Christian Environmental Love

The Eucharist as Lamb and Predator-Prey Transformation

The ambiance, the setting in which the human person lives, the “waters” in which we swim, is our “environment.” It represents the totality in which the human person lives, relates, and interacts. More than that, for the believer in a transcendent God, “environment” takes on an even deeper meaning, extending to the all-embracing heart and love of the Triune God. This nested and overarching framework is the normative metaphysical structure for proceeding with a reflection on the transformation of the world beyond the physical and the relationship of that world to the Eucharist, to the New Creation.

A most fundamental transcendence of the laws of the earthly environment that reveals the New Creation is the integration and transformation of earthly and cosmic ecosystem elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. The sweep of this integration and transformation is drawn from the entire span of the cosmos. The soil, nutrients, water, and solar energy combine to act on seed to produce the grape and the wheat. Humankind enters the effort and wheat is ground to flour, water is added, the dough is kneaded, and heat is applied through the energy stored from the universe in wood or oil or gas. An earthly transformation occurs to make bread, a food brought forth to be of service and to be eaten. Similarly, the vines of grapes are harvested through human intervention, crushed and stomped to release the life of the grape, and then stored for bacterial fermentation to finally produce wine.

These deceptively simple creations are then transformed through the intervention of the cosmic Christ through the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration into the Body and Blood of Christ. The entire cosmos is then “lifted out” of its boundaries into a new dimension of existence, sanctified and made holy and transformed into a new presence. Christ becomes present among us as an eschatological reality of the New Creation. In being present as the cosmic Christ on the altar in the form of bread and wine, the invitation is offered to the Christian to enter into this New Creation by consuming this very person of Christ and, in so doing, be likewise drawn out of the limitations of the earthly environment to enter into the mysterious dimension of the heavenly environment.

But what does this Christian who has entered through the veil of this observable world into the New Creation look like? The diffusion of the New Creation into the presence of the Christian does not obliterate the unique existence of the Christian in the earthly environment. It is almost like a case of bi-location in the two environments. That new presence appears under quite normal elements of human flesh and blood but with the nature of Christ. That presence of the joined human and Heavenly Christ is not observable by physical, chemical, biological, or physiological measurements, but needs to be expressed in a form that reflects the “strangeness” of the New Creation. Such forms or images have to be common (e.g., bread and wine) to the earthly environment but speak to a heavenly mode of existence and action. One of those forms is the presence of Christ as the Lamb of God.

Lamb of God: The Reality of Christian Transformation

Imagine someone who has never witnessed a Catholic Mass, who knows nothing of Jesus Christ, or has long since skeptically rejected Christianity, entering into the Church at the moment of the elevation of the Host during the Communion Rite with the intonation from the new Roman Missal:

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

What does it mean to hold up what looks like a round wafer and calling it the “Lamb of God”? When someone explains that it is the Body of Christ under the form of bread and wine that is being lifted up, the mystery only deepens. A first response might be one of surprise at a kind of apparent animal worship. Why do you speak of a lamb? It may lead to a conclusion of a pantheistic view of the environment where the lamb, universally considered as a dumb, easily led creature, is somehow revered by the Christian. Indeed, even for the baptized, the significance of these images and the words at the Eucharistic celebration may be obscure. The iconography of Christ as the Lamb of God only further highlights the strange nature of this title. Yet, the title Lamb of God and the images of the Lamb have a richness and depth of meaning extending like a woolen thread throughout salvation history. That thread also speaks to the entire history of the relationship of humanity and the environment.

An anonymous seventh-century author recounts a total of 187 names in the Scriptures that are meant to describe Jesus, both from a retrospective reading of the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.1 Such names include Wisdom, Light, Truth, Resurrection, Gate, Jesus, Christ, and Son of God. Brown2 lists about 40 titles for Christ found in the New Testament, including Lamb of God. But the title Lamb of God is only mentioned twice in the Scriptures, both by John on the occasion preceding Jesus’s baptism (Jn 1:29, 36). The name Lamb in reference to the Risen Lord is used 28 times in the Book of Revelation.

