Power Religion | Food | The Hunter-Gatherer Eucharist [5]

Power Religion [1] | Power Religion [2] | Power Religion [3] | Power Religion [4]

RitslaughterSo, how might we try to gather some of this together into a ritual, a performance, a remembering worthy of the rich tapestry of signs it suggests? I think, firstly, we have to humbly accept that we simply never will do this most mysterious meal full justice. But secondly, we must commit ourselves to trying. The bland, tasteless bread and wine that is served at many of the churches throughout the world is appropriate for the bland and tasteless act of weak theatre that communion has so often become. Here is a ritual, a commandment, an act of collective memory, an enactment that has so much power… and it demands that we don’t allow it to be neutered.

The memories that we are working with are loaded with paradox. We remember a man dying, a bloody sacrifice, an injustice… and commemorate the beginning of our reconciliation, the breaking of elements that draw us together. In these posts we have been thinking about the bread and wine acting as prompts for grief at our domestication of the earth, our spread of cultural mediocrity and blandness where there was such vibrant diversity. We have also seen how they suggest to us the breaking of the hunter-gatherer God. (Something I haven’t touched on is the symbolism of Jesus as the ‘lamb of God’ – Diamond makes the case for domestication of animals like sheep as a root cause of much human disease, and thus responsible for the wiping out of many times more indigenous peoples than European guns.)

I wonder then if the Hunter-Gatherer Eucharist ought to contain within it more ‘savage’ elements. Rather than eating fine bread, perhaps we might incorporate a battering of the wheat, a physical milling and breaking of the grain into flour. Rather than sipping fine wine, we might similarly trample grapes, and thus get back to the raw materials and processes involved in food production. Alternatively, we might celebrate with found or scavenged items. Freegans collect and eat discarded food from dumpsters behind restaurants. There is risk here, and dirt, and life.

The Hunter-Gatherer / Food Producer distinction does not simply exonerate the Hunter-Gatherer as some wild and truer way of life. Food production began in part because the hunters had exterminated most of the large, passive mammals that once roamed the earth. And food production has led us to have to get along, to be interdependent, rather than simply killing the stranger.

So we must also turn the Eucharist into a meditation on our own use of resources. Are we living lightly on the earth, or are we feasting from it? Are we drinking fine wine and ripping into fresh bread as exponents of a religion of power, or are we partaking in the body of Christ, the body of the hunted, the broken, the condemned, the poor, the misunderstood, the dying prophet who, like a grain of wheat, fell to the ground and had to be buried before bearing wild fruit?

I hope for one that my eating of this strange meal might lean more toward the latter, and somehow sow the seed within it, as Christ’s eating did, the downfall of power religion.

Thanks for journeying on this little series.


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5 responses to “Power Religion | Food | The Hunter-Gatherer Eucharist [5]”

  1. This has been an interesting short series and another sign that when the symbols of suffering and glory are lifted up they can be viewed in multiple ways. Your idea at the end of a more physically demanding approach to the Eucharist reminds me of Christ’s shocking and violent words in John 6: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood…”
    With that in mind I’d like to ask a questoin. TSK recommended Roger Oakland’s book critiquing the emerging church. In it Oakland criticises the e.c. for shifting the focus of participating in the bread and wine into the doctrine of transubstantiation. While Oakland doesn’t having anything good to say about the Catholic tradition, is there merit in his concerns?

  2. I’ve really enjoyed this little series Kester, very challenging. You’ve added new filters to the way I will be seeing this Eucharist Ritual now.

  3. Thanks Ben. Cosmo – is there any merit in his concerns? If you mean do I think ECs are moving more towards a transubstantiation position, I’d say no. But if I think they are moving more toward a Catholic position generally – with a greater willingness to accept and enter into mystery, a heavier emphasis on the theatre of ritual etc. – then I’d say yes.
    And I think this is a good thing. I think the protestant tradition of communion is often bland and shallow. It has narrowed the focus to a simple and basic remembrance, and taken any idea of the entry into the mysterious out of things, much to the poverty of the service.
    It isn’t just a meal. It isn’t just a wafer and sip of wine while we think, oh yeah, Jesus died for me, whoopee doo. This is a deep and rich piece moment, which deserves our constant exploration.
    What’s your thoughts?

  4. Kester,
    Thanks for the response. Oakland’s criticism is regarding what he perceives as an increasing Evangelical/emerging spirituality’s acceptance of Eucharistic adoration – which I am interpreting to mean transubstantiation. (Maybe I’m wrong in that assumption).
    I remember the first time I witnessed a Catholic Mass and was, as you have pointed out, struck by the deep sense of ritual and mystery – a thousand miles from other experiences of the Lord’s Supper where thimbles of grape juice are passed around as the keyboard and guitars provide an instrumental backing.
    Of course, the Catholic practice does present limints. I’m sure that those within EC would have an inclusive practice regarding who the ‘celebrant’ is and yes, it seems such an act justifies more than just a thin wafer (and rarely the wine for laity).
    I appreciate the Waldensians approach to incorporating this act of rememberance into a meal around the table. I think there would be great significance in inviting a few friends around for a good meal then as the conversation flowed, bringing it towards the work of Christ and passing around a fresh loaf and a quality drink. Perhaps even incorporating your idea of grinding some flour and having the guests participate in this as they arrived, then baking the bread during the meal.
    For some time now I’ve also wondered about using the elements of bread and wine as a means of presenting the gospel narrative to non-Christians. A table of bread and wine on the High Street would make a change from “bullhorn guy”.
    This whole area is fascinating to study – particularly as I come from a non-sacremental background.

  5. In the hunter gatherer culture the individual was completely subservient to the group. Sonjiala Carella explains how this stunted innovation and growth in the following post Bloody Flag: The Other F-Word In many ways Judaism at the time of Jesus of Nazareth still reflected this reality. One’s relationship with God could not be separated from ones relationship with the community. Jesus changed the nature of the relationship with God to a personal one that allowed much more individual deviance because a Christian only had to be right with God, not necessarily with ones community. By making a sacrifice of himself, he signaled an end to a world where one had to sacrifice oneself for the good of the community.