Somewhere along the way, the importance of food in myths and legends was pointed out to me. More specifically, the traveler’s advice “Don’t drink the water” is incredibly true to figures on magical journeys.
In Greek myth, Persephone eats just a few seeds and as a result Hel ends up with claims on her soul. In the amazing animated film “Spirited Away” the protagonist’s parents begin eating the food in the magical world and are turned into pigs as a result.
To eat the food in a place– whether it is in our “real” lives or in myth– is to start to become a citizen of that place. To begin the process of becoming a citizen of a place is to submit to the laws and other claims a place makes on you.
On a biological level, there is of course equally important things going on. We are taking in the substance of this new place. It will be digested by our body and become a part of us.
Perhaps this is the real importance of the Kosher laws in the Hebrew tradition. If the ancient Jews had fully immersed themselves in the food of the countries they were in, they would be sacrificing some of the ways in which God set them apart.
One of the things I love about God is that he so often uses these mythic elements, but he intensifies them, turns them upside down, imparts this whole new meaning to them.
So it is with communion.
Instead of this being a thing to avoid about the new world we are standing on the threshhold to, it becomes a thing to go after. we are invited to step through the door and into this new world.
More strikingly, instead of the food being a cultural artifact of the new world we enter, the food is identical with that new world itself, and that new world itself is identical to the figure who will lead us into it.
But more than this, the new world is built not only on the overall person of Christ, but also on his act on the cross. If his body had not been beaten and broken, we could not have the bread. If his body was not made to bleed, we could not drink the wine.
But if Christ’s death was the last word then this would be a meaningless act of cannibalism. It is not just the crucifixtion, but also the resseruction, which are evoked in communion. If he had not died we couldn’t take the substances in. Yet if he had not lived there would be no reason to do so.
Persephone ate seeds and digested them, and so that world became a part of her. How much more true is it of me: I drink his blood and eat his flesh (as ghastly as that sounds) and in doing this, I am reminded that he lives in me… And most specifically, his death and reseruction live in me.
In other words: Unlike the more general mythological idea, we don’t enter into only a new world, we enter into a new identity. And we don’t enter into just an identity, but we also enter into two of the great acts of this identity.