Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Hoc Est Corpus Meum": Modern Gnosticism Part 2

"This is my body," Jesus told his disciples, "which is broken for you."

What did he mean by that? The various interpretations of our Lord's words in the upper room account, to a large degree, for the existence of Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians as separate denominations in the Protestant world today.

While the average layperson has little familiarity with the arcane debates over the communicatio idiomatum, Eutychian Christology, and the extra Calvinisticum, she has nonetheless breathed enough Gnostic air to at least know this much: Whatever Jesus meant, it certainly didn't include actually receiving grace from the Lord's Supper.

After all, how could so "spiritual" a thing like grace be communicated by means of so "physical" a thing like a piece of bread or a cup of wine (er... excuse me: grape juice)?

And here we are again, right back to the ol' spirit/matter dualism (who says the Gnostics died out way back in the day?). There's no way around it: the coupling together of physical elements and spiritual benefits offends our evangelical, American sensibilities. Especially if we remember the 1960s' (which, I'm told, is impossible if you were really there). The cultural revolution of that era taught us in no uncertain terms that "all you need is love," and that things like wedding vows and institutional religion were for squares. I am the eggman. I am the walrus (coo-coo-ka-choo).

Although we may never "solve" the mystery of Jesus' words in this life (though my own bias should be obvious), we must at the very least admit that participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper does something to us and in us (Rom. 6:3-4; I Cor. 10:16; 11:17-32).

And if, after reading that passage in Romans, you object that Paul is talking about baptism with the Spirit, not baptism with water, you've made my point for me.