SACRAMENTS – EUCHARIST

INTRO We have explored Baptism and Confirmation – Sacraments of Initiation which lead to and are completed by full participation in the Eucharist. Receiving the Eucharist completes our ‘initiation’ into the Body of the Christ, the Church – by ‘eating His Body and drinking His Blood’ we become His Body and Blood given for the life of the world!

[1] The Greek word ‘Eucharist’ does not appear in the New Testament in reference to the Sacrament (this emerged end of the first century beginning of the second as recorded in the ‘Apostolic Writing’ called the ‘Didache’) – the terms used are ‘the Lord’s Supper’ or ‘the Breaking of the Bread’. ‘Eucharist’ means ‘blessing’ or ‘thanksgiving’ – eg the frequently used Jewish prayer – ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of the Universe’ (like that used in the Offertory of the Mass). It was also used to express thankfulness within the context of human relationships: and of course the Eucharist is the heart and expression of our shared relationships as the Body of Christ, the Church. So the Eucharist is the greatest act of the Church ‘giving thanks’ to God for all the ‘blessings’ showered upon us and the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, and above all by His sacrificial love we see on the Cross. 

[2] The Eucharist finds it origin in the Jewish Passover Meal, which it seems that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified (Matthew 26: 26-29; Mark 14: 22-25; Luke 22: 19-20; 1Corinthians 11: 23-25; John 13-17). So we must look first to understand more the nature and significance of the Passover meal.  The Days of the ‘Unleavened Bread’ culminating in the ‘Passover’ were among the greatest of all Jewish Feasts. While lambs were sacrificed (in thousands) in the Temple (at the ‘sixth hour’ onwards John 19: 14), the central focus of the celebration was in the home. For they were remembering and indeed ‘reliving’ that sacred night of Liberation when the Hebrews gathered in their homes, sacrificed a lamb, marked the lintels of the doorposts with blood of the lamb, and remained in the house together, eating in haste, while the final plague (the visitation of the Angel of Death upon the first-born of Egypt) literally ‘passed over’ their Hebrew homes (Exodus 12: 15-50 ). They were saved from death and Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, won victory over Pharaoh and his gods. The Hebrew slaves were also instructed to bake hurriedly ’unleavened bread’ – the bread of haste, bread for the journey that would not decay and was compact to carry, bread of freedom! So this meal involved a sacrifice, the shedding of blood, the saving of the chosen people from death and their liberation from slavery in Egypt. That night they left the land of oppression and ventured into the unknown to journey towards a land of freedom. They passed through waters of destruction (for the Egyptian oppressors) which became the passage to life and freedom (Exodus 14: 5-15: 20). In this event of human liberation, a loose rabble of oppressed and defeated slaves of Semitic origin escaped from under the noses of the most powerful force in the world at that time, and God was revealed as liberating power who ‘heard the cries of my people’ and acted decisively (Exodus 3: 7-10 ). The people were revealed as ‘chosen’ by God for freedom.  In the annual family ‘Passover’ seder supper, they retold the story, they ‘re-membered’, reconnected, and in doing so considered themselves being liberated, entering into the one saving event of God’s love for His people. Passing the ‘paradigm’ story or event onto a new generation, keeping the memory alive down through the generations so that all experienced themselves as being present that original Passover Night, all went through those waters of destruction and liberation – this was at the heart of the Passover meal.

[3] It was the Jewish belief that the Messiah-King would come at Passover and bring decisively and for ever the reign of God, which would involve the restoration of the people to freedom and the gathering of the Tribes of Israel back to their own soil (see John 6: 1-15). It was on this night, the night of His arrest and trials, as He was about to conquer the greatest enemy (sin, evil and death) that Jesus gave us the Eucharist and told us to ‘do this in memory of Me!’ (Luke 22: 19). He did not choose the lamb of the meal, because He was the Lamb of God to be sacrificed on the Cross; instead he chose the simplest and poorest of elements of the Passover meal – unleavened bread and the wine of rejoicing and suffering, the wine of love. And before He did so, the Messiah King discarded his outer clothes and performed the most menial task of the household slave and knelt at the disciples feet and washed them – as a sign that this was the meal of a new kind of victory – the liberation to become no longer slaves but loving servants of the world.  

