I take refuge in the Sangha

At 3pm today, think of the tearing of the temple’s veil. This is the apex of everything.

The thing that was so jarring about the November 5th 2015 policy of exclusion was that it re-drew the veil. Better: it drew it further. Mormonism’s culture of “worthiness” already conceals much of God behind a heavy curtain but this was more than I and many others had ever reckoned with. I have not recovered and doubt I ever will. I cannot accept full fellowship in something that does not offer the same to certain others (and through no fault of their own).

You see, I believe in an open communion, both in the narrow sense as it refers to the eucharist but also in the wider sense. I believe this because I believe the story of the Passion demands it.

The Last Supper makes this particularly clear. For many Christians, the Last Supper seems to have made Jesus into a kind of Dionysus in which by eating his flesh we become joined to God in a mysterious union, a union only available to the worthy. This may be true on one level, and like all good myths and their ritual enactments, there are levels of meaning here. It is true in that in the eucharist we are bound to Jesus, but not in some strange act of spiritual ecstasy but rather in a very practical way. Jesus did not intend to replace one set of pietist rituals with another. The grand failure of Christianity is that we became just another whitewashed tomb.

The Last Supper was the last supper of many similar meals, and it is Jesus’ social eating prior to the Passion that offers insight into how Jesus used food and feasting to drive a message of love and inclusion. His fellowship at meals was frequently criticised (Matt 11:19) because it broke Jewish purity laws when he sat down with “tax agents and sinners.” That Jesus of Nazareth tried to break down the social and ritual barriers that separated people is well-known, and we ought not to ignore this mission when he comes to Jerusalem, overwhelmed as we are by the grandeur of Holy Week.

Jesus’ view of purity ran perpendicular to that of the religious authorities. His cleansing of the temple was an act of aggression against the corruption of the priestly elite (and from that moment on, he was doomed). But then he went further, saying over the bread and the wine in the upper room that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Read both in companion with the temple incident and Jesus’ history with food, he did not mean, “here is my body, here is my blood” referring simply to symbols of his own flesh, but rather that, “these are my substitute sacrifices, replacing the blood and flesh of animals being sacrificed at the Temple.”

The Last Supper was thus another rejection of the all the notions of purity and elite sociality that religion so easily promotes. Jesus replaces this priestcraft with a communal fellowship of love, to be enacted in his memory. The emblems themselves do not literally transubstantiate nor are they simply symbols of an absent Christ; instead, it is the ritual partaking of this festal meal with friends and family, regardless of status, that is the real “remembrance” of Jesus’ body. As the Book of Common Prayer states, “The Lord is here,” but not in the bread and wine, but in the bread and wine partaken by his friends. This is the miracle of transubstantiation. And it is an open communion.

St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes all of this clear: In chapter 11 he tells us that bread is Christ’s body, in chapter 12 he tells us that this body is the community of Christians. This then is the new temple, built in three days: The loving fellowship. As he goes to the Cross this prophetic enactment reaches its crescendo. No longer the blood of a lamb in the temple but the Blood of the Lamb who will rip away the barriers that separate humans from God.

I sometimes practice Soto Zen with a sangha that has this as its policy of inclusion. They really mean it and not in the “we love you, you are welcome, but you can’t really participate fully…but we really do love you” kind of way:

Treeleaf Sangha is a multicultural Zen Buddhist Community in which people of all socio-economic classes, nationalities, races, ages, creeds, genders, sexual orientation and identification, and physical abilities discover shared humanity by direct experience of one anothers’ lives. We are open to all. We commit ourselves to cultivating a practice in diversity and multiculturalism by incorporating into our practice the dissolving of all barriers that perpetuate the suffering of separation, prejudice, and discrimination. We intend to expand and develop our awareness of the ways we are conditioned to separate ourselves by socioeconomic class, nationality, race, age, creed, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and other forms of identity.

I am no naïf. Everyone — including all those right-on Buddhists — gets this wrong. Still, remember the veil. It is gone. Don’t draw it again.

Happy Easter.

Comments

  1. Thanks for these piercing thoughts, RJH.

  2. N. W. Clerk says:

    Do you believe that Jesus said what 3 Nephi 18 reports him to have said?

  3. J. Stapley says:

    RJH, I like the idea of Jesus offering an alternative flesh and blood to the Temple. And like you say, there are many possible narrative layers. But my understanding (but I’m by no measure an expert) was that Christianity started as a Jewish sect and that believers still participated in the Temple. Was the reading you propose (and I appreciate your qualification of Matthew) essentially innovative?

  4. Years ago I discovered about myself that I am fundamentally universalist, including in my understanding of Christianity. It’s a fact of life for me, and shapes my interaction with institutional churches including LDS.
    Speaking of open communion, as a Mormon bishop I once held a sacrament service in which I invited everyone who had a sincere desire to participate. It’s one of my favorite memories. The fact that it’s not repeated every Sunday is bitter.

  5. E.g. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, Jesus in Context: Temple, Purity, and Restoration (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997), pp. 59-89.

    James Tabor isn’t entirely convinced but still thinks the idea of theophagy to be unlikely:

    https://jamestabor.com/eat-my-body-drink-my-blood-did-jesus-ever-really-say-this

    For him, the Last Supper is an archetype of the Messianic Banquet. I think we can tell from how Jesus uses food elsewhere that this banquet will be entirely unveiled.

  6. It seems for Mormons the more pertenent scripture is D&C 46.

  7. I don’t understand why you are critiquing orthodox eucharistic theology. Isn’t your blog aimed at Mormons? Perhaps, rather than flatly dismissing centuries of Catholic thought, you might spend time on the manner and theology of your sacraments.

  8. I’ve read this a few times today. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. charlene says:

    I also tend toward an open communion. I believe that the essence of the sacrament is feasting in community with other believers. Remembering the body is a commandment that we are to remember each other as the body of Christ and be responsible to help each other to return to Him.

  10. Jason K. says:

    This is powerful, Ronan. Thank you!

    At 3pm today I was hearing the first strains of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater.” For me, redrawing the veil just leads to more weeping at the feet of crosses, each one calling out to us to replace these crucifixions with a koinonia of love.

  11. RJH, thanks for this. It’s a topic my wife and I discuss a lot. I struggled mightily when I was disfellowshipped. The feeling of being less-than and not-one-of-us was exactly the opposite of what I needed at the time. I’ve been reinstated, but it will never be the same.

    On a side note, I have also practiced with Jundo at Tree Leaf Sangha.

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