The Eucharist is a ‘transformation’ or ‘transition’ engine
Let me tell you about my Muesli. This is what I eat every morning as my ‘break-fast’. I want good quality muesli. When we first came to Montreux, we looked around at the various kinds, and tried some out and then settled on one brand of ‘Bio’ muesli. But then something happened. I heard on the radio that nearly all breakfast cereals are full of sugar! I want to reduce my sugar intake. I wondered ‘should I change my muesli? Should I make my own?’ “Where would I get the ingredients from? There seems to be just so much that is pre-packaged here, I don’t know where I would get oats, and nuts and dried fruit from.
Because the business of breakfast is such an important thing, I want it to be settled. I have already been through the experimental phase and now I want that part of my life to be settled. This anxiety about the muesli comes from being in a state that is neither one thing nor another. It is by definition an ‘up in the air’ state where the person I am is neither one thing nor another. The natural movement of human organisms is toward a kind of equilibrium where things are settled, because the tension created by being neither one thing nor another drives us to a resolution.
But it is a mistake to settle on one brand of muesli too soon, or to assume that once I have settled on a brand of muesli, then that it is for all time. Sometimes companies change their recipe, so that what once was a very healthy recipe, ends up being less so. Sometimes they out their prices up by making the size of the container smaller.
Then it is necessary go back into the state of ‘playing’ with options about breakfast, until the right one comes up again. In fact it is this capacity to be ‘up in the air’ which marks healthy people. Much of life is about transition. Starting from the end, we make a final transition from life to death. But before then, we make the transition from being robust people to being frail people. We make the transition from not worrying about our health at all to spending a lot of time on doctors’ appointments. We make the transition from having lots of friends to fewer friends. We make the transition form having a life long partner (or nearly) to being on our own. All of life is about loss and adjustment.
A book that I am reading at the moment calls this ability to live in transition as a ‘negative capability’, and defines a person as being able to live in uncertainty, mystery and doubt’ without reaching too soon for a conclusion.The picture of a healthy person is one who moves through transition trusting the process, and trusting that there is a healthy movement going on.
I am thinking about a caterpillar. Does the caterpillar know that it is going to turn into a beautiful butterfly? I don’t think so. The caterpillar just gives itself to the processes of life flowing through it, and there, one day it dies, to be come neither caterpillar or butterfly (except that we who know call it chrysalis.) But a Chrysalis looks dead. It is ‘being in a state of transition’, being neither one thing nor another.
Now religion has a function, for good or ill in being healthy or not. If I want to hold back the tide of continual transition, then I can bolster my sense of stability by being part of a religion where nothing changes. We sing ‘Change and decay in all around I see, O thou who changest not abide with me’. Religion is then, is put into the service of our neurotic fear of the changes and chances of this fleeting world. But some transitions ought not be resisted, but embraced as part of God’s plan to transform us into the likeness of Jesus.
This week I received two magazines from Anglican Churches in Switzerland. Both of them dealt with this theme. One, from Peter Potter in Berne said ‘Being afraid can seriously cramp your style. Fear of making mistakes or looking foolish often means that people don’t try.’ I know that about learning French. I am happiest making mistakes in the class, and with people whom I know like me, and I like them, because these relationships of love allow for ‘mistakes’. The class is a place of ‘sanctioned experiment and mistake making’. That is the way I will improve my French. Like the chrysalis the class is a time of ‘play’ which is allowed.
Roy Taylor in Geneva is changing the time of his AGM to try to get more people to come. He writes I ask you not to pre judge the matter’ It is an experiment…If the new time works, excellent. If not we can do something else.’ Roy is asking people to not approach a new situation with the question of ‘Is this right or wrong, is this good or bad. Do I like it or not?’ He wants his congregation to come with an attitude of positive play about their AGM.
But in some ways, Church is too important to muck around with, isn’t it? I bring my self to God in Church, and want to ‘touch base’ with God. Like my choice of muesli, once I’ve found something that works, I don’t want to muck around with it. It is too important. That is why I think church worship becomes a bit ossified. If we are not using it as a neurotic bulwark against healthy transition, then Church functions as a genuine conduit between us and God.
The problem is that the Eucharist is a ‘transformation’ or ‘transition’ engine. In the Eucharist we are meant to be shaken up a bit so that we can hear God speaking to us anew. We participate in death, entombment and resurrection of Jesus so that we will be used to the natural transitions that life consists of, and able to trust God to hold us in them, as he held Jesus in the tomb, while he was ‘cooking’. What does not change in the Eucharist is its ability change us! What does not change in the Eucharist is the process of transformation that it represents, as we are joined to Christ’s ‘making all things new’. This is what we celebrate chiefly at Easter.
The Chaplaincy Council has been thinking about making some changes. These are chiefly designed to help us worship better. We will be entering into a time of ‘sanctioned play.’ This means for me as well as you approaching Sunday mornings with a sense of expectation and anticipation about what will happen. But like the muesli which has been chosen, there could be some of you who know what they want, and will be disturbed by others’ playing. This reflection is a recognition that I am like that too, to some degree. But I also know how stake and in a rut things can be if I don’t stay open to new experiences, and if I don’t let God ‘hold me’ as I trust God to carry me through the times of being ‘neither one thing nor the other’