In the previous reflections, forgiveness 1 & 2 and the Eucharist part 1, I tried to delve into the ways in which these things are essential ‘Christian Practices.’ That is, i have been trying to investigate the sustaining quality of these actions and postures for Christians in hopes that both myself and those who read this might consider more deeply the drama that is our times of gathering.
I want to share how I have experienced the Eucharist as a Christian practice in the last year and how that has facilitated both my further incorporation into the Christian community and a deepening of my spiritual life. My story in this regard is that of a beginner and so is only good for giving a small embodiment of what the eucharist is; there are deeper and more faithful life stories that should be told here but I am best at talking about myself.
I and some others started a small ‘celtic liturgy’ service at our vineyard church last year. As we began to envision it, we knew we wanted it to be a few things. We wanted a time that was simple, liturgical, filled with silence, fed by the lectionary readings (which we don’t currently hear in the main service), seasoned by communal reflection on the scriptures, and crowned by the eucharist. This wasn’t hard to do; Kate, my wife, ‘duct taped’ together some of our favorite liturgies from the Iona community and the Northumbria community in a seamless and beautiful way.
Every week we printed out the Lectionary readings and the reading we had chosen so that people could more easily ingest and reflect on the material. It was wonderfully simple; one of us would prepare the readings while another would bake some muffins and make coffee and orange juice. All in all, we only had to be there fifteen minutes early every sunday in order to cover the basics. There were and continue to be many amazing things that God brings out of our times together, just as He has always done through the many years. But I want to focus on one thing: receiving the eucharist.
Receiving the eucharist has been something that I have increasingly loved and treasured the more I have been in the midst of it; but I had never before had a consistent time of celebrating the body and the blood, the life and the death, of Jesus as I have at our celtic liturgy service. Often acting as the facilitator in the celebration of our liturgy, I found myself becoming increasingly excited as the moment of the eucharist drew nearer and nearer. I was surprised at this as I realized that I had never had a focal point like this in my communal worship experiences. Now it felt more like I had stepped into a drama in which the plot, characters, antagonists and protagonists, were all coming to a climax in the breaking of the bread and the taking of the cup.
The only thing I could liken to it was an experience I had one night in Malaysia. A group of us were at a worship service in which the pastor, an Indian man, said that he felt like God was telling him that some of those present were going to receive a visitation from Jesus that night. My heart leapt! There was nothing I could think of that I desired more than to meet Jesus face to face. Well, it didn’t happen to me. I heard the next day that it did happen to a few people, I was very disappointed. But the strange thing was that the disappointment wasn’t bitter, it was sweet. More than that, I have come to treasure the deep sense of expectation I had that night, waiting up for Jesus. I really believed on that humid Penang midnight that He could come physically close to me and the fact that he didn’t has not quenched that desire but only inflamed it.
The same expectation is there for me as I await the eucharist but a couple things are different about the context of our celtic liturgy service that amaze me. One is that we do it every week; we do the same thing, say the same words, eat the same bread and drink the same tawny port, and yet the expectation that Jesus will come to us is the same. The second is that we do it together. Unlike that night in Malaysia, where I was alone, we celebrate the eucharist as a group. This has incredible implications. The memory that the eucharist embodies is held in communal memory. That is, simply, we know we are not crazy. Or at least if we are, we are crazy together. But there is a real gift there in the sense that seeing that we have the same expectation gives hope and strength.
Taking the eucharist together gives hope because we see the transformation that Jesus effects in one another and so we come to the conclusion that God loves us and is with us today and everyday. It also gives hope as the bread and the wine tell the story of God never leaving his people either to death or to boredom.
Taking the eucharist together gives strength because if one person is weak that day, they are carried by the ‘practice’ of the others; that person will most likely go through with the celebration even though they feel far from God, themselves, and other people. So there is strength in the ‘together’ part but there is also strength in the gift of Jesus IN the eucharist. From the time that Jesus commanded his disciples to regularly take together his body and blood, the whole Trinity has been there, honoring that command, and longing to fill his people with his memory and presence, which are better than life.
One other point about the eucharist as Christian practice. There are so many stories in the world and they are all clamoring for our attention and devotion. From Nike to Vishnu, from Mac computers to Buddha, they are all saying that their way of seeing the world is the way we should see the world. Whether that compliance is expressed by buying a shoe or bending a knee makes no difference: they are asking the same thing. The story of Jesus is the story that gives our lives meaning above other stories and there is no better place to access this story then in the memory and Presence that Jesus gives to us in his body and blood.