Eroticizing the Eucharist

This article is by guest contributor Larry DeBruyn, pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana and the author of the blog, “Guarding His Flock.”

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T.D. Jakes and Communion at “A Table Set for Two.”

Brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17-18, KJV)

In the Upper Room and to memorialize His upcoming death, the Lord Jesus took the common but symbolic elements of the bread and wine and instituted the ordinance that has come to be known as the Lord’s Table, the Eucharist, Communion, or simply, “the breaking of bread.” Luke records, “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:19-20). Of the rite established by the Lord to be observed by the church, Ralph P. Martin stated that susequently it became “a fruitful source of heresy and confused doctrine.” [1] Not only was this to be the case for developing Christendom, but it is also so among churches today.

To boost attendance, congregations within the Church of England have employed the music of the rock group U2. In one congregation, a bishop presided over what is blasphemously–for it’s about them, not Him–called a “‘U2-charist’, a Holy Communion service that employs the Irish supergroup’s best-selling songs in place of hymns.” [2] The communion service is described:

In what is more rock concert than Book of Common Prayer, a live band will belt out U2 classics such as Mysterious Ways and Beautiful Day as worshippers sing along with the lyrics, which will appear on screens. The [nightclub] atmosphere will be further enhanced by a sophisticated lighting system that will pulse with the beat . . . [3]

USA Today reported that “U2-charist” worship has also come to Episcopal congregations in the United States, and likely will find its way into other denominations and congregations as well. [4] One worshipper, a Roman Catholic who attended a “U2-charist” at a nearby Episcopal church in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Bridgett Roberts, age 15, remarked of her experience:

It makes you, like, warm inside. Usually at church you love Jesus and everything. But this way you can express how you feel. [5]

Now in a recent message, “Communion,” Bishop T.D. Jakes eroticizes the ordinance. [6] On a DVD presentation, he begins his remarks about the Lord’s Table as follows:

One of the most personal, intimate things you can do is to have communion. It shows who you are to Him. It expresses that you are one with the Groom, that the Bride is connected to the Groom through the blood; they have fused together and become one; that they have the same DNA; that they’ve been devined by God; that the covenant has been ratified in the blood much like intercourse signified the ratification of blood in a wedding ceremony. [7]

Then he continues:

When the man and the woman come together, the Bible says, ‘They shall cleave together and become one flesh.’ His body and her body, her body and his body, they become one entity which is what they were at first when God made Adam. He made one person, male and female He created them and called his name Adam. And when He got ready, He pulled her out of him. And so that’s why we have the right to come back together because we were together in the first place. (The audience stands, shouts, claps, and raises their hands.) [8]

Then Jakes drives home the point:

When Jesus says, ‘Take, eat. This is my body that was broken for you,’ He says, I want my body in you. (Pause . . . shouts and claps) I want my blood in you. And every time you celebrate this rite, it is a reminder that you belong to me, and I belong to you. And he said, ‘I will drink no more wine until I drink it new with you and the kingdom of God. Communion is the most romantic ordinance. Eh, Eh, Eh. (He laughs. Pause . . . the audience shouts and claps.) It is the most romantic ordinance between two lovers. [9]

In the observation of communion, the Bishop’s remarks are grossly inappropriate for a number of reasons.

First, why associate the ordinance with sex? Jakes heaps up sexually suggestive words, phrases and sentences—intimate; Groom; Bride; fused together and become one; intercourse; wedding ceremony; shall cleave together and become one flesh; her body and his body; (Jesus says) I want my body in you; Communion is the most romantic ordinance . . . Eh, Eh, Eh; It is the most romantic ordinance between two lovers.

The Apostle Peter warns against false teachers who, “when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure [deceive] through the lusts of the flesh” (2 Peter 2:18, KJV). Decades ago, A.W. Tozer noted that,

The period in which we now live may well go down in history as the Erotic Age. Sex love has been elevated into a cult. Eros has more worshippers among civilized men today than any other god. For millions, the erotic has completely displaced the spiritual. [10]

Second, to pursue the biblical mystery (Ephesians 5:32), Jakes makes it seem that the Groom and Bride are already married, when in fact the Church’s marriage to Christ will not officially take place until the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:5-9). As a group, Christian believers may be compared to a Bride awaiting their Groom’s return (Matthew 25:1-11). Though the one-year betrothal period in biblical culture was considered to be legal marriage (When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, he wrestled with the idea of divorcing Mary for infidelity, Matthew 1:18-19.), couples lived lived apart from each other during that time. That’s why as His Bride, we’re to observe the ordinance that remembers and preaches “the Lord’s death until He comes” (Emphasis mine, 1 Corinthians 11:26). The ordinance by which the Lord requests His Betrothed to remember His sacrifice on the cross for their sins ought not to be turned into something akin to a seduction!

