The Borders of the Eucharist

Australia goes to the polls this week, and like many countries in the West, the issue of migration has (for better or worse) emerged as a key electoral battleground. Though the issue of migration has differing variations in different countries, what has tended to unite them all is the interlinkage between on the one hand the national identity of the destination-country and on the other the integrity of its state borders. Any breech of the latter – which is manifested by any irregular arrival of migrants – is deemed to be a threat to the former. As the electioneering heats up, many Christians seem to have bought into this logic.
Is the buying into this logic of sovereignty under threat a legitimate move for Christians to make? Luke Bretherton wrote a thought provoking article for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation entitled “Immigration & the Moral Status of Borders“, which he outlined the difficulties in being either completely for or against the defense of borders at all costs. It comes highly recommended.
From another angle, there is also a more ancient and more radical standpoint that can suggest some counterpoints to this contemporary debate, particularly for Christians. This standpoint has several parts, the first of which is a line by the 2nd century patristic writer St. Irenaeus of Lyon. In Book IV, Chapter 18 of his Against Heresies, Irenaeus writes that for the Christian, “our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion”. If a Christian were to form an opinion whilst living in the world qua a Christian, he or she might do well to look at the extent to which that is aligned with one’s Eucharistic worship. And theologians such as Daniel Groody and William Cavanaugh suggest that the Eucharist does indeed have much to say on the issues of borders and migration.
In the first instance, Groody reminds us in his essay entitled “Fruit of the Vine and Work of Human Hands”, that the Christian Eucharist is inextricably rooted in the logic of the Jewish Passover, which commemorates God’s liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the mechanism of which is an act of mass migration into Canaan. And as Cavanaugh argued in his Theopolitical Imagination, in breaking down of the barriers between God, gift and recipient, the Body of Christ as Present in the Eucharist acts as a critique to our obsession with maintaining clear borders between one and another.

In light of these (admittedly very briefly covered) themes, the question arises as to whether any Christian who votes on the strength of any respective party’s stance on migration would, with Irenaeus, have their opinions formed in accordance with the Eucharist or whether they would, in the words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans 12:2, entertain opinions that “conform to the patterns of this world”.

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