Recently I saw a sticker on the car. It was a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating the “Jesus fish” and it was supposed to be satirically atheist- sort of a triumph of a natural history view of the world (evolution) over faith (and creation). Seeing it I said “Do this in memory of me” and my son (14) laughed and immediately understood what I was seeing in it (which made me think perhaps I am not deluded).
I am seeing a powerful statement of the timelessness of Christ (Wisdom if you like) the idea that before human even existed there was a sacramental relationship between God and creation and also an eco-theological assertion about the place of ALL creation (not just humans) within a sacramental reality. In this symbol, Christ the fish (embodied in nature) gives Godself as food for the dinosaur. Food seems to be a universal need for all of life and for humans has become powerfully symbolic of well-being, nurture and connection. In the Eucharist we remember a meal Jesus shared and take into our bodies the actual, material reality of food- Jesus’ body.
The dinosaur in this picture asserts that evolution happened and is supposed to violently eat up our ability to have faith but the “Jesus fish” as a symbol that can function recognisably as food (think of all the feeding stories in the new testament that contain fish as part of the meal) can become a reinforcement of the stubborn tenacity of faith and the all-pervading grace and love of God. If we see “fishing” as a symbol of apostleship (see eg. Matt 4:19) then the symbol also has a dark side, this is also a text of terror about church leaders who consume the lives and wills of people. But I am seeing Jesus, the bread of life.
The Eucharistic prayer functions in the mass as a way of focusing us on Jesus as someone who enters our community as food- and on all the emotional and material things that food provides for us in our lives. I have found it to be boring and empty when I am too far from the altar, when there is too much pomp with the kneeling on sore knees while people swing incense and ring bells and use pages and pages and pages of words in a monotone but I have also found it real whenever I have had the privilege of setting the table, helping with the liturgy or at least standing around the altar like a family called to a meal.
The many prayers then is a remembering of the people present in a bodily sense, or present through the union of similar rememberings or absent to us except in love. The Jesus story becomes our story when we remember it, Jesus took the bread broke and shared it and told us to do the same. We become bread for the world by remembering the story as set down in the bible and in liturgy. “The people” traditionally get to join in with three lines only (the memorial acclamation) and an “Amen” at the end but I think this is wrong. Ideally we would share stories in many directions not just from the voice of authority- we would co-construct our tradition making links between the Jesus story and my story and the work of feeding.
Some contemporary liturgies do this by having various sections read by different people or groups which I think is a step in the right direction and possibly more manageable than the ideal I envision where we actually make meaning together by saying what we remember and how Eucharist has touched us this week. I find it a little bit over-the-top in traditional liturgies where the movement of the prayers goes from praying to various others into a “For ourselves too, we ask some share in the fellowship…” section. Jesus never said “Come to my table begging for inclusion and grovelling for crumbs” he said “I am the bread of life”. Jesus came to wash our feet and feed us – our role was simply to accept this and then pass the action on to the world. NOONE EVER has to grovel and try to adjust their worthiness to receive sacrament. I wish I had known this as a teenager when I was raped and excommunicated myself because I felt unworthy of Eucharist.
Good sheep may follow the good shepherd, but we at times bring our Tyrannosaurus rex selves stomping up to the table of grace. The Jesus fish says “take and eat”. Creation is invited forever into sacrament, into life. God looks at all that she has made and it is inherently good (Genesis 1:31)