Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: Imaginary Jesus Day Three

Okay, so here we are, day three of our tour around Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. And I'm actually a bit nervous. In my first day's post, I promised I would delve into a point where my theological beliefs diverge from Mikalatos's. Apparently a few people are looking forward to seeing what my beef will be, including the Blog Tour Overlord (gulp) and the author of the book (gasp).

Well, if you're looking for a knock-down, drag out theological ker-fluffle, worthy of at least a boxcar race down a hill if not a full on inner tube race down a mountain (can you tell what part of this book I really liked?), you're probably going to be disappointed. My disagreement has absolutely nothing to do with the overall underpinning of the book (as yesterday's post should indicate; I've preached sermons with similar themes). Instead, it was an incidental item toward the end of the book. And, having said that, I have to break out Godzilla:

Toward the end of the story, Matt is chased by a horde of imaginary Jesuses of every shape, size, and kind. They spill out of a bookstore and chase Matt into a prayer labyrinth, where he loses most of them. He proceeds through the labyrinth until he finds the Virgin Mary and Pete celebrating Holy Communion. Mary reminisces about her life as the mother of the Real Jesus and, after listening to her stories and communing, Matt moves on toward the book's climax and ultimate fulfillment.

Mikalatos makes the good point that communion hasn't always been celebrated the way it is now, what with individual wafers, little plastic cups, and so on. But he seems to connect the true meaning of communion with the "sitting around and reminiscing" business that Mary does. And that's when I got a little upset. Not angry, not disappointed. I mean, I should expect this sort of thing. Before we move on, though, I need to issue another alert:

I'm a staunch Lutheran (goes with the job) and we have a slightly different understanding of what "doing this in remembrance of Me" means. And it all relates back to Holy Communion's roots, namely Passover. Simply put, "remembering" was (and still is) a loaded term when it comes to the Passover.

In a section of the Passover liturgy called the b'chol dor v'dor, participants are reminded of the following:

In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt, as it is said: "And thou shalt relate to thy son that day, saying, this is on account of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt." It was not our ancestors alone whom the Most Holy, blessed be He, redeemed from Egypt, but us also did He redeem with them, as it is said: "And He brought us from thence, in order to bring us in, that He might give us the land which He sware unto our fathers."
It's not just within the haggadah that we see this. Deuteronomy 26:1-10 includes a similar theme:

When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, "I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us." The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God. Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me." Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.
Notice the pronoun shift. The worshiper first talks about his ancestor, but then quickly shifts to talking about how the Egyptians oppressed him and how he cried out to the Lord. In other words, for the children of Israel, remembering wasn't just recalling facts or stories from the past. It implies participation. Active participation.

It's within this context that Jesus commanded His followers to "do this in remembrance of Me." To me, this implies more than just recalling stories about Jesus. It implies more than just remembering (in a 21st century sort of way) that we are saved or how it happened. Given the overall context and loaded meaning of "remembering" in terms of the Passover, Jesus' call to remember means that, by participating in the Eucharist, we also participate in Him. His life, His death, His resurrection. We don't remember something that happened to someone else. We become participants in the salvation plan through our eating and drinking.

This is an outgrowth of my Lutheran understanding of Holy Communion. We Lutherans don't see communion as a symbolic anything. Instead, we take Jesus at His word, that "This is My Body, this is My Blood," that Christ's body and blood are in, with, and under the bread and wine, given and shed for us for our forgiveness. We obtain this forgiveness through the remembrance (in the b'chol sort of way) of Jesus, by becoming participants in what He did.

Now I assumed that Matt Mikalatos doesn't come from the same theological background as me. That much was obvious from the chapter in question. And no, I wouldn't expect him to express this kind of beliefs if he didn't hold to them. But this, in a nutshell, is why I had a small issue with the theology in this book.

That doesn't negate how great this book is. Like I said in my first day's post, I did recommend this book to my congregation members. But I also trust that their Lutheran fuzzbusters will go off a little when they reach Chapter 35 as mine did.

Go and see what the other tourists have to say:

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Valerie Comer
R. L. Copple
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher


Matt Mikalatos said...

THAT'S IT?! I waited two days, sitting on a pile of guns and bombs, ready to destroy all comers in a theological skirmish of Shack-like proportions and this is all you give me to work with?


I was trying to write a communion scene that would be readily acceptable in any orthodox (theologically I mean, not denominationally) branch of Christianity, which necessarily required not getting too specific on what precisely was happening in certain bits of the communion. But allow me to say that I have no issues with the Lutheran view of communion and I gladly raise my little plastic cup of grape juice in your direction.

I hope my next book is not too upsetting. There is a Lutheran werewolf in it. :)

Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed the post a great deal.


John said...

Sorry, Matt. I'll be more careful with my theological smack talk in the future. :)

Fred Warren said...

Love Martin 'Zilla tacking up the 95 Theses. :)

Someone somewhere said many of us have reduced Communion to a "memorial toast in honor of a dead friend." We could all benefit by taking it more seriously, I think.

Thanks for the history/theology lesson, John.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Yes, I can see why you had this bit of theological difference with the book, John. I'm afraid I came down harder, though I LOVE Imaginary Jesus. Love, love, love it.

And what did you call me, Blog Tour Overlord? You always make me laugh with that one. In fact this post is worthy of Matt's humor! ;-)