic transformation ofthe elements ofhuman sustenance perhaps loses some ofits resonance in urban cultures', what needs investigation is how the materiality of the eucharist might function as the criticism of such a sensibility.39
Of primary importance in this regard is the eschatological interpretation of the eucharist from the ascension of the God-body. O'Donovan discusses the significance of the Exaltation of Christ, yet he is cautious about the connection between Exaltation and eucharist on the grounds that connecting the ascended Christ to the eucharistic meal undercuts the 'corporeal language of body and blood'. Thus O'Donovan prefers, as we have seen, to relate eucharist to the passion. However, he does acknowledge the importance of an eschatological reference in that we see 'through the meal of Christ's betrayal and suffering the great banquet which was the symbol of God's promised reign'.40
What is wrong with this? First, the relation between creation and incarnation is closer than O'Donovan acknowledges. Only a Christological order, as I argued in chapter 7, is material and concrete. Thus, referring the eucharistic meal to the risen Christ is not to be construed as the denial of such concretion. Indeed, a case can be made for saying that the presence of the resurrected Christ, in his ubiquity in the Spirit, is precisely 'dense' and concrete.41 As David Ford suggests, interpreting the eucharist from
38. Cavanaugh, TortureandEucharist, pp. 269-70.
39. See Michael Northcott, 'A Place of Our Own', in Peter Sedgwick (ed.), God in the City
40. O'Donovan, TheDesireoftheNations, p. 181.
41. Cf. Daniel W. Hardy and David F. Ford, Jubilate:Theology in Praise (London: Darton,
the ascension protects the 'continuing particularity of his [sc. Christ's] humanity' and maintains 'the eschatological tension of presence and absence in the eucharist'.42 The importance of the particularity of the social body of the God-body, in whose death and resurrection both nature and humanity are elected, is maintained in such an eschatological perspective, and the dangers of a general sacramentality (see the previous section) resisted.
Second, as was also suggested in the previous section, to be intelligible the notion of sacrament requires a double reference: to the material sign (water, bread, wine) and the eschatological destiny of creation by which we are able to understand that creation has a significance, and will enjoy a state, beyond its current condition. Only in this double reference is the notion of sacrament intelligible. Contra O'Donovan, we must say that the eschatological reference of the eucharist is rooted in the actuality of part of creaturely reality operating as a sacrament. In other words, the eschatological orientation of creation is a condition of the possibility of sacrament and thereby of the eucharist itself. From a sacramental perspective, we again see how humanity and nature are bound together in the common realm in terms ofa common but not identical destiny.
So far in this section, I have sought to construct some aspects ofan ecological theology of the eucharist. Throughout, I have tried to hold fast to the eucharist as material and transformative: 'The materiality of the sacraments', writes Colin Gunton, 'reminds us that the transformation ofmatter is at the heart of the Church's being'.43 Holding to the commitments adumbrated through this book, I have interpreted the eucharist from the ascension of Christ, thereby protecting the actuality of the bread and wine as a sacramental sign and, further, indicating the common destiny ofthe human and non-human: participation in the judgment ofChrist by the Spirit. The eucharist is, second, to be interpreted from the perspective of the resurrection: creaturely reality is social and joy breaks out in the acknowledgement ofthe goodness implied by this claim in which the Church participates by the eucharist. And, third, the eucharist has an important anamnestic aspect: the remembrance ofthe cross at a place called Golgotha, understood as the 'culmination' ofthe provocative character of Jesus' table-fellowship.
These three interpretative moments require the material signs of bread and wine: the natural elements are those of the Last Supper and,
42. David F. Ford, Self and Salvation:Being Transformed (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 157, n. 41.
43. Gunton, Theology through the Theologians, p. 121.
by extension, stand for Jesus' table-fellowship and thereby recall the 'outcome' of that fellowship, the death of the God-body at the place of the skull; as natural - the result of eco-regulative agricultural processes and subsequent refining transformations - it is these elements, when consumed, which constitute the body of Christ; and, finally, the possibility of the bread and wine being sacramental signs is secured by the participation ofnature, as social and elected, in the eschatological event ofChrist's sacrificial death.
