The Eucharist as Hope in the Horror of Human History

Horror could be humanity’s most consistent contribution to history. I don’t mean horror just in terms of viciousness, but also of a deep sense of pain and suffering, sorrow and loss, fear and chaos, shame and inertia, bitterness and distrust, disappointment and despair—realities churned up in the wake of all that human sinfulness has wrought.

Most of the time, I really don’t know how to comprehend much of the horror I hear or read about, how to process it, or know what to do with it. Like many of us, a lot of times I feel like there’s nothing to do. In some situations we can write our representatives, sometimes we can donate to charity or volunteer, try to alleviate some pain, but eventually all we can do is wait, for something or nothing. And while we wait, we wonder; what’s the meaning of this, what is the world coming to, why is this the way it is? Then usually as we go about life, we learn to ignore it. But the reality with human horror is at some point it finds its way in and can no longer be ignored.

Some time ago, one of our Bible study members lost her mother to a long battle with dementia; every time she came to Bible study, she would give us an update on her mom, which wasn’t so much an update as a reminder that her mother’s life was gradually winding down and there was nothing she could do except be patient and present and let everything unfold. At the funeral mass, as her mother’s draped casket was wheeled forward, she followed behind, her face exhausted and wrinkled, her eyes dripping with tears. As much as she had tried in the past months, there was no more ignoring the horror. But near the end of the service, the priests observed the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, the tradition commemorating renewal God initiated in the death of Jesus. While watching it reenacted, it made perfect sense.

The Eucharist at a funeral. Jesus’ death powerfully present in the place of death. We are not alone in the horror. Horror is, in fact, just the context and conditions from out of which God’s salvation shall come forth. This is why the death of Jesus irrevocably changes everything. The death of Jesus is not merely a tradition for the religious. Christ-on-the-cross is the redefining moment of history.

In Christ’s birth, God embodied and identified with humanity as hope stepping into our path of history, as well as our horror. While living life as “God with us”, his witness of words and wonders paved hope into the horrific path of human history through which he walked. Now since death is the only destination toward which horror can go and since death is only as far as it can go, to death is exactly where Jesus went; in dying, he endured horror, the consequences for all that humanity’s sin has wrought throughout history. But only after horror did its worst to him could Christ-on-the-cross be revealed as hope-in-the-horror; thus it was in his resurrection that hope triumphantly emerged from the horror, creating a divergence between horror and history.

Horror can only go so far. In view of Christ’s death, horror is revealed to be limited and in Christ’s resurrection, hope is revealed to be transcendent. Hope can go anywhere horror can, but only hope can go further, dig deeper, climb higher, reach wider, and hold on longer.

The Eucharist is God’s testimony that death is being dealt with; that the horrors scarring human history are not allowed to have the final say in history. When your congregation takes Holy Communion this Maundy Thursday or Resurrection Sunday, you are both celebrating and proclaiming Christ as hope-in-the-horror; that the world’s horrors cannot defeat the hope planted and paved in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and that history cannot wear down a humanity following in those footsteps. To a humanity so accustomed to its horrific nature, Christ showed us what it looks like to be truly human by not allowing history to be defined by our horror, but by the hope of him who redeems humanity and redefines history.

In him we are becoming hope-in-the-horror, showing a weary world what it means to be a people of hope in a place that has none; a people who stop asking “what is the world coming to?” and start testifying “Christ-on-the-cross” so all may see the hope beyond horror in a redeemed humanity as a new history dawns.