As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Feeding of the 5,000

I attended Calvary ECUSA again today. This parish is Josiah's favorite. After the service, I spoke with the priest and was most pleased with what he had to say. I felt like we had a lot in common. The readings today were Eucharistically themed:
  • You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst.
  • So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.
  • Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I love these verses, especially the Psalm. As I listened to the readings, I was reminded of several things. The first was the connection between the Eucharist and lembas, or waybread (which the Tolkein's elves gave to the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings) and Mannah or the Eucharist, the "Bread of Heaven."
Although he said it wasn't an allegory, Tolkien did not deny that the Holy Eucharist appears in The Lord of the Rings as the waybread (lembas), given by the elves to the hobbits to eat on their journey. The lembas reinforces the hobbits' wills and provides them with physical sustenance in the dark and barren lands on the way to Mount Doom. As the Church teaches, while the Eucharist still tastes and looks like bread and wine, our sensations shroud a deeper mystery: The Eucharist is truly Christ's body and blood. So in The Lord of the Rings the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist appear shrouded in the mysterious elements of Middle-earth. 1
This is just one of many connections to his Catholic faith that can be found in LOTR. For instance, the person of Elbereth/Gilthoniel, on whose name Frodo calls when using the phial of Galadriel, is reminiscent of The Blessed Virgin, an important person in Catholicism. Mary is also called "Queen of Heaven" and "Star of the Sea." Compare these two songs, one from Tolkein and one a Catholic hymn:
Elbereth
Snow-white! Snow-white, O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!

Ave Maris Stella
Hail bright star of ocean,
God's own Mother blest,
Ever sinless Virgin,
Gate of heavenly rest.

Anyway, back to today's lessons. Another thing it made me think about was a recent debate I had on a yahoo group about the nature of the Eucharist. In general, Christians agree that Christ is bodily present in the bread and wine of communion. But there are several different ways of thinking about HOW that occurs. Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation. This essentially says that the bread and wine are completely subsumed by the Body and Blood of Christ, the one totally becomes the other. Lutherans and some other liturgical Protestants believe in Consubstantiation. This belief, as well as Impanation, states that the bread and wine stay, but that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present WITH (under and around) the original elements. Other Protestant churches teach that Christ is only spiritully present, while others teach that it is just a symbol, a remembrance, with no grace or real presence attached. The Orthodox choose not to explan it, but affirm that Christ is truly present.

I like Impanation because it seems to me to be more in keeping with the Incarnational theology of the ancient Church. As I understand it, just as Christ was fully human and fully God, so the Eucharist is fully earthly (bread and wine) and fully Divine (Body and Blood of Christ). I've heard another term used -- transfiguration. I like that one possibly best of all.

As the priest preached on the gospel lesson (the feeding of the 5,000), I was reminded of something that happened to my parents several years ago. My siblings and I were all young and my parents were running a "faith ministry." We lived on donations. One day, a friend of the family brought by her daughter-in-law as they were on their way to the divorce lawyer. (That's a healthy in-law relationship!!) My dad wasn't there, so my mom listened to the wife's story. She had just cause to leave the bastard. Of course, my parents didn't (and don't) believe in divorce. After hearing her story, my mom asked her to wait until she could speak to my dad and her together, and the woman agreed. As she left, my mom was led to show her the interior of our refrigerator.

At this time in our lives, the refrigerator was bare. Donations were down in the wake of the PTL scandal and all we had were catsup and tea. We'd eaten lunch and there was nothing left for dinner. The woman was shocked. My mom said, "No, we have nothing for dinner. But Christ told us that he would take care of us, and I have faith that He will provide. In the same way, I have faith that, if you are obedient and patient, God will provide for you as well." The woman shook her head and left.

Right after she left, the floodgates opened. A veritable cavalcade of cars poured into our driveway, each bearing food. There were leftover veggies from the school, canned goods, snacks and desserts, everything we needed and more. Mind you, we hadn't told anyone of our plight. They just all decided to bring us food .... on the same day. We reveled in the abundance, but didn't realize the significace of the gift.

The next day she returned to speak to my father (an amazing marriage counselor) and mother together. They shared with her Matthew 6:31-34 (especially the last verse):
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day [is] the evil thereof.
She said, "But if you take that literally ...." and then she stopped and said, "but I know you do because I saw your refrigerator yesterday, and I see it again today." So, like tbe boy who gave his food to Jesus and had it used to feed a crowd, my parents gave him their refrigerator, and had it used to talk this woman out of a divorce.

In the end, she stayed with her bastard .... I mean husband. And, eventually, he came around. At last report they were both very happy. This, by the way, is a true story. You can judge the miracle quotient yourself.

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