Third, in understanding the metaphor-mystery of the Bide’s relationship to the Groom (i.e., the Church’s relationship to Christ), earthly sexual connotation regarding that relationship ought to be removed. In answer to Jews who had posed a hypothetical question about the Levirate Law to Him, Jesus responded: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:29-30, KJV). So even when the Bride is married to the Groom, that marriage in heaven will not be comparable to human marriage on earth for at core, earthly marriage is about covenant-committment. The fact that the Church’s relationship to Christ is explained by the metaphor-mystery of marriage, especially from the perspective of the period of betrothal during which the bride and groom were separated, stands opposed to those who like T.D. Jakes, attempt to eroticize the ordinance in a earthly-fleshly and human-sensual vein.

Fourth, one must wonder what the preacher means when he asserts that communicants become devined by ingesting the elements (the bread-body and wine-blood) of the ordinance. By asserting that divine DNA infuses them, is Jakes advocating that magically transubstantiated elements possess the power to divinize communicants? [11] His words suggest this to be the case. According to his scheme of spirituality, the communion elements become a magical-mechanical-means whereby Christians become “gods.” By ingesting divinity, they become divinity. In the ancient church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, this process is known as deification (Greek, theosis or theopoiesis). Jakes’ bold language seems to “deliberately [evoke] the pagan language of apotheosis (humans, especially emperors, being advanced to the rank of deity) . . .” [12]

Fifth, in his sermon “Communion,” Jakes makes it seem as if the Lord’s Table is individual when in fact it’s communal. The ordinance is not observed between two lovers, but rather between Jesus Christ and the many who were/are His followers; initially, the original band of apostles/disciples in the Upper Room, and subsequently, all Christians who would come to believe in Him as their Savior and Lord (See John 17:20-21.). So Adolph Schlatter noted that in addition to Baptism, the Eucharist “constituted a second act that powerfully moved believers’ thoughts and desires and bound them together as a united community.” [13]

Sixth, for believers, the attraction of the Lord’s Table is the work He already accomplished for us. The ordinance’s focus is upon Jesus’ past death. It’s all about remembrance, not romance. The Lord ordered, “This . . . do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The Apostle Paul twice repeated, once for the Bread and then for the Cup, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). As Washington D.C., abounds with granite memorials remembering those who died in the cause for our and other nations’ freedom—the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, etc.—so the elements are taken in the memory of the One who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, He who died for our spiritual freedom. The church must not allow sensuality to undermine her spirituality. The Table of the Lord must not be turned on its head to impress others of being some sort of bacchic rite (Bacchus was the Roman “party” god.), something that for reason early Christians called their meetings the Agape, or Love Feast (See 1 Corinthians 11:20-22), pagan stoics accused them of. After all, communion is about redemption and reverence, not romance! [14]

To conclude this presentation dealing with an aberrant, even abhorrent, treatment of Communion, A.W. Tozer may be quoted again. He wrote:

Now if this god Eros would let us Christians alone I for one would let his cult alone for the whole spongy, fetid mess will sink some day under its own weight and become excellent fuel for the fires of hell. But the cult of Eros is seriously affecting the Christian church. [15]

For reason that the cult of Eros will not leave Christians alone in this wired world of the Internet and is therefore affecting the church, this pastor is forced to issue a public disclaimer of what T.D. Jakes has made “Communion” out to be. The Eucharist should not be eroticized. [16]

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ENDNOTES

[1] Italics mine, Ralph P. Martin, “Lord’s Supper, The,” The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962) 751.

[2] Jonathan Petre, “Hymns replaced by U2 lyrics at church,” ReligionNewsBlog.com, January 30, 2007. Online at: www.religionnewsblog.com/17326/hymns-replaced-by-u2-lyrics-at-church.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gary Stern, “Episcopal ‘U2-charist’ uses songs in service,” USA Today, October 26, 2006. Online at: www. usatoday.com/life/music/2006-10-25-u2-churches_x.htm.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bishop T.D. Jakes, “Communion,” The Potter’s Touch. Online at: http://en.sevenload.com/videos/FBdNHJu-20090419-Communion. Video transcribed from minutes/seconds 16.04-19.55.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] A.W. Tozer, “The Erotic Is Rapidly Displacing the Spiritual,” Renewed Day by Day, Daily Devotional Readings, Volume I, Compiled by Gerald B. Smith (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1980) May 13 reading. I thank my friend Pastor Robert C. Gifford for bringing Tozer’s devotional to my attention.

