The Idolatry and Despair of Mindless Consumption; Finding Rest in Participation. Incarnation, Karl Barth and the Eucharist.

“We who carry our mortality about us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to praise you. You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” -Saint Augustine, Confessions, 1.2-4

We live most of our days unintentionally. We wake, eat, work, consume, sleep. Beneath the seeming calm, our hearts are deeply troubled. While comfort may be easier to find these days, rest seems to elude us. We cling to various idols to give us our identity, only to find they have betrayed us and lead us to the introversion towards the ocean of despair that permeates our flesh.

The Christmas season, especially in the United States, has become a time of mass consumption in the name of giving gifts. Our hearts are aimed towards spending, and piling on the debt that already seems insurmountable. We are pulled into a particular form of community participation. The kind of participation that distorts our thinking, leaves us wanting. The kind of participation where rest is nowhere in sight. What happens is our hearts and desires are being shaped and formed towards the kingdom of estrangement. Why I’ve labeled it estrangement is about what it is doing to our identity and hearts. It seeks to estrange us from the One who seeks us to give us rest. When we participate in this kingdom of estrangement, it drives us ever quicker to further isolation from the root of our identity.

The story of the Incarnation is about the radical reorientation of our understanding about the identity of God. At the Incarnation, we are confronted with the true revelation of our Lord. Christ is the Word of God. (John 1) He is the saving Word that God spoke into our suffering. When we accuse God of silence in a world of suffering, He has already spoken a Word against the silence. His Word speaks against the kingdoms of oppression that seem to run the world. He offers us to participate in communion with Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Participating in the work of Christ is where we can find the rest we tirelessly chase after. What is so marvelous is we have done nothing to earn in this rest. It is offered to us, by God’s free action of love and grace towards us in the work of his Son. His action is always towards us, as attested to in the Scriptures, and our action is always running away from Him, which is also attested to in the Scriptures. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann speaks of the Incarnation this way:

“God became man that dehumanized men might become true men. We become true men in the community of the incarnate, the suffering and loving, the human God.” (The Crucified God, 1993)

Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics IV begins building on the theme of “God with us” as the central message in the Christian proclamation. He speaks to God’s action of redemption (I’m quoting him at length):

“…We ourselves are directly summoned, that we are lifted up, that we are awakened to our own truest being as life and act, that we are set in motion by the fact that in that one man God has made Himself our peacemaker and the giver and the gift of our salvation. By it we are made free for Him. By it we are put in the place which comes to us where our salvation (really ours) can come to us from Him (really from Him). This actualization of His redemptive will by Himself opens up to us the one true possibility of our own being. Indeed, what remain to us of life and activity in the face of this actualization of His redemptive will by Himself can only be one thing. This one thing does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment.” (CD IV.1.1.7, pg. 14, 15)

Moreover, we cannot detach the Incarnation and Atonement as distinct, but bound together in the work of Christ. At the Incarnation, therefore, God establishes our humanity in Christ. Before the foundation of the world, Christ was slain (Rev 13:8). “God’s eternal will is the election of Jesus Christ” (CD II.2, pg. 146) In Him we have been predestined (Eph 1:4-6), not in deterministic fatalist fashion, but out of love for us He secured our salvation in Jesus Christ.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth in the tenth chapter is a call against idolatry. Pointing to the early Jewish people who were baptized by Moses, who participated in idolatry consistently. (1 Cor 10:1-5) When we get to the passage about the Lord’s supper, Paul contrasts it by arguing we cannot partake at both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (v. 21) The passage the comes before this is about the broken bread and the wine:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (v. 16, ESV)

As we partake in the Eucharist, we are in essence railing against idolatry. We are actively resisting the idolatry and despair of mindless consumption. By participating the shed blood and work of Christ, through the Eucharist with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we enter into the rest of Christ. Though we are in a season of anticipation, again we cannot separate the Atonement from the Incarnation. When we look to the Incarnation, let us find rest in it!

Our rest comes from Christ. His faith is now our faith. We are grafted in to the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one holy catholic Church, through the finished work of Jesus Christ by participating in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit. To quote Barth once more:

“To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost. Jesus Christ is man’s salvation in all circumstances and in face of all that darkens his life, including the evil that proceeds from himself. There is nothing which is not already made good in this happening, that God became man for our good. Anything that is left can be no more than the discovery of this fact. We do not exist in any kind of gloomy uncertainty; we exist through the God who was gracious to us before we existed at all… It is this faith that we are called to belief through the Christian Church and in the Holy Spirit.” (Dogmatics in Outline, pg. 71)

Let us therefore rail against the idolatry of the world, rage against the kingdom of oppression that seeks to destroy what is good!