Things That Sustain: Christian Practices that must not be forgotten (or must be restored) if we hope to “Be Church.”
The Eucharist as Memory and Presence
It is interesting to want to write about the Eucharist, and to try to. It is interesting because of the vantage point that it presupposes; it presupposes a perspective on the Eucharist which could elucidate things about it, a perspective that stands above it. It presupposes that the Eucharist is basically a human institution that can be picked apart as an etymologist dissects a cockroach. It presupposes that we will be able, after this short discussions, to say, “there now, that’s settled; let’s move on to the next Christian practice,” and feel utterly confident that we have plumbed the depth of the thing. I am glad to say that this set of presuppositions is nothing but pride mixed with a healthy dose of stupidity. I am less than glad to tell you that I am not sure just how much of this set of presuppositions I have dwelling within me at the moment. But we try nonetheless and hope, by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, that we will find more than our presuppositions deserve.
What excites me is the reverse of these presuppositions. That is, if the Eucharist is not what we have said above, then it must be something else, something better. Let us begin by seeing the Eucharist as essentially Christian mystery, as mysterious revelation and presence, as something that Christians do or ‘practice’, not in order to understand it, but in order that we might worship God. When we do this, we are brought closer to the place that millions of hopeful Jesus-followers have lived in their communal gathering, their gatherings of memory and presence.
See the bread and wine lifted up, just as Jesus did, and hear the words, Jesus’ words, “this my body, this is my blood.” Feel the memory rush into your bones, memory of all that God has done; you remember in that moment the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and, layered behind that, God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and feeding them with bread from heaven and water from rock. Now see all the sinners and saints, which are the same people, go forward and take that presence into their bodies, God’s memory into their memory. In that moment both Presence and memory collide with all our false gods and memories; in that moment Christ is victorious in his people, not by coercion or by violence, but by his community’s humble acceptance of the story and Lordship of Jesus.
Does this sound different from your experience of the eucharist or communion? I know it sounds different from mine. Unlike what I have just been describing, the mystery that surrounded the eucharist for me was simply and sadly that we so received it so infrequently.