The Supper That Lasts

Light of Truth

The Last Supper is the supper that lasts. It is a traditional sign that expresses lasting relationship. Augustine’s definition of a sign makes a good starting point: “A sign is a thing, which besides the impression it conveys to the senses, also has the effect of making something else come to mind.” It creates the effect of making a particular reality come to mind. Signs refer; they make things come to mind. “The word was made flesh (John 1:14). Through the sacramental sign, the flesh says, the word was made flesh. The sacramental sign is just any sign. It is given the form of common food and drink. Food and drink are significant for the flesh. Without food and drink the flesh cannot have life. Therefore, when the word becomes flesh in the signs of common bread and wine, it brings its own sense of support to the flesh.
A sign is traditional when it is handed on in time from one generation to the next. In being handed on, it testifies to the meaning and the value of the relationships that have produced it. The sign itself signifies the historicity of being handed on from one generation to the next. If relationships between generations are not accepted, traditions cannot survive. The gift that is handed over has the stamp of tradition; it carries the sense of relational acceptance from one generation to the next. The degree of relational acceptance expressed in the handing over and receiving of the gift may be conditional or unconditional. Where it is unconditional, the gift expresses a kind of law of forgiveness. The gift expresses the sense of forgiveness through an unconditional surrender to relationship.
Jesus is in the hands of all. The intuited marvel is that the communicants are gathered in the midst of eternal Glory at the Eucharist. But Jesus’ being held in the hands of all through the sacrament is deeper than the intuition of it. He expresses a depth of surrender into which the communicants are only hoping to enter. This cannot be comprehended. It is the infinite humility of the one who has been handed over into the hands of men. Those who are willing to embrace and grasp it fall into the way of his incomprehensible humility. They only appear to grasp him. But the revolution is too profound for them to grasp. They are grasped by him, grasped by the obsessing depths of his intangible humility, learning to follow the lamb wherever he goes.
The lamb who was slain does not only engender passivity in the disciple. It also moves the Father, the unmoved mover. John‘s Gospel has Jesus the good shepherd say, this is why the Father loves me. Because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father. The Son, who is passive to the Father‘s command, moves the Father to love him. The beloved moves the lover to love. This must be the deepest point about relational passivity. But, at this point it is necessary to note a formidable characteristic of relational passivity. In exploring the Eucharist, it is impossible to dispense with expressions of the sense of infinite passivity. Christ was obedient unto death, even to death on a cross. The Lord was handed over. But, this infinite passivity does not exclude agency. Infinite passivity is an ethical not an ontological passivity, a passivity to holiness.
But this passivity is to be contrasted with an Eucharistic celebration by the head of a church under security cover provided by commandos and police in uniform and in plain clothes within a church and also of a judicial magistrate who was at hand to send anybody creating any trouble into the lock up. It was something unheard of in the whole of Church history. It was a spectacle not only of aggressive and absolute power in action, but of total lack of faith in the Eucharist that was being enacted. It happened on the Palm Sunday when Jesus entered the city on a donkey, celebrating the passivity of spirituality! Now we have to live with what contradicts it. It is a sign of the return of the Dark Ages! It also received the active collaboration of a leftist government that proclaims to be secular. The Party joins hands with the Church leadership to forbid the expression of religious belief, because atheism is both the moral and metaphysical basis of its absolute power.

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