Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Bread of Heaven

It is said of Jesus, 'You are a priest for ever, of the order of Melchizedek.' The only time we see Melchizedek in the Bible is in Genesis 14, where it is stated that 'Melchizedek king of Salem brought [Abram] bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He pronounced this blessing: "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High for putting your enemies into your clutches." And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.'

In this we see the first institution of the concept of an eucharisteo - a beatification in the form of a feast. Melchizedek presents Abram with bread and wine and gives him a blessing. In return, Abram presents the first documented tithe to Melchizedek.

This concept of the blessed feast we see again after the Mosaic covenant is formed. The children of Israel were to be saved from death by the blood of the sacrificial lamb, of the flesh of which they were to feast upon. The children of Israel were to be sustained by heavenly bread, as is told in the account of the Exodus of the Israelites, when Yahweh says to Moses, 'Look, I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens.' This holy, heavenly bread was to feed the Israelites throughout the forty years in the desert.

When Jesus came, He not only fulfilled the Mosaic covenant, but He proclaimed a new covenant after the ancient priesthood of Melchizedek. The Bible says that Jesus 'became for all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the order of Melchizedek.' (Hebrews 5) This proclamation fulfilled the prophesy of David in the Psalms: 'Yahweh has sworn an oath He will never retract, you are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek.' (Psalms 110)

We see the direct reflection of this in Jesus's institution of the eucharisteo. When the Pharisees asked for a sign from Jesus equal to the miracle of the manna, Jesus declared that He was that miracle in and of Himself. Jesus said in reply, 'I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.'

When all around Him, even His own disciples, were shocked and revolted by this statement, Jesus replied to them: 'In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me. This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.' (John 6)

It is later on that we see the full reality of this incredible pronouncement in action. At the feast of Passover, where the children of Israel eat of the sacrificial lamb, Jesus institutes the sacrament. He presented Himself as the new sacrificial lamb which was to be feasted upon: the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of humanity. The Gospels say that Jesus 'took bread, and when He had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. "Take it and eat," He said, "this is my body." Then He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He handed it to them saying, "Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Thus the Word, who spoke the worlds into existence, declared that the bread and wine were miraculously, mysteriously, and utterly sacredly His Body and Blood, the sacrificial vessel through which we partake of the forgiveness of our sins and become one with Him. The High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek reinstated the sacrament that Melchizedek had so enigmatically given to Abraham, and He commanded us to partake whenever we meet together, so that He might truly live inside of us through our eating of Himself.

Let us remember Jesus's words this Christmas Eve, as we partake of the Holy Sacrament. Let us welcome Jesus into ourselves by our faith in the words of Yahweh, 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.' Let us ask for renewed life, on the promise of Elohim's declaration that 'whoever eats me will also draw life from me.'

Monday, December 6, 2010

On the Virgin Mary

I once heard a pastor say that 'The Virgin Mary would have been like any regular thirteen-year-old. In our time she probably would have talked incessantly on her cell phone about boys, giggled all the time, not wanted to do her homework, and been rebellious against her parents.' The pastor continued to say that Jesus, in His teenager years, probably paraded his new camel up and down Main Street in Nazareth to show off His new ride. I could hardly keep my seat.

It was the very worst case I had ever seen of a belief prominent in the Protestant psyche. In a worldview based upon the premise of being anti-Catholic, the Protestants have so degraded the saints from the Catholic reverence that they have become idols of a different sort. These idols are insistently proclaimed to be 'just like us.' They supposedly have the same struggles and failures that we have, and therefore we should fight against any guilt, because God's grace covers all of our sins, no matter how persistently we do them––for we are all, apparently, equal in God's sight. It is a self-centered standpoint held in antagonism against the Catholic and Orthodox view of the saintliness of the saints, the holiness of Mary, and the respect, remembrance, and imitation that they thus deserve.

Though we are all equal in that we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ from our sins, the legacy of these heros of the faith are such that we ought to strive to emulate their good works and thus glorify God. No doubt, the reverence given to Mary and the saints is vastly abused by many people who turn to superstition and idolisation instead of to Jesus, our only intercessor. But have the Protestants not protested too far?

