The Great Reversal

   Written by on August 17, 2017 at 10:20 am

logo-smith-gregOne of the great citizens of France during the 1300s was Nicolas Flamel.  A great philanthropist, Flamel was also known as a scientist and mystic.  The particular brand of work he did was the ancient art of alchemy.  Legend had it that alchemists could take base metals and turn them into gold.  For thousands of years, alchemists from Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and other parts of Europe endeavored to perform this transmutation.  Somewhat like Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, alchemy was something that lay in that shadowy place between myth and science.  Nicolas Flannel, however, just may have accomplished this tremendous feat.  Though there were no witnesses aside from Flamel’s wife, history records that his wealth increased suddenly, and he enjoyed good fortune and serenity for the rest of his life.

Flamel was a scribe.  Among the many books that he copied there were many alchemical texts.  One that he acquired was not printed on paper, but on tree bark.  With the aid of this book and the advice of a Jewish doctor he met while on a pilgrimage to Spain, Flamel discovered, as he says, the secret to transmutation.  He used a special red stone that he called the Philosopher’s Stone, along with other scientific-type equipment in his work where he allegedly turned mercury into gold.  He repeated this several times, until he was able to use this gold in his philanthropic works.  Nicolas and Perenell Flamel founded and endowed with revenues fourteen hospitals, three chapels, and seven churches in Paris.  Flamel continues in his writing, “We have also accomplished in Boulogne about as much as we have in Paris, not to speak of the charitable acts which we both performed, specially with regard to widows and orphans.”  In an archway that he had built in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents a mural still exists today, which depicts his wondrous work of transmutation.

In the world of ancient wonders, many people have striven to transform that which is base into that which is extraordinary.  Alchemists attempted to rearrange the molecular structure of ordinary metals and turn them into gold.  Likewise, today, the human need for transformation cries out for fulfillment.

In the upper room of Jesus’ last supper, our Lord announced the greatest alchemy of all.  He took something base and transformed it into something sublime.  Taking bread, he blessed it and said, “This is my body.”  Pouring a cup of wine, Jesus said, “This is my blood.”  There can be no greater alchemy than that:  the transmutation of simple elements into sacred objects of holy ordinance or sacrament.

Now, there are many Christian denominations that debate what happens mystically, to the elements of Communion.  The Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation says that the bread and wine become the actual physical body and blood of Jesus in the mouth of the communicant.  In contrast, the Protestant teaching of Consubstantiation says that Christ is present in and through the elements.  Some reject both of these, favoring the belief that Communion is simply a re-creation of the Lord’s last meal with his disciples.  What is really at issue here is the question, “What is actually being transformed in Communion?”

Regardless of what happens to Communion bread, the body of Christ is transformed when the Church takes Christ into itself and becomes His body.  No matter what it believes about wine, the Church is transformed when it abides in the vine and is filled with Christ’s life-energy that we call His blood.  Theologians may argue over what happens to the physical elements of Communion, but there can be no doubt that a greater change is taking place here.  More than body and blood, the real transmutation takes place in the heart of the one who receives the Lord’s Feast.

Alchemy is the transformation of base metals into gold.  Modern scientists don’t believe any real alchemy ever took place, and modern alchemists talk far more about inner spiritual transformation than they do about mercury and gold.  Alchemy is about being changed from within, and this kind of change was just what Jesus was getting at when he said, “This is my body and blood.”

In John’s gospel, just before Jesus gave them the sacrament of Communion, he washed the disciples’ feet.  He transformed his role from leader to servant, and asked them to do the same.  Rather than debating the issues of transubstantiation and consubstantiation, we need to focus on the real thing that needs to be transformed:  ourselves.  Jesus allowed himself to be transformed from the Lord of Glory into a tiny baby.  He allowed himself to be transformed from Master and Teacher, to that of a humble servant who washed his disciples’ feet.  He allowed his body to be transformed even to the point of brokenness and death—so that we might be transformed as well.

Jesus asks his disciples—he asks us—to be transformed.  Become a servant.  Give up yourselves, as I have done, Christ says to us.

According to the ancient legends, the first step to alchemy is slaying a dragon.  This is actually a metaphor for putrefying the mercury out of a lump of metal.  Modern alchemists say that the metal is really a secondary metaphor, an allegory for what must first happen in human transformation.  If we base people are going to be refined and turned into gold, we must first slay the dragon that is within us.  Paul said we must put to death the old person and the deeds of the flesh.  This is the first step in alchemy, and also the first step in the spiritual transformation that Jesus brings.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed anymore to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  2 Cor 5:17 tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new is come.”  The real question of Communion is whether you will be transformed today.

In the old Latin masses, the priest would say, “Hoc est corpus meum,” which means “This is my body.”  People who didn’t understand the Latin interpreted this sacred sentence as the magical phrase “Hocus pocus.”  But really there are no arcane words, and there is no magical enchantment in the alchemy of Christ.  There are simply souls transformed, turned into living gold.

© 2017 by Gregory T. Smith.
Reprinted with permission

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County, VA with his wife and children. To read more of Greg’s writings check out his blog at


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