“The Church does not perform the Eucharist. The Eucharist performs the Church.” – William Cavanaugh
What is the Purpose of the Lord’s Supper/Communion/The Eucharist?
That we might feed on Christ, be reconciled to God and to each other, and be strengthened for the living of the Christian life.
Some key Scripture: Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:14-17, Matt. 26:27
o In our worship service, while preaching and the pastor plays a key part, it is not at the center of what we do. Rather, communion is, and this is what the whole service is built around. The Bible has a very similar, progressive and narrative structure, building up to and culminating in the Gospels. The Eucharist represents this same center of the redemption history and story of the people of God.
o Secondly, through communion — literally, “common union” — we understand ourselves as a people who are called into a new society, a new brotherhood and sisterhood, which is called to have a starring role in the drama of God’s communication of God’s redeeming love to the world. Our society is a society in which there is a great loneliness and in which it is difficult for people to have experiences of community and solidarity. Communion subverts and offers an alternative to this.
The Roots of Communion
Passover: was called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” Leaven or yeast was always a symbol of corruption to the Jews, and this very special Passover bread was to have no leaven in it. It symbolized the purity of Israel, redeemed by God’s grace. Then there was wine — a symbol of life and blessing.
“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:23-25).
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
That is why the “passing of the peace” was introduced just prior to receiving Communion!
What is a Sacrament?
- “Visible sign of an invisible reality,” or “outward sign of inward grace” — a reality that doesn’t depend on us, but that includes us nevertheless! Ordinary things, everyday things, are being transformed by God into the means of God’s self-communication. Sacraments are about God being present in and among and through the ordinary, transforming and fulfilling, not destroying it.
Table or Altar? (Transubstantiation, real/spiritual presence, or Memorial?)
- It is significant that the doctrine of transubstantiation did arise until 800 years after Christ!
- This is not a transaction (transubstantiation), but nor is it merely a ritual (memorial). Here we gather, acknowledge the real presence of Christ in a powerful metaphor (consubstantiation), receive what is always available in plenitude, and are sent out.
Five Big Communion Themes:
I. The Incarnation: why Communion is a celebration of our embodied-ness/physical life (all five senses)!
- solidarity/relatedness, suffering, non-dualism, sacred and profane joined
II. Dependence on God: how Communion is a celebration of our life-source
- God is our food! (John 6:48, 53, 54) to participate in abundant life, first here and now, but also hereafter
III. Christ’s self-emptying example: Communion expresses how we are to live in the world as servants
- goes back to the incarnation, but this particularly stresses modeling the way Jesus lived
IV. Journey of Thanksgiving and Response
- with humble, repentant and grateful hearts for what God has done and is invites us into
V. Shalom! Communion celebrates being restored to right relationship w/ God through Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection.
- We know that our relationship with God, our fellow human beings, and the rest of God’s Creation, is not as it ought to be
- Shalom means not only the absence of violence and oppression but also the satisfaction of every spiritual and physical need. The time of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God is one of healing, of sight to the blind, of the lame walking, of the poor being fed.
We are called (gathered) and empowered (sent) to witness to the Kingdom of God (God’s will done “on earth as it is in heaven”). The Eucharist is the hinge upon which this going and sending turns. So the life of the church, especially its worship and Eucharist, is a foretaste of the Kingdom that is to come.
Leander S. Harding, In the Breaking of the Bread:
“The existence of humanity in the Garden was a priestly existence, an existence of grateful offering to God. We fell from that vocation. We forgot who we were and what we were made for. We began to crave the world as a thing in itself. The Creation became an idol instead of a means of feasting on God’s love. Jesus has come to restore us to our original vocation. In and through him we now bring the world again to God, and the Creation, beginning with the bread and wine, again becomes the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. ” (p. 48).
“God wants all of life to be Eucharist for us. God wants all relationships, all human transactions, all our work, all our interaction with the rest of Creation to be Eucharist, a partaking of the life of God that causes thanksgiving to well up in us and draw our hearts to God and t a new unity with each other.” (p. 34)
“In this peace, the natural divisions of race, class, age, and social status that keep people apart are overcome. Even the categories of righteousness and unrighteousness, of decent and indecent people, are overcome.” (p. 43)