Torture and the Eucharist

Torture is a kind of theater in which people are made to play roles, and thereby reinforce a certain kind of social imagination. The Abu Ghraib photos lay this dynamic out for all to see. The detainees in the photos are made to play the role of deviant, of the filth that the terrorist is in the morality play that we call the War on Terror. Hooded, contorted, stacked naked, chained to cages, cowering before snarling dogs, covered with excrement, dragged around on leashes, made to masturbate and howl in pain, the prisoners become what terrorists are in our imagination: depraved subhumans. The imagination of the War on Terror is inscribed on their bodies in a kind of ritual drama, or anti-liturgy [….]

The Eucharist is about the construction of a social body—the Body of Christ—that is capable of resisting the imagination of the state when resistance is called for [….] If the Church is the Body of Christ, the sacrament and sacrifice for the world, then we are to be broken and given away as food for others. The Church is, as Paul says, to “make up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24), by suffering together with the victims of violence. If it is the case that the Eucharist makes the Body of Christ, then the Church does not simply commemorate God’s “no” to violence, but embodies God’s answer to violence in the world. We ourselves prefer to absorb the violence of the world rather than to perpetrate violence. (William T. Cavanaugh, “Telling the Truth about Ourselves.”)

The Eucharist, as Cavanaugh (a student of Hauerwas!) teaches us, is about the formation of “a certain kind of social imagination,” a certain way of seeing the world together with others. Specifically, the Eucharist teaches us that there is no friend/enemy division with those who call themselves Christians, for we were all once enemies of God but are now called his friends. Thus we learn we have no enemies, or better, we are all enemies called together to share at one table in one body.

Leitourgia, Or To Work With Your Hands

In one of his letters, Paul writes something I have always found “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3.16): “You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4.11). Never quite taken to manual labour, I have personally struggled with this (somewhat obscure) bit of wisdom. My recent (albeit short-lived) experience in landscaping, however, brought some much-needed insight.

Landscaping, to get right to it, took quite a toll on my hands—chafing, cuts, callouses, peeling skin, dirt and blood. My hands quickly became rougher and less sensitive, almost seeming heavier. Yet with these same hands I was able to earn a living, making the turning of the earth into the tool of God’s providence—what might be, in a few years, the religious duty of “providing for … [one’s] own household” (1 Timothy 5.8).

Then, each Sunday, these same hands—now calloused and cut—turned back to the God who “stands beyond creation” in their most proper work (Marion, 327). In the New Testament, leitourgia is the Greek word used for the worship of the church, in other contexts meaning military or other forms of service, including the service of a labourer.

Worship, leitourgia, is our most proper work, the work of God. The high and difficult work of worship is the truest purpose of our created bodies. To (re)turn our hands to God in praise is to (re)direct creation to its proper end and goal, the Creator beyond creation. These hands, bloodied and dirtied, are returned to the very God who gives them life and breath. This is the intimate and beautiful connection between to “work with your hands” and “to lift up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2.8).

PS. I look forward to Rob Bell’s upcoming book, “Jesus Wants to Save Christians”, with great anticipation.

The Beauty of Liturgy

This following story from The Drama of Scripture beautifully illustrates the power and beauty of a structured liturgy.

An atheist, a committed disciple of the ‘truth’ of Communism, once gave a speech to an enormous crowd in the former Soviet Union. He mocked the Christian faith, saying it was all mere fantasy. It was not Jesus but the program of Marx and Lenin that was destined to bring history to its appointed purpose. The atheist was eloquent and withering in his scorn for Christianity. When he finished, an Orthodox priest asked if he could say just two words in reply (his two Russian words are translated by three words in English). The priest shouted, “Christ is risen!” and the crowd roared back the response carried with them from their childhood: “He is risen indeed!” For a world so twisted by evil and enslaved by sin, what other message could there be? Christ is risen. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a new world is dawning. The night of evil has ended. The light of God will fill the whole earth again. The resurrection stands at the center of the Christian faith. (165)