Lamb of God is a strange title in several ways. There are only two animals used as symbols of Christ: the lion and the lamb, already a strange juxtaposition of strength, power, and predation with weakness, meekness, and prey. For the former animal, three references to Christ as lion are given (Gen 49:9–10, Hos 5:14, and Rev 5:5). But Christ as Lion has not been adopted as a Christian symbol in any universal and significant way, except perhaps in literature such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. Therein, Christ is presented as the Lion, as the one who is benevolent, powerful, vulnerable to death, yet raised to life. Clearly, the lion is more adaptable to literature than the lamb, which tends to have a rather nondescript personality. One simply cannot imagine this great work by Lewis with a title such as The Lamb, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nevertheless, the form of Jesus as the Lamb permeates the entire Christian faith. It is rich in its sacrificial meaning and reality, and it has emerged in the tradition as a representation of Christ and title for Christ that expresses most clearly the nature of the Christian who lives in the New Creation. For the Christian who sees this image with eyes of faith, the whole history of the lamb as a sacrifice to God, Christ as the true Paschal Lamb, and Christ as the center of the cosmos, is evoked.

Sacrifice, from the Latin sacrificus, translates as “making sacred” (sacri: sacred + ficus: making). So, in some sense, this action of sacrificing is to make sacred this exchange between two entities. Because animals, such as calves or bulls for kings, were valuable properties of humans, the offering of animals in sacrifice reflected a serious situation that required a serious sacrifice to the deities. Principal among these animals were those of sheep, rams, and lambs. The sheep date back to 9000 BC and were domesticated from the wild animal over a period of many centuries and became a significant creature in Palestine.3 They provided meat, fat, milk, skins, and wool. In contrast to goats, the sheep prefer more flat and rolling lands and consume grasses and stubble left over from the barley and wheat harvest. The sheep need shelter and new pasture and, hence, a shepherd to guide them and lead them.

Because the sheep was such an important element in the life of Palestine in supplying the many needs of the people, it was valued as a significant sacrificial animal. This was especially true for the young lamb representing a potential source of milk and wool for many years. To yield the lamb to sacrifice was to give from one’s very substance of life. Thus, aside from the general reference to cattle in the creation account of Genesis, the lamb appears in an explicit form in Genesis 4, with Abel already as a shepherd and keeper of flocks (Gn 4:2). Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flock and some of the fat was accepted by God over the produce of the soil brought by Cain. At the very beginning, the lamb is a preferred sacrifice. The lamb and the sheep in all its various names appear more than 500 times in the Scriptures, the most of the animals. One can then rank the lamb as one of the most significant animals of salvation history, both from a literal viewpoint, but most especially from the subsequent sign of the Lamb as Savior.

The whole account of the call of God to Abraham to sacrifice his son is filled with the Old Testament meaning of faith and prophecies of the Messiah, the Christ fulfilled in the New Testament. The themes include trusting God to somehow maintain his promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, even in front of God demanding the life of Isaac (Heb 11:17–19). The theme of “God will provide” extends from the climbing of father and son up the mountain to the very conclusion of the drama. Central to the account is the lamb, beginning with the first awareness of Isaac: “‘Father?’ he said. ‘Yes, my son,’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham replied, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering’” (Gn 22:7–8). With Spirit-filled faith, Abraham binds Isaac, who now becomes the very “lamb” of the sacrifice. He is bound to the wood later seen by the Christians as a prefiguring of the Lord himself being bound to the Cross. But at the very moment of the knife held above the innocent lamb, the angel of the Lord4 stays the hand of Abraham. Then, looking up, Abraham spies a ram caught by its horns in the bushes and offers it in place of Isaac. Abraham calls the place “God provides.”
The central role of the lamb and ram is obvious. The lamb had already been a preferred animal for sacrifice. There is a new announcement intended here: an Old Testament “Good News” that extends throughout the Scriptures, the early Church, and to this day. Here, retrospectively, is the Lamb of God revealed in the midst of an impossible situation of death. Here is the Lamb of God sacrificed in place of the human person. Here is the Lamb of God announcing through the offering of itself that, no matter what the situation of death that one faces, God will provide. John Chrysostom sees all as the Lamb given for the whole world:

Just as . . . the sheep was offered in place of Isaac, so here the rational Lamb was offered for the world. You see, it was necessary that the truth be sketched out ahead of time in shadow. . . . This rational Lamb, you see, was offered for the whole world; he purified the whole world . . . the light of truth has shone brightly on the world. . . . Do you see what shadow is, on the one hand, and truth, on the other?5

The stage is now set for the continual enlightening of the shadow of this Lamb in the Scriptures. From Isaac through Jacob and Joseph and the Israelites in Egypt, the lamb continues to appear in a variety of instances. But the fullness of the true Lamb awaits the delivery of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt in the great Exodus.