[11] As regards Jesus’ statement, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19; Compare Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; 1 Corinthians 11:24.), R.P. Martin notes: “There is no ground for a literal equivalence as in the doctrine of transubstantiation. The copula ‘is’ is the exegetical significat as in Gn. 41:26; Dn. 7:17; Lk. 8:11; Gal. 4:24; Rev. 1:20; and in the spoken Aramaic the copulative would be lacking, as in Gn. 40:12; Dn. 2:36; 4:22. The figurative, non-literal connotation ‘ought never to have been disputed’ (Lietzmann).” See Martin, “Lord’s Supper,” 750.

Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872), a German philosopher who believed the Christian faith was a “dream of the human mind,” and therefore was no friend of the faith, especially the Roman Catholic, wrote of the elements: “The wine and bread are in reality natural, but in the imagination divine substances.” See his, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, Translator (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004) 245.

To explain the sense of “is” in the sentence, “This is My body,” a seminary professor once took a picture of his wife out of his wallet and said, “This is my wife.” So, “The bread becomes under His [Jesus’] sovereign word the parable of His body yielded up in the service of God’s redeeming purpose (cf. Heb. x. 5-10); and His blood outpoured in death, recalling the sacrificial rites of the Old Testament, is represented in the cup of blessing on the table. That cup is invested henceforward with a fresh significance as the memorial of the new Exodus, accomplished at Jerusalem (Lk. ix. 31).” Martin, “Lord’s Table,” 750.

Indeed, as the Apostle put it, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7b, KJV).

[12] John A. McGuckin, “Deification,” The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology (London: SCM Press, 2005) 98.

[13] Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles, Andreas J. Köstenberger, Translator (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998) 47.

[14] The sense of the Greek noun “remembrance” (anamnesis) is to remember again “in an affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind.” See W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., “Remembrance,” An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984) 946-947.

[15] Tozer, “The Erotic.”

[16] See also Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “Evangelicals: Emergent and Erotic,” Guarding His Flock.com. Online at: http://guardinghisflock.com/2009/06/08/evangelicals-emergent-and-erotic/#more-3.

Postscript: I want to thank Mrs. Gaylene Goodroad, a member of Franklin Road Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, for drawing my attention to Bishop Jakes’ internet sermon.

8 Comments
  1. A good analysis, in my view. While the believer and Christ do share the intimacy expressed so beautifully in the Song of Solomon, communion is an act of remembrance and of proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes. By examining ourselves, we remind ourselves of our need for a redeeming Savior, and by partaking we remember and proclaim that Jesus is this Savior who became obedient to death on a cross for our sake. We are reminded that the Last Supper was, according to Jewish tradition, a kind of engagement ceremony and that Jesus, the bridegroom, promised to return for His bride to take her to the place He has prepared for her in His Father’s house.

    It is certainly an emotional remembrance for a believer — how could it not be? — but it is not sexual.

  2. The doctrine of the real presence has been acknowledged by the church since (at the very least) the beginning of the second century, starting with Ignatius of Antioch. While most of the church fathers never officially nailed down exactly what happens until subsequent centuries, the real presence of Christ was definitely there. My question is this: how can you ascribe to a literal interpretation of Scripture when John 6 is perhaps the clearest sacramental passage in the New Testament. It is, in fact, so clearly sacramental that liberal theologians have suggested that this passage was a later addition to John’s Gospel. When Jesus says to the crowd, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” and “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” almost everyone gets up and leaves. Whenever Jesus uses metaphor in the presence of his followers, he always clarifies himself when no one understands him…except in this passage. If Jesus didn’t mean what he said and was merely referring to having faith in Him, he deceived the crowd who found his truth to be “a hard saying” and deliberately let them walk away without His clarification. Scripture is clear that God wants all men to come to repentance.

    • Jesus very clearly explains exactly what he means by his words and that the meaning is metaphorical and to be understood spiritually.

      In John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me, and who believes in me shall never thirst.” Besides the obvious, that he is dealing in spiritual truth is indicated by the fact that he talks about never thirsting when talking about “food.” However, they did not come to him because they did not believe (6:36).

