Friday, March 26, 2010

Michael Welker on the Cross, God’s Suffering, and the Supper

Michael Welker, What Happens in Holy Communion? (John F. Hoffmeyer, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000): 107-8. Emphasis is mine; sorry for its abundance, but this is some really good stuff.
The cross confronts God with the death and sin of the world in a way that calls into question not only Jesus’ life, but the divine life.

What kind of God is this, whose will for revelation runs up against limits? What kind of God is this, who while desiring the greatest intimacy with human beings ends up at the greatest distance from them? The cross calls God most profoundly, most abysmally into question. The direct confrontation with sin and death profanes the most holy God…The cross reveals a suffering of God, a powerlessness of God – not only the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, but suffering and powerlessness in the depths of the Godhead.

In this powerlessness of God, as it becomes manifest on the cross, we recognize two things. We recognize the communion of the Creator, the Holy Spirit, and the crucified Jesus over against a world that shuts God out. But we also recognize a divinity of which it is now really true that nothing human is foreign to it, a divinity that has given itself over to the abyss of human misery and horror. We recognize a God who has exposed himself not only to death, but to the abysmal distance from God which some biblical traditions call ‘hell.’…We can articulate this state of affairs in the sentence: On the cross hell becomes manifest. But it also becomes manifest that hell is not foreign to God, that God suffers hell, that God exposes the divine life to this suffering

The celebration of the Supper takes the situation of the cross, a situation of abysmal guilt and suffering, and reveals and proclaims it as a situation that Jesus has already mercifully anticipated and overcome.”

3 comments:

Richard L. Floyd said...

I know and respect Michael Welker, but I think he is treading in dangerous theological waters here. The idea of a powerless God need lots of nuance or we lose too much of what our faith proclaims.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Yes, it is dangerous. But it is also the case that Welker is compelled to tread this ground by the biblical narrative. Of course, we can't stop before we get to the resurrection, which subsumes this danger within the overarching covenant action of the triune God.

Nathaniel Maddox said...

I agree with both of you.
The "needed nuance for the powerlessness of God" IS "not stopping before we get to the resurrection." Perhaps, we have skewed the dialectical balance of our sacramental theology by focusing primarily on the suffering of God with and for us at the detriment of his resurrection and the hope it brings.

When 1 Cor. 11.23-26 is read during the supper we often emphasize the "proclaimation of the Lord's death." But, reflection
on the death of Christ and his identification with us is meaningless without the Paul's final three words in the passage: "until he comes."

There's an implicit dialectic here.
(1) God's identification with us in the 'powerlessness' he embraces in the cross (2) Paul's assumption of the power of God through the cross, the resurrection of Christ, and hope in his promised coming.

Maybe we should make more of an effort to couple our reading of the pre-cross supper narratives with the post-resurrection supper narratives. Take, for instance, Luke 24:13-34. On the road to Emmaus Jesus interprets the scriptures for 2 befuddled and dismayed disciples, comes to the table with them, takes the bread, blesses and breaks it, and then their eyes are opened to his resurrection.

Here we see that the 'powerlessness of God' is not the 'incapability of God'. As J. Moltmann puts it "God does not suffer out of the deficiency of his being, like created beings." (Jesus Christ for Today's World, p.45) But, through his self-initiated suffering his power over death is manifested and brings us hope.

Thus, in communion we should not only "proclaim the Lord's DEATH until he comes," but also "proclaim the Lord's death until he COMES."

Whatever the case theologically,
I would suggest that
this first communion meal post-resurrection in Luke 24 is often neglected.
Perhaps we should do more to emphasize it in our scripture readings and reflections during communion.