God meets Moses, who is tending his flocks, and reveals himself as the One who has heard the suffering cry of the people. The Lord stipulates what the people are to do to escape from their slavery: kill a lamb or kid, take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood, and touch the lintels and doorposts. Then they are told to stay inside their homes, as the Angel of Death will go through Egypt that night. But the Angel will pass over the homes of the Israelites smeared with the blood of the lamb. Thus, this event promulgates the Passover — in Hebrew, pesach — the “jumping over” of death. For the Jews, the feast was commemorated each year with great celebration in Jerusalem and to this day in the wonderful Jewish Passover Haggadah.

The Passover Lamb takes on the active role of Protector against death. Later, however, in the history of salvation, a prophecy is made by Isaiah of a markedly different action of the Lamb. Isaiah (53:6–7) speaks of the Suffering Servant of God, the one who has taken on himself all the acts of rebellion, all the sins of ourselves. This lamb goes forth to its death, never opening its mouth, led dumbly to the slaughterhouse. This lamb, prophesized by Isaiah, is later to be revealed as the Lamb of God, the Christ who bears the sins of the world.

It is from John the Baptist that the title Lamb of God first emerges most directly. In John’s Gospel, this shouting of the Baptist subsumes in one image, the entirety of the salvation accomplished by the Lord. “Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). This announcement of the Lamb also rings with strength and power generally inconsistent with a lamb. Yet, it is precisely this juxtaposition of images of humility and strength that makes this title speak so eloquently in a single mystical form. This Lamb then became identified with the Savior who would save the world through the removal of sin by his death and Resurrection.

Paul speaks of Christ as the Passover victim (1 Cor 5:7), i.e., the lamb who was slain at the first Passover, the blood of which prevented death. This theme is continued in the First Letter of Peter, where Christ is identified explicitly as the Lamb who paid the ransom of redemption, not with material goods, “but in precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). The most startling final Scriptural announcement and transformation of the Lamb is given in the Book of Revelation. Here the image of a simple, rather dumb animal is transformed into the Christ as the Lamb of God, with full authority over not only the human race but of all creation. The drama begins in Chapter 5, where there is One seated on the throne with a scroll sealed with seven seals that cannot be opened. No one in heaven or earth is able to open this scroll (Rev 5:3). But then one of the elders gently says, “Do not weep; the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David has won the right to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). So at first, there is a mighty Lion on the throne, the Lion of Judah from Genesis 49:9–10.

But then, when John looks up, he doesn’t see a Lion but he sees a Lamb! A slaughtered Lamb! “This is perhaps the most mind-wrenching ‘rebirth of images’ in literature.”6 This slain transformed Lamb is then worthy to receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might, honor and glory” (Rev 5:12).

This Lamb then goes on to victory over the dragon, a victory accomplished through the blood of the Lamb. But the image continues not as a mighty warrior victorious in battle, but as a Lamb standing on Mount Zion with a great sound of rushing waters, like mighty thunder, and accompanied by a new song of deliverance sung by the redeemed 144,000 from the earth, the “cosmos.” We can then say with a great joy of loving discovery that the whole of creation “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev 14:4).

Eucharist: Transformation of Predator-and-prey Relationship

We can now approach the mystery of the Eucharist and return to the point of the raising of the Lamb of God and the relationship of that Lamb to our environment. It is simply the mysterious role of predator and prey that is diffused throughout all of the living environment as well as throughout all of salvation history. To be predator is to eat, to be prey is to be eaten. The mystery of the Eucharist is a revelation of the mystery of predator-and-prey relationships in both the physical and spiritual world.