      He reiterates the spiritual truth and the matter of faith in him as being the subject of what he is teaching in verse 40: “…that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

      At these words, the Jews begin murmuring, which sets the stage, as it always does, for parabolic teaching – which is intended to obscure the truth for those who do not have “ears to hear.”

      Then for a third time, he speaks explicitly that the issue – the only issue – is faith in him: “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life.” (6:46-48)

      Then because of their unbelief he sets up the parabolic / metaphorical statement by referring to the manna which God gave in the wilderness. (6:49-50) The physical manna gave physical life. The spiritual “bread” will give “spiritual life.”

      So the parallel is between the exclusively physical and the exclusively spiritual – not between the physical and a hybrid physical / spiritual which is required by the doctrine of the “real presence” / transubstantiation.

      This forms a transition to the symbolic language he is about to use to hide the spiritual truth from those who have not believed and have set themselves against him – and to confound them and confirm them in their hardness of heart.

      You note that if this is a spiritual truth rather than literal, that he let the crowd walk away without understanding him correctly. However, that is precisely what he almost always did. You correctly note that he always clarifies himself when people don’t understand – however, he almost never clarifies the truth to the unbelieving crowds – but lets them walk away. This is where there is a mistake in your analysis. The clarification he usually gives is always to the disciples alone – not to the crowds.

      And this pattern is repeated here. He does clarify himself to the disciples – but not to confirm that he is speaking literally of a requirement to eat his actual body and blood: “Does this offend you? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The word that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”

      So, Jesus clearly tells the disciples that the “flesh profits nothing” – so he is not speaking of his literal flesh. The truth is exclusively spiritual. And the problem here, as it has been from the beginning of this passage – some didn’t believe.

      Therefore, this passage not only clearly does not teach transubstantiation – it instead provides perhaps the strongest single exegetical argument against it.

      Beyond this there are innumerable problems with the doctrine. To note just three:

      1. The doctrine of transubstantiation is a mystical, not a spiritual view. The two are not the same. According to the doctrine of transubstantiation a miracle occurs. However, miracles never deceive the senses – which is exactly what would be happening if this doctrine were true.

      2. The Lord’s supper is only mentioned in one letter to the churches. However, in Catholic theology, the Mass and the Eucharist are the very center of the life of the church – and rightfully so if the real presence is true. So, the absence of any teaching concerning this is insurmountable – particularly regarding the absence in the Pastoral Epistles.

      3. In Roman Catholic theology, participation in the Mass and partaking of the host is a requirement for salvation. According to Catholic dogma, it is the primary means of communicating God’s grace – and belief in the real presence is obligatory – and meaning denial is a mortal sin. However, this doctrine is not mentioned in one single passage related to salvation or the requirements for eternal life. Given the monumental importance, the fact that it is mentioned in only one passage – and that one passage is not a salvation passage – this, too, is an extremely difficult problem that is virtually impossible to explain.

  3. The Catholic doctrine supported above simply does not pass Scriptural muster. Jesus, of course, used many metaphors. There are seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. When Jesus said he was the “door,” He clearly did not mean that He was a physical door. Nor did He man in John 15 that He was an actual vine. It makes no sense in the context of His manner of teaching to suggest that Jesus was referring to His actual body and blood in John 6. What He meant as that our relationship with Christ must be more than simply an intellectual assent or a desire to get something from Him (i.e. in this case bread for the stomach) but that we must invite Him into ourselves intimately to dwell within us. This is a spiritual, not a physical, union.

    Furthermore, if Christ indeed intended the Catholic viewpoint, then Paul would certainly have reiterated this in Romans and elsewhere. Paul makes no mention of the bread and wine becoming the physical body and blood of Jesus. It is inconceivable that he would have neglected to have written a thorough explanation of this if it were true.

    The Catholic doctrine, of course, becomes even more heretical when one considers that Catholic priests actually teach they are re-enacting the crucifixion of Christ each time they celebrate their mass. Nothing could be further from the Biblical truth that Christ offered Himself a perfect sacrifice once and for all.

    The whole notion of a sacrament, of course, is not Biblical, if by sacrament one means a “means of grace” and attaches spiritual value, rather than symbolic value, to rituals and objects.

