THE EUCHARISTIC LIFE part 5: Overview 21.3.18
During the last four weeks we have reflected upon various aspects of the Eucharist. As I have prepared these talks I have found myself looking back with thanksgiving over the twenty five years that I have celebrated the Eucharist. Sometimes it has been with two or three in a tiny church in rural Shropshire, or with many hundreds in large parish churches, sometimes with someone in their last hours in a hospital ward or chapel, once in the marriage service, of our daughter, a nuptial mass; in funeral requiems; for several years in a tiny garage with an up and over door right by a noisy road; in nursing homes, and for the last ten years here at St Mary’s, and in our local convents. Every single celebration has been unique. But I see more and more clearly some fundamental common strands in each celebration.
Firstly, in the Eucharist Christians are drawn to being a guest, welcomed by and wanted by Jesus. We read that Jesus enjoys fellowship wherever he goes. He is indiscriminate about who he celebrates and makes community with. In Luke 19 Jesus meets Zacchaeus, a tax collector, who is bothered that he will not be able to see over the heads in the crowd, and so climbs a tree hoping not to be noticed. But Jesus sees him and asks if he can come to Zacchaeus’ home. Thus we can see that Jesus not only exercises hospitality but he draws it out of others. His welcome enables us and others to welcome. In the Eucharist we invoke Jesus through his Spirit, we ask him to be present, for he has already asked us, and also the people next to us, whoever they may be. That is God’s desire.
This giving and receiving is at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry. And so we can begin to see that the people of God are those who have accepted his invitation, not because of any inherent goodness on their part, our part. If we look at the resurrection stories we see that this theme continues beyond Jesus’ death on the cross. He goes on offering and accepting hospitality now just as before. Remember that in Luke’s post- resurrection account Jesus comes to his disciples. He tells them not to be afraid and then he says “Have you anything here to eat?” Later, in the Acts of the Apostles (10.41), the apostles say that they are the people who ate and drank with Jesus when he had risen from the dead. Luke is reminding us here that what Jesus did in forming a new community during his earthly life, he continued with the apostles during his risen life. And thus the Eucharist only makes sense if we believe in the resurrection. Without that belief, the Eucharist is just a memorial of a devastatingly sad time.
By celebrating the Eucharist we are reminded that we are not only invited guests but we are given the freedom to invite others, to make our community a place of welcome for those most in need of fellowship and support. Thus we continue Jesus’ work of bridging gaps. We are called to draw, to invite, people into a shared life with God whose heart is set on overcoming our forgetful, selfish and fearful habits by his love.
During the last supper Jesus shows that in the bread and wine we are to see signs of the events of Good Friday, Easter and God’s future and God’s promise. His approaching death is a door to hope. But even before his death Jesus gives thanks. He is connecting his experience with the reality of God, which is the essence of thanksgiving. When we thank God we too connect with God the giver. What has happened to us is somehow and mysteriously rooted in the gift of God. At this point, before the darkness of his death, Jesus connects the darkness of human experience with God the giver. Even then, He still gives thanks and we do the same in our Eucharist, even in the midst of the darkest of human experiences. We do this to make the connection between human experience and the divine gift. And if we see God the giver present in all we see and experience, our viewpoint can move: we may begin to see that all places, all people, all things, have about them an unexpected sacramental connection and depth. So the Eucharist is a place where we can receive the gift of seeing things differently, and hopefully, even if only for a moment, from God’s point of view.
But we do not always think and behave in a God-connected way. The Eucharist is a place for honest repentance. Here we are called to confront our ability to betray, to forget the gift God has given us. The Eucharist is not a reward for good behaviour, but rather it is the food by which we avoid starving because of our pride, our omissions and particularly our lack of self-awareness. We do not come to the Eucharist because we are doing well but because we are doing badly. We come to the Eucharist because we have not arrived but are still travelling; because we are wrong and confused rather than right; because we are human and not divine; because we are hungry and not full.
As the years have passed I have become more and more aware of the way in which the Holy Spirit can transform us step by step, in lives centred on the Eucharist. That transformation may be one of profound healing. For some years I was involved in the ministry of deliverance on behalf of my bishop in the Diocese of Chichester. Thus I went to a wide variety of people who perceived that they were experiencing some kind of disturbance of spiritual nature. Quite frequently people were disquieted about some aspect of their homes. If blessing their homes brought no relief, then on several occasions and after careful preparation, a celebration of the Eucharist in their homes brought extraordinary transformation to those who lived there, as well as peace in place of disquieting phenomena. These mysterious outcomes increased and underlined my sense of the unexpected power of the Holy Spirit, within the Eucharist.
And so to sum up. What is the Eucharistic life? It is not about going to church very frequently, or surrounding ourselves with Christian thoughts and Christian friends. Rather it is about following the pattern of the Eucharist in our daily lives, for this is the pattern of Christ. It is about living a life where penitence and forgiveness are central; it is being open to and showing the glory of God in every situation; it means listening for his Word in whatever is said, and in the silences and spaces between; it is about testing our belief against the belief and unbelief of the world; it is about offering ourselves to God to be remade; it is about entering into the darkness, the brokenness and bloodiness of the world; it is about enjoying our communion and our community with people of every kind; it is about enjoying the whole created world. It is about being open to let God change, challenge and enrich us. It is about gradually becoming people who love and people who receive with thanks.