Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your Priest is Pilate and Judas (and so are you)


People get up in arms sometimes about the symbols that we use around the Eucharist. That's fair. If people don't know what's going on, then it makes sense to be afraid that they are having the wool pulled over their eyes. And, if they get the sense that the priest doesn't know what's going on either (!), then it makes sense to get very uncomfortable.

The problem is complicated because we are centuries beyond what these forms originally meant. We have layers and layers of accreted meaning on simple acts (like the use of incense for odour control!). What should we do? Should we throw them all out? No, I say. Let's give our fathers and mothers in faith the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that they had something important to do or say with these forms, and let's open our liturgical and theological imaginations to explore the meaning that might be found there.

Take two quintessentially 'catholic' forms: ritual hand washing and kissing the altar. Priests often have their fingers washed before the beginning of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. It seems to represent a washing away of sin and lines up with the Old Testament images of the priests washing themselves in preparation for their priestly service. But, if you haven't seen it before, it can strike you as a little odd. Why is it there?

Also, in some higher church parishes, it is customary to lean down and kiss the altar during the service. This has been seen as a kiss of homage and obedience, as Michael Hunt puts it. It may also be a kiss reverencing the place where the Holy Spirit changes the earthly elements into spiritual food and drink. Either way, it can make many of us uncomfortable.

One of the amazing things about the Eucharistic liturgy is that it retells the story of the Passion. It starts with the "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" as Jesus enters Jerusalem. It continues through recounting the events of the Last Supper. It culminates in the breaking of the bread that both represents and re-presents the broken body of Christ. The offer then of the bread and wine is a hopeful sign of Christ's resurrected and living presence among us.

If the 'narrative' of the Eucharist puts us in the story of the Passion, where might hand-washing and a kiss fit in?

It fits with the prototypical rejecters of Christ. Pilate washes his hands. Judas betrays with a kiss.

What would it mean to see these symbols as re-presenting not only the sanctity of the Passion but also the priest's (and our own) complicity in Christ's death? What if we saw every kiss as the kiss of the betrayer as well as the kiss of homage and obedience? What if we saw the hand washing as simultaneously a sign of handing Christ over to the crowd and being made clean by his sacrifice? Might that draw us into the Eucharist differently? Perhaps more faithfully? Would that be enough to salvage these catholic practices for the evangelical proclamation of the Gospel?

Your priest is Pilate and Judas. And so are you.

[Photo by Rick Jernberg]

1 comment:

Nixon is Lord said...

Religion is boring.

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