[A reflection I’ll be giving at my parish’s Corpus Christi Vigil next Saturday night…]
I want to talk about Adam and Eve. I want to talk about the garden. I want to talk about the inexpressible joy of living with God, of walking side by side with God, of having the very breath of God inside you.
The Bible says that when God formed man out of the clay, He blew into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being. And every breath he took from then on had the sweetness of God in it—and does to this day.
The body remembers. There is something called muscle memory. When the body has done a simple task over and over again, so much so that it has become automatic—brushing your teeth; washing a dish; riding a bike—it’s automatic because our muscles, our bodies, have memorized it.
The body can remember traumatic events. It can also remember joyful ones. It can remember bliss. Every breath that Adam took, even after was expelled from Eden, reminded him somewhere deep in his body of the first time that infinite love was breathed into him. We are children of Adam, and every breath we take calls us back as well, somewhere deep in our bodies, to that first breath, that first intimacy. It’s a memory of bliss. But now, it’s also an ache.
Adam named all the animals. He named Eve. But he never named God. Never even asked God His name. He was so close to God, lived in such perfect union with him, that a name would have just gotten in the way. It was when God was cloaked in mystery that people wanted to know his name. Moses asked his name and he said, “I Am Who Am”, which is both the plainest truth and the most profound riddle.
After Adam sinned and became ashamed of his nakedness, God asked him who told him he was naked. Adam probably thought it was the serpent. But it was God who told him he was naked. For when Adam sinned God also covered His own nakedness. He cloaked Himself in mystery, and we didn’t see God naked again until he was naked on the Cross. And the name they nailed above His head was “Jesus”.
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I want to talk about seeing God, about seeing God face to face. It was said of Moses that there was no other prophet like him, and that he spoke to God face to face. But this isn’t entirely true. He did indeed ask God to see His face, but God said no. He said that if He showed His face to Moses, it would kill him. Instead He said He would walk past Moses, and Moses could see Him from behind. As Christians we are also told to look at God from behind. If we want to see God’s face are told to look for it in the poor, the sick, and the dying, where it will sadden us, because it will remind us of God’s nakedness on the Cross, but it will not kill us. It will in fact, if we are Christians, bring us to life.
* * *
And finally I want to talk about bread, about the bread of the Eucharist, and how the bread of the Eucharist is like incense. At the Temple in Jerusalem, when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer prayers and sprinkle the blood of sacrifice, he also burned incense, and the incense served two purposes: on the one hand, it symbolized his prayers for himself and for the people being brought up to the Throne of God. But it also served a more practical purpose: part of the prayers, as we see in the Psalms, was to ask God to show his face, and if God were to grant that request, the smoke of the incense would keep the priest from seeing God’s face directly, and he wouldn’t die.
The bread of the Eucharist serves a similar purpose: it protects us from seeing the full glory of Christ, which would not kill us but would throw us into the holy confusion that Peter experienced at the Transfiguration, where, the Evangelist tells us, “he didn’t know what he was saying.”
We cannot view full glory of Christ—but we can take it into our bodies, where the bread can protect us only so far. It dissolves, they say, in fifteen minutes or so, and when it is gone, all that remains is the full glory of the Risen Christ at the very center of us. We have again in us the first breath of Adam, the breath of the Spirit, the breath of the Infinite Love of God. And the Infinite Love of God is the only thing I really want to talk about. It’s the only thing there really is to talk about, the only thing there ever was, the only thing there ever will be.