The continual immersion into and emergence from the waters of Baptism as lived by the Christian in everyday life, i.e., the continual struggle to leave the old nature behind in the cleansing waters, needs to be sustained by food for the journey. To have the new nature of Christ gestate in the human person, it is necessary for one to eat of a different food, of a food that is transformative rather than simply assimilated. The Eucharist is this transcendent food. Because it is food, the Eucharist must be eaten in order to be effective in its transformation of human nature. The Eucharist elevates the predator-prey interaction to a new spiritual level, thereby sanctifying all aspects of the environment. Here the Lamb of God as the sign of love assumes a particular role. The living ecosystem is generally hierarchical in nature and is constructed from a complex structural food-web of predator-prey interactions. One level of the food chain, or web, becomes the food source for the next level. This is a fundamental principle of the environment. The human person is embedded in this web but assumes a particularly higher-order role. As such, humanity is often thought of as the top predator, the one that is not prey for another level. But, of course, this is not true, as the top predator is always death.

No cruelty or hostility exists in animal predator-prey behavior. The prey and the predator know no violence. Humans often transfer human violence to the ecosystem, but the death of animals knows no animosity or remotely anticipated fear. The death experience is entirely different for the human. Here there is a deep anticipated fear of death that is reflected on and contributes to a terror unique to the human. Further, violence and cruelty abound in human predation. Why? Because of the Original Sin embedded in humanity. The prey, the victim, then spends a life running from all manner of predators because this sin of humanity surrounds the prey on all sides and at all times. Indeed, the prey then easily slips into the role of predator to protect itself.

But there is an “ultimate prey,” a prey that loves the predator and accepts, out of love for that “killer,” the loss of one’s own life. This is the love of the Lamb of God for the predator. This love is then announced as the One who takes away the sin of the world. Who loves their predator? Their “killer”? Their “consumer”? Only the Christian is called to live a life where the Lamb of God lives within them. This love of the prey for the predator transforms. As Christ gave his life, in that giving, the aspiring Christian is transformed. This, then, is the New Creation. The predator is transformed into the prey! The lion becomes the lamb. The violent one becomes the victim. The relationship is inverted: in the natural, earthly environment, when predator consumes prey, new predators emerge and prey disappear. In the New Creation (in the Eucharist) however: when predator (the Christian) consumes prey (Christ) a new transformed organism emerges.

The predator and prey are like one new organism, one new reality, but each is still readily identified in its unique form of being. But the key link is love. The prey allows itself to be consumed by the predator out of love. Instead of an assimilation of biological substances of proteins and nutrients to build up the predator, instead of an assimilation of the blood of the prey that increases the violent instinctual behavior of the predator, there is now a new substance assimilated. The blood of the prey becomes the love of the prey for the violent, oppressive, domineering one, whose teeth grind the victim or swallow it whole. But the love that now transfers across the thick membrane of the predator begins to flow in its body as a silent healing substance. This flow of the blood of love moves directly to the heart, where it softens the hardened chambers; it flows to the confused mind, where it opens up new paths of enlightenment; it flows to the voice, which becomes more sweet; it flows to the eyes, which see new appearances; and it flows to the ears, which hear a new Word.

But only Jesus Christ loves as the true Lamb, where the central nature of love of Jesus Christ is the love of the enemy, the love of the predator. The destiny of the Christian is to accept the grace to envelop its human nature with this nature of the Lamb, and the Eucharist is central to this destiny. The fully mature Christian, with the ever-increasing nature of Jesus Christ, then accepts to be prey because the Christian has received freedom from fear of death in all its aspects.

The new nature of the Christian as the nature of Christ is to make present in the world all of the dimensions of Christ as Lamb. As a sign of this presence, Pope Benedict XVI revealed a new ferula (staff and cross) on which hangs not the body of Christ, but the Lamb of God.7 Thus, the Christian is called to be transformed from a fearful human nature to the nature of the Lamb.

Then:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock beast together, with a little boy to lead them. The cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like the ox. . . . No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, for the country will be full of knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea. (Is 11:6–9)

This prophecy displays a transformed predator-prey relationship. The “living together” of the wolf and lamb can easily be seen as a relationship of mutual love. Wolf: “I eat you out of love.” Lamb: “I let you eat me out of love.” This transformed environment foreseen by Isaiah is an environment of love. There will be “no hurt, no harm” to all of God’s world. This is the mission of humanity: to bring the beauty and completeness of the creatures, the rocks, the waters, the operas, and the air to God’s holy mountain. But this can be accomplished only by a transformed humanity, a transformation into the nature of Christ.

