Shrove Tuesday and the Body of Christ

‘We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community’. -Dorothy Day

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday in the Anglican tradition, also known as ‘pancake day’. For the past few years, my small group at Church of the Redeemer has had a gathering in which we have consumed huge amounts of pancakes, beer, sausages, and whatever other comestibles we’re giving up for Lent. One of the men in our small group is Northern Irish, and the first year we did this he suggested that we incorporate some customary U.K. Shrove Tuesday practices. He mentioned as a for instance the ‘pancake relay’, but we had no idea what that meant, so we made up our own pancake games, including pancake flipping, pancake races, and pancake tossing competitions, among other things. It’s been a wonderful and celebratory communal event binding us together as a group.

Last year my daughter was just under one and not really aware of what was going on in this celebration. It’s really funny to look at pictures and videos of her from this time period. She’s always looks pretty confused, even freaked out at times. But this year was different. She’s finally started walking and talking and has developed a robust emotional and social life. It turns out that my daughter is extremely socially driven and is a even bit of a ham. She was a late walker, and the turning point for her came a month ago when she walked across the room to me in the presence of our small group and everyone cheered her on.  It was as though a light bulb came on in her head at that moment, and she’s been walking ever since.  I loved watching her at last night’s pancake fest. She has taken a special shine to our friend Grace, so when Grace showed up with her son, my daughter made a beeline for her and asked to be held. For the rest of the night she ran around with a huge smile on her face, peals of laughter punctuating the evening’s festivities.

This particular community in Nashville is very dear to me, and moments like last night, in which I see them loving my daughter well, make me love them all the more. I love that my daughter was baptized among these people, and that they took vows as a congregation to help us to raise her as a Christian. I love that we come together around feasts and fasts appointed to us by the church’s calendar, because it reminds me that this particular body forms an organic part of the whole company of saints who are the body of Christ. For as Augustine has taught us, Christ is the totus christus, the whole Christ, head and body, and his social or mystical body is wherever and whenever there has been a people of God visibly gathered in his name. When we celebrate, fast, and pray, we do so in the company of the whole body of Christ, which joins us invisibly in sacramental presence. This is why Henri de Lubac and others have come to argue that salvation is not merely individual but social. The disintegration and fragmentation caused by sin has been reversed by a re-gathering of all in the new Adam, Christ. Christians throughout the centuries have been tempted to call this new creation of people gathered into Christ a ‘new race’. But this is a mystical unity that is not a uniformity, a unity that is compatible with the diversity of cultures and languages. This is why in describing how the Psalms are to be prayed, Bonhoeffer can say that

The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for his Church. Now that Christ is with the Father, the new humanity of Christ, the body of Christ on earth, continues to pray his prayer to the end of time. This prayer belongs, not to the individual member, but to the whole Body of Christ. Only in the whole Christ does the whole Psalter become a reality, a whole which the individual can never fully comprehend and call his own. That is why the prayer of the psalms belongs in a peculiar way to the fellowship. Even if a verse or a psalm is not one’s own prayer, it is nevertheless to prayer of another member of the fellowship; so it is quite certainly the prayer of the true man Jesus Christ and his Body on earth (Life Together, pp. 46-7).

There is no greater privilege imaginable to me than to be counted with my wife and my daughter in the mystical body of Christ and to participate in the divine life of this body in the outpost called Anglicanism.

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