  4. Let me respond by first stating that the Roman Catholic Church does not teach that partaking in the Eucharist is a requirement for salvation, as we acknowledge the hope of salvation for all who believe and endure in the faith (including our separated brethren). That being said, let me respond to your argument that Christ’s saying, “the flesh avails nothing” means that He is not referring to His literal flesh and blood. Isn’t this a contradiction to that with which we can both agree: that God had to be made flesh in order to make the sacrifice for sins? Certainly you can’t think that His flesh avails nothing, because its crucifixion, and more importantly, its resurrection, means everything to us as Christians. John 6 is not the only passage regarding the eucharist which I believe you refuse to take literally. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that there is ONE sacrifice for sins which Christ gave at Calvary. The mass makes this past sacrifice present (or re-presents). This is what I believe Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 10. Likewise, Paul says that those who refuse to discern “the body” when partaking in the eucharist “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” How could the wrongful eating of symbolic bread and wine (or grape juice) be worthy of Paul’s warnings? You also failed to comment on the unanimous agreement of the early church that Christ is literally present in the eucharist. To reject this is to say that once the apostles died, the church went completely off the rails for nearly 15 centuries.

    • I made the exegetical case which stands in the context of the passage which is all about faith from beginning to end.

      Concerning the early church fathers, I don’t think there is universal agreement in how their words should be understood in every case.

      But besides that, historical theology is the servant to biblical theology. The doctrine had to begin somewhere – and it doesn’t matter much whether it was in the second century or the twentieth century. The official denial of the doctrine is now up to 500 years – and the denial undoubtedly goes back much longer than that – arguably also to the first century. But neither validates or invalidates the doctrine. It rises or falls on exegesis alone.

      However, debating or even dealing with Catholic theology and the doctrine of the real presence was not the point of this blog and I would like to keep the comments relevant to that.

      There will be articles and blogs that do deal with these things from time to time.

      Thanks.
      Dave James

    • For the sake of my readers, I think I should respond to your comments:

      1. I believe you are mistaken concerning participation in the Eucharist being a necessary part of salvation in Catholic theology: The following is from the Question and Answer Cathechism by John Hardin, S.J. (1981)

      Is the Eucharist necessary for salvation?
      The Eucharist is necessary for salvation, to be received either sacramentally or in desire . . . Those who, through no fault of their own, do not realize this can receive the necessary grace to remain in God’s friendship through other means. (QAC, 245)

      2. Concerning “the flesh”: Of course we understand the significance of the incarnation – but Christ himself said that regarding partaking of his body, it is not about his flesh, it is about faith. So, you are making an inaccurate application of his words in context. Context always determines the meaning of any passage.

      3. Concerning 1 Cor. 10:16 – the Greek word behind the translation “communion” which is found in some Bibles, is “koinonia” and is better translated “fellowship” – which makes the correct interpretation of the passage more clear. The translation you cite, “participation,” is not the best way to understand the passage, and seems that it may be a theologically-driven translation. Also, again, in context, Paul is making a distinction between the flesh and spirit. In verse 18, he writes, “Observe Israel after the flesh” – which means that he is switching from the meaning of the bread and cup, which are spiritual only, to look at a physical parallel that illustrates the spiritual. He then talks about the actual flesh of animals in Israel’s sacrificial system. So, the flesh in the physical sacrifices was anticipating the spiritual meaning of the Lord’s table – not equating the two as both being literally the flesh as taught in the doctrine of the “real presence.”

      In conjunction with this, Scripture nowhere teaches that the Lord’s table is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of the cross. For this to be true, the sacrifice of the cross would have to be continuing without interruption for the last 2000 years – which would essentially be the Catholic position – that either the mass is being celebrated somewhere on the earth at every moment of the day – or at minimum the host is being continually held in monstrances between masses. However, this directly contradicts Hebrews 9:24-28 – which explicitly states that the sacrifice is once for all and that it came to an end is the same as when our physical life comes to an end and then we face judgment. The duration of physical life is finite – as is the duration of the sacrifice of the cross. It is not continual. Hebrews 9:24b-25a – “(Jesus) appear(s) in the presence of God for us; not that he should offer himself often…”

      4. Concerning “Do you, too, wish also to leave”: Many disciples had already left him, because they thought he was still talking about his literal flesh – which was repulsive to a Jew – and rightfully so. The apostles didn’t leave because they finally understood his explanation – as they usually did after he gave the interpretation of his parabolic teaching, which no one ever got until he explained it. The reason they stayed – and were even able to stay given the Jewish nature of their faith – was because they understood that he was definitely not talking about this being his literal flesh. So, once again, proper exegesis of the passage is the strongest possible argument against the doctrine of the real presence.

  5. I might also add that he, in fact, does not clarify for his disciples. Instead, He says to them, “Do you, too, also wish to leave?” Their response is simple, “How can we when you have the words of eternal life?” No clarification, just acceptance by these 11 great men of faith.


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