Summary

To summarize, one can now see that in the Eucharistic liturgy, the signs of the environment of the New Creation, this transformation to the nature of the Lamb are revealed. The Agnus Dei is chanted three times, and the elevation of the Body of Christ is announced in front of the world as a totally transformed reality: bread into Body, wine into Blood, and both proclaimed as the Lamb of God, a title drawn from a simple animal of the living ecosystem but containing the entire cosmos. This, then, is the ultimate sign of transformation of the world in which we live. Predator-prey relationships are transformed. Augustine realized this in his Confessions:

I am the food of the mature; grow then, and you will eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; you will be changed into me.8

Elements of the ecosystem are transformed; bread and wine together with the meaning and essence of the lamb in the pasture are transformed into the Lamb of God. All stands before humanity in mystery, environmental elements revealing the Heart of Love. The fullness of the sanctification of our earthly and cosmic environment stands open. But for this transformation to be realized, one must eat this Victim, this Prey, as the first step toward realizing the nature of the Christian. In doing so, the Victim, the Lord Himself, transforms the Christian; the prey is made ready to be consumed by the other.

Therefore after saying to our brothers and sisters: “Take, eat,” we must really allow ourselves to be “eaten” and especially by those who do not act with the gentleness and kindness we expect. . . . Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “I am the grain of Christ; that I may be ground by the teeth of wild beasts to become pure bread for the Lord.”9

What are the sharp teeth that grind us? The looks of disdain, the humiliations, and the injustices that are received and given — all grind us. This grinding by the wild beasts of the arena, however, transforms us into the pure bread, the bread of life:

while the food that nourishes the body — fish, bread and every other kind of food — is assimilated by the body and forms human blood, the complete opposite takes place with the bread of life. This bread gives life to those that receive it, assimilates them and transforms them in itself.10

All is only accomplished in love, as Aquinas describes: the “Eucharist is the sacrament of love,”11 it gives the efficacious sign of love, of the giving of life to draw new life forth: “As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me” (Jn 6:57). Now the remarkable dimension of the Christian love of the environment is revealed and is to be announced.

  1. Irénée Hausherr, The Name of Jesus, vol. 44, Cistercian Studies Series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1978), 4.
  2.  Fr. Raymond Edward Brown, PSS, Jerome Biblical Commentary.
  3.  Paul J. Achtemeier, “Lamb, Sheep,” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1996).
  4.  Identified with God, see Brown, Jerome Biblical Commentary, Gn 22:7, 8.
  5.  John Chrysostom in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol II: Genesis 12–50, ed. Mark Sheridan (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 110.
  6. As quoted in Wilfrid Harrington, OP, Revelation, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, vol. 16, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993), 84.
  7. Rocco Palma, “New Cycle, New Staff,” Whispers in the Loggia, November 27, 2009, whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2009/11/new-cycle-new-staff.html (accessed June 25, 2010).
  8.  Augustine, Confessions, VII.10.134.
  9.  Raniero Cantalamessa, The Eucharist: Our Sanctification (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995), 23.
  10.  Cantalamessa, Eucharist, 27, 28.
  11. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II.28.1.
Robert V. Thomann, DMin, PhD About Robert V. Thomann, DMin, PhD

Robert V. Thomann, DMin, PhD, is a married permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. He and his wife, Joan, minister in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ridgewood, NJ. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Fordham University, a Master’s in Systematic Theology from Seton Hall University, a PhD in Oceanography from New York University, a Master’s in Civil (Environmental) Engineering from NYU, and a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering from Manhattan College (1956).

He was Assistant Director of Administration for the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Newark and has taught in the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Guam and in the diaconate programs of the Dioceses of Newark and Paterson, New Jersey. Previous assignments include Director of RCIA for his parish for almost two decades. He previously held a position of Associate Director for Deacon Formation for the Archdiocese for seven years. As an environmental engineer and scientist, he taught for thirty years at Manhattan College, where he is currently Professor Emeritus of Environmental Engineering and Science. He was widely published in the field, including a best-selling textbook on Water Quality Modeling. He is an emeritus member of the National Academy of Engineering.

His recent publications include the book A Hemorrhaging Church, Evangelization and the Neocatechumenal Way (Amazon) and papers in Crisis Magazine and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A new book entitled Environmental Fear or Christian Environmental Love, the Great Environmental Decision is to be released (Amazon) in March 2019.

Comments

  1. Avatar Genevieve says:

    Truly enlightening article, loads to ponder about,and making the celebration of Mass all the more meaningful.Thank you.

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