Looking back to the very first chapters of Genesis, we see the embryonic beginning of the work that God completed through Jesus. Eve, the first Woman, and Adam, the first Man, fell. God established a new Covenant with them, through which their Fallen nature might be rectified: the Family. The Family would be the cell that would sanctify the fallen human through its emulation of Love. Just as God is a triune Being, built upon the love and unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Family was to be a unit in which Man and Woman unite in Love and bear the fruit of Love: the Child. Sacrifice becomes the working of salvation in their lives. The Man sacrifices for the Woman and Child by working the soil to provide for them; the Woman sacrifices for the Child by the hard work of childbirth and the devotion of her life to the service of her Child and her Husband. The Child then grows up in this sacrificial love and goes out to begin a new family in which Love may multiply.

God, in this establishing of the way of salvation, prophesies the coming of the Second Adam and the Second Eve. He speaks to the snake, 'I shall put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your offspring and Her offspring; He will break your head and you will bruise His heel.'

This prophesy is fulfilled thousands of years later. God, His eyes roving to and fro over the earth to find hearts that are turned toward Him, picks Mary out of all the women of all the ages of the world to be the 'Mother of our Lord'. Rather than Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Rebekah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Susanna, Judith, Esther, Mary and Martha, Joanna, Joan of Arc, St. Lucy, St. Monica, St. Teresa of Avila, Mother Theresa, or countless other choices, God sends His archangel Gabriel to a thirteen or fourteen-year-old girl in one of the most politically tortuous times in history. Paul Johnson, in his very enlightening biography of Jesus, states that Mary's whole life, as an average woman in that time, would have been built upon being a useful helpmate to her husband. She would have known how to read and write, how to manage the household finances, how to provide with food and clothing a large family out of very raw resources. We see, too, from the words that Mary speaks, that she was a quiet and sensible soul, with an intelligent mind and a poetic turn of phrase.

The angel proclaims to her that she is 'highly favored of God'. That the Lord is 'with her'. He informs her that she is to be the 'virgin with child' spoken of in Isaiah's prophesies. That she is to be the one in all humanity which Yahweh would come upon and 'cover with His shadow' and thus impregnate. That she is to be the pinnacle figure in the Holy Family, fulfilling the establishment of the family in Genesis 3. That her womb is to be graced with El Shaddai. That her body is the body which will nurture and feed the Creator of the world. That the divine cells of the Son of the Most High will live in her body, fighting disease and enhancing her health even after she has given birth, and indeed until her death. That her breasts will provide the milk which will feed Elohim, and that the strong bond of love thus created will be a bond held between herself and Yahweh. She will be the Second Eve, through which the Second Adam will be born.

Yet this outstanding proclamation is one that Mary knows will bring extreme unhappiness for her in the short term. She knows the consequences of a pregnancy out of wedlock. She could lose the support of her family. She could lose the love of Joseph. She could suffer an ignominious divorce from her betrothed. She could be shunned by mankind. She could even be stoned, and, if the stoning did not kill her, pushed off a cliff. She could be the refuse of society. But Mary, the young girl with wonderful faith, says, 'You see before you the Lord's servant, let it happen to me as you have said.'

From this moment she was to see many miracles. She was to observe the handiwork of God in the reunion of Joseph and herself. She was to birth the Savior of the world, and to hush the cry of the Creator who spoke the worlds into being with her breast. She was to be waited upon by wise men and kings from foreign countries along with lowly shepherds. She was to flee across deserts from the wrath of evil leaders searching for her infant King. She was to be the shepherdess of her child's growth. She was to behold the miraculous works of Jesus. She was to hear His eloquent and Earth-shaking words. She was to feel a 'sword pierce her soul', as Simeon had prophesied. She was to witness His final words, securing the Apostle John as her son and protector in the stead of Himself, and she was to be present at the death of her son, the Son of God, who would wash clean her sins and the sins of all mankind. She was to see His Resurrection, which gave her the power along with all the world to conquer death.

This woman, the Second Eve, the Mother of Elohim, is a powerful figure. She is the one woman in all history whom 'all generations shall call blessed'. And so we bless Mary.