April 27, 2013

Reflections: To find God, start with Jesus – in Gospels, Eucharist

By JOSEPH MCKENNA

I read in the Press Herald the other day that there are people out by the ocean searching for God. I'd like to help them, if I may.

REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.

I am a Catholic and the word "catholic" means "universal," or "all embracing," so I take truth wherever I find it.

When I was getting my degree in theology in Montreal, we had a whole week of lectures on the beloved Lutheran theologian Karl Barth. He was so important that the lectures were presented by a speaker from Belgium. Barth revived the original Christian position that it is Jesus of Nazareth who leads us to God, i.e., if you are searching for God, begin with Jesus of Nazareth.

OK, so how do you get in touch with Jesus of Nazareth?

Through something that the Hebrews called "zikkaron," the kind of memory that brings past events into the present.

For example, I have a cherished CD of Richard Tucker, the beloved Jewish tenor, now deceased, chanting the music of Passover.

Here is the introduction: "The aim of the seder on the night of Passover is to bring the events and miracles of Egypt into the present so that each of the celebrants old and young is made to feel that he has personally come out of Egypt. The ceremonial part of the seder begins with the chanting of the kiddush, the sanctification of the wine."

In Matthew's, Luke's and Mark's Gospels, when Jesus at the Last Supper says over the bread and wine, "Do this in memory of me," the Greek word for memory here is "anamnesis" because it brings the Last Supper into the present.

Zikkaron/anamnesis is more than just a memory of something; it brings the remembered event into the present so that we can be there and participate in it. If you're going to be dealing with the mystical world of religion you have to be comfortable with this process. Science isn't going to be helpful here.

But there's more.

We have a cherished document from the year 150 (more than 100 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus), written by Justin Martyr. Here is some of what he says: "And on that day which is called after the sun, all who are in the towns and the country gather together for a communal celebration. Then the writings of the prophets or the memoirs of the Apostles are read as much as time permits."

The Gospels are called "memoirs." There is that word again.

The document goes on to describe that after some petition, prayers, bread and a mixture of wine and water are brought to the presider, who gives thanks (chants a kiddush) and "remembers" what Jesus did at the Last Supper.

All through Christian history, these have been the ways of getting in touch with Jesus: (1) the Gospels, special memoirs that allow us to be actors in the events described, and (2) the Eucharist, that brings the Last Supper with its subsequent death and resurrection of Christ into the present.

I said I was open to all truth; here is an excerpt from a Greek Orthodox prayer book: "The Orthodox Church has never tried to analyze precisely how Christ is present in the Eucharistic Gifts. We hold by faith that through Holy Communion we partake of Christ in his personal presence ... The change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is mystical and sacramental (mysteriake)."

Of course there has always been the third way of getting in touch with Jesus: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto Me." This is often the way that "others" contact our beloved Savior.

Once you have Jesus, He will lead you to His Father. (Read Charles Peguy's "God Speaks.")

So all you seekers out there by the ocean, if you haven't found God yet, come on in.

Joseph McKenna is a semiretired priest who lives in Portland. He works especially with inmates at the Maine State Prison and with those seeking to join science with religion. He can be reached at:

jrmckenna@gwi.net.

 

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