Rich Paxson

James says that the structure of Eucharist is the memory of a third person, out there, coming in to disturb you. How might understanding Eucharist/Communion this way change our experience and practice of it?

Once in a Bible study at church I shared how I thought that much of Christianity today makes Jesus into an idol by conflating Jesus’s human existence with a pre-existing, divine nature that seemingly gives Jesus the man the power to ‘save us from our sins.’ Wendy our rector, who was leading the Bible study, politely listened to my thoughts about Jesus as a kind of modern day idol.

And now comes James using a specifically anthropological lens, seeing Jesus the man living a fully human life that ended when he was thirty-three. James characterizes Jesus appearance on the Road to Emmaus, which was after his death, as a “Dead Man Talking.” Cleopas and ‘N’ encountered Jesus the Dead Man Talking there on the road to Emmaus, and their hearts burned within them.

Jesus the Dead Man Talking had the form of a man, but was in no way limited by human being. Rather James explains how Jesus the Dead Man Talking was and is God’s own self in the form and narrative of Jesus the man. Through the form and narrative of Jesus, God desires to become interpretive principle, hermeneutic informing our very human lives.

Chris Hedges, on page 41 in his book ‘Losing Moses on the Freeway,’ wrote:

“God cannot be summed up in a name. God cannot be described. Only idols provide this certitude. But watch, God seems to say, you will know me when you encounter me. You will see who I am in the profound flashes of self-knowledge that cut through darkness, in the hope that rises out of despair and suffering, in the loving touch of another, in the moral life where we resist the worship of ourselves so others can prosper.”

James writes that Eucharist is structured through the memory that the risen Christ is our interpretive hermeneutic, theophany of Yahweh, cloaked by the life of the man Jesus and its narrative, which is how the underlying theophany becomes discernible. Truly encountering Jesus the Dead Man Talking brings about an upwelling of the Spirit, which is felt as hearts burning in recognition and joy. Seventeenth century Quaker George Fox in his autobiography put it like this:

“When all my hopes in [the priests] and all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition”: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy!”