[4] Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we become present to that saving, victorious destruction that became liberation, death that became life, hate that became love – the Cross of Death transformed into Resurrection and the liberation of Life and Love for ever! This is ‘memorial’: we retell the story of Jesus’ death and Resurrection in the Eucharistic Prayer (the section we call ‘anamnesis’ – the ‘remembering’) and so we passover with Him from death to life, from sin to holiness, from disunity to unity in the Body of Christ. We partake of the sacrificial loving Cup of Christ in order to grow as the community of that Great and Liberating Love. In the Eucharist we celebrate God in Christ liberating humanity from all that dehumanises us and oppressed our sisters and brothers (the essence of sin). In the Eucharist we the scattered People of God are gathered together in Love’s unity as we share ‘the one loaf’. In the Eucharist we are fed with this same liberating love so that we can journey through history, building the Earth as the Promised Land of Freedom and Humanity until Jesus comes again!

[5] But we need to remember that Jesus celebrated two Eucharists – the night before He was Crucified in the Upper Room of the Last Supper, and then the evening after He was risen from the dead around the table in the tavern of Emmaus (Luke 24: 28-35). These two ‘instituting’ Eucharists are like two hands that hold the Passover event of Jesus Death and Resurrection. We re-member, immerse ourselves in the one liberating event that is death transformed into Life, slavery into Freedom. And in ‘the Breaking of the Bread’ we recognise the real presence of Christ both suffering among the crucified of our own time risen, alive, healing and liberating among us.

[6] So the Bread we share is healing for the broken, freedom for the oppressed, light for those in darkness, unity for the scattered, food for the hungry, love for the abandoned. The Cup that we drink Wine that assuages the sufferings  of the world, wine that rejoices in new life, the Lord’s cup we are invited to share so that we too will have the same sacrificial love in us that is in Him whom we eat and drink. The table of the Eucharist gathers in unity, a place where all are welcome and all are fed and all can be healed! But all this only if we become Living Eucharist, if we allow our communities to be moulded and shaped into the living Christ, Suffering and Risen in today’s world. The Eucharist must never remain simply a Liturgy – it must become our shared life as witnessing communities of the Risen Christ, powerfully voices for the Voiceless and speaking with the restlessness of the Prophets!

[7] Every Eucharist is a Pentecost – for the Holy Spirit overshadows the community gathered around the Table so that we can become the Body of Christ, so that these elements of our created world – bread and wine can become the Presence and Dynamism of the Dying and Rising Christ. This is expressed by that section in the Eucharistic prayer we call the ‘Epiclesis’, the invoking of the Spirit not just on bread and wine but upon the whole community. In each Eucharist the Church is being born and re-born as we ‘re-member’, reconnect, breathe in that final Spirit-giving Breath of Christ form the Cross (John 19: ). At the heart of our celebration is the sharing of the ‘One Loaf’ and the ‘One Cup’ – sharing our joys and sorrows, and not only ours but that of all the world for Jesus drank this Cup on the Cross and so must we! There should never be a Eucharist where the People are denied the cup (I am not speaking of the extraordinary issues facing us with Covid of course), as there should never be a Eucharist where those hungry for God in the chaos and disorder of their lives (or the so-called ‘irregularity’ of their relationships or sexual identity) are denied a place around the table!

[8] And at the centre of our Worship are the things of the Earth – bread from the fields, wine from the vine-glad hills. The elements of Creation are transformed into Christ’s presence, His Body and Blood. This is the ‘eschatological’ dimension of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the final transformation of all Creation, when Christ will be ‘all in all’ and gather the whole Cosmos into Himself. The Eucharist we celebrate and share nourishes us with Hope for all creation as we receive Christ’s ‘Cosmic Love!’ (Pope Francis in Laudato si’). The Eucharist having gathered us into unity as the ‘Assembly of God’ sends out re-visioned and re-energised in Mission to transform the world with Gospel Good News and Loving service until the Reign of God’s loving is complete and Jesus comes again transfiguring all Creation into the glory of his Body. The Eucharist forms and send Missionary Community – if we are not missionary communities we have not truly celebrated Eucharist!! Never separate the Eucharist from the formation of Eucharistic Community of Mission.

CHRIST HAS DIED, CHRIST IS RISEN, CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN! ALLELUIA!

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