Similar to ecological pneumatology with its pedagogy oriented towards fellowship (discussed in chapter 8), the eucharist invokes and invests in a pedagogy of human-nature relations. What is the shape of such a eucharistic pedagogy of the commons to which the Church is called.? To answer this question, we need to attend to the nature of the nonhuman nature which is central to the eucharist. What is the commons in eucharistic perspective? What is the theological concept of nature operative here? We might call it a concept of un/natural nature: although eucharistic practice is founded on material elements which are social productions, yet the theological point is the transformation of these elements. In the emphasis on the plasticity of nature as sacramental sign, the theological point is that the eucharist represents the resurrection and crucifixion and thereby the sociality and openness of nature. This non-technological, un/natural, nature is at the centre of Christian practice. Yet sacramental nature stands in here - so to speak - for the creaturely nature. In the sacrament of the eucharist, as Bonhoeffer says, Christ mediates between nature and the creator in a Trinitarian action oriented towards fellowship by the Spirit. Once more, immersion in nature - some naturalistic fantasy - is ruled out.
Furthermore, and of vital importance, the alteration of nature is non-technological. We are not presented with the manipulation of nature by technique. For the nature presented here as creaturely precedes technique: as a creature ofGod, such nature emerges prior to the modern division of nature and humanity, and the domestication of the former by the latter through technique. As Simon Oliver argues: 'the Eucharist reconfigure[s] nature and culture into a participative relationship in the divine life ...by viewing them ...as fundamentally creaturely'.44 There is therefore no mysticism here, such as that invoked by O'Donovan: 'When we make artefacts
44. Simon Oliver, 'The Eucharist before Nature and Culture', Modern Theology 15:3 (1999),
331-53 (here p. 349, italics in original).
and machines to exploit the forces of nature, it is because we delight in nature, both in its raw givenness and in its possibilities for cooperation, and that we are glad that God has restored it to fulfil his purposes for it.'45 It is not the aesthetics ofdelight which are our concern, but rather our gratitude and thankfulness for a nature both pro nobis and extra nos. The matter is not only our reaction to nature, but also nature's claim, as a fellow creature in the common realm, on us.
Why do I stress the importance of the eucharistic concept of nature as non-technological.? Such a commitment is vital if we are to avoid the temptation to opt for a form of asceticism in response to an ecological crisis.461 certainly do not wish to deny that restraint is important in our relationship with nature. Yet the importance of the affirmation of nature as non-technological is to insist that we should not play off the technological transformation of nature against ascetic practices. Such a way forward is reductive and does not fit well with the recovery ofthe goodness ofcre-ation reported earlier. Furthermore, it makes such a eucharistic pedagogy appear dull and restrictive. There is a sort of wildness to contemporary capitalist culture, as Arne Naess has noted.471 do not think that the attractiveness of eucharistic practice can be founded on a direct opposition to such wildness.
Here we must be guided by the bread and wine as material elements of the eucharist: there can be no escape from the facticity of such elements. Indeed, bread and wine are not raw nature; these are already transformations, the products ofhuman labour. So human society and human technology are invoked by the bread and wine. Indeed, I do not see that the fact that bread comes in plastic bags and wine in cartons in Western societies, as Northcott laments, is a bar to grasping the un/natural significance of the eucharist. For eucharistic practice is bound to the bread and wine produced by a particular society in a particular place.
Perhaps, therefore, one should draw on Bonhoeffer's suggestion as to the recovery of an 'arcane discipline': eucharistic practice is predicated upon the alteration of nature towards God and thereby towards humanity. Christian discipleship is a reminder of the destiny of all flesh
45. O'Donovan, TheDesireoftheNations,p. 183.
46. For example, Albert Borgmann speaks of ascetic practices in the face of ecological degradation: see Albert Borgmann, 'Prospects for the Theology of Technology', in Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote (eds.), Theology and Technology (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984), pp. 305-22 (pp. 320-1).
47. Arne Naess, 'Deep Ecology for the Twenty-second Century', in Sessions (ed.), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, pp. 463-7 (p. 467).
in Jesus Christ. Fellowship between humanity and nature as suggested by eucharistic practice is to be understood in the form of an ecclesial common realm. Here eucharistic sacrament does not suggest, as Larry Rasmussen proposes, that 'God is pegged to earth'.48 Instead, the fellowship of the eucharist indicates the contingent suffering of creatures, joy in creatureliness and the orientation of all creatures towards God in the Spirit by the judgment of Christ.
Was this article helpful?
Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.