Cur Deus Homo?
Mark 14:22-25 isn’t a typical Advent passage, but it provides a few clues about the coming of the Lord:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'”
Yes, Jesus took on flesh and blood in order to suffer and die for us as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And, yes, he “tented” among us (John 1:14) in order that we might see his light, and learn not only about God, but about how to live in the Light of God.
Yet the last verse cited from GMark reminds us that Jesus intended to drink wine again after his death. He intended to sup with disciples in the (full coming of the) kingdom of God.
In fact, Jesus undertook atonement, and spent his life showing us how to live as children of God, precisely in order to equip us to spend eternity with him in the kingdom of God—and to position himself among us as a fellow human being in order to enjoy that eternity with us as one of us. (In fact, GJohn uses “eternal life” in place of “the kingdom of God,” with “eternal life” also meaning “the life of the age to come.”)
Jesus thus gave us his body and blood not only as sacrifice, as a gift, to be used up, so to speak, in his passion and death. He gave us his body and blood in the eucharist not only as sustenance, as his ongoing life within us. He gave us his body and blood not only as salvation, as our Orthodox friends remind us of theōsis as the divine life flows into us via the connection made by the Son’s incarnation. But Jesus gave us his body and blood in his incarnation, resurrection, ascension, and coming again also as subsistence (theologians will get the pun), as the way for God to live among us, as one of us, forever.
“Atonement” doesn’t mean “at-one-ment.” But atonement is for at-one-ment. God becomes human not only to save humans but to be human—to get as close to us as he possibly could. (And then God even advances on that by giving us the Spirit to indwell us, thus drawing us into the very life of God [per John 13-17].)
How astonishing is this incarnate love! As we take communion during this Advent time, then, may we give thanks for Jesus’ body and blood in all that it means: sacrifice, sustenance, salvation, and subsistence. “Emmanuel,” indeed. Alleluia!