Christians are gathered together, they hear God’s Word, they pray, and they worship God. These four elements are part of every Christian service.
Traditionally, each service has two parts to it – the ministry of the Word and of the Sacrament. Each service has the Word, since Scripture is always read, but we tend to refer to some services, ‘worship services’ or ‘healing services’. But not every service is a eucharist. But in another sense, every service in which Christians gather and worship God, is part of the one eucharist of God for man, so every Christian service is eucharistic from beginning to end, even when we don’t get as far as the bread and cup.
He took bread and gave you thanks
Eucharist means thanksgiving. God is with man, and from him we receive our life, and when we are able to acknowledge this we give thanks.
The eucharist is the whole Christian worship service with nothing left out. Every part of this service is a giving thanks. In Christ we are able to see that God is our God. But every act of worship is Christ’s act for us: in each service Christ ministers to us, so we express our surprise and our delight at finding ourselves served by him. And the eucharist is fellowship with the Lord, and so it is a holy communion. It is the fellowship in particular for those who found no room in any other fellowship.
2. Bread of Life
We have gathered together, heard Scripture, sung songs of praise and prayed.
Now while we sing a hymn the servers take the bread, wine and water that have been standing at the back of the Church, and carry them up to the altar. The minister receives them, and he prays. He prays the eucharistic prayer of offering.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the Bread of Life.
The minister prays that, whatever we bring, the Lord will take it from us; that is, whoever we are and whatever condition we are in, the Lord will take us. Christ has taken hold of man, and holds him now and will finally bring man into an eternal relationship. In this eucharist Christ offers all creation back to God and sustains it in the communion of God, so in our eucharistic prayers we celebrate the past, and the present and future action of Christ for us.
The eucharist is an offering from Christ to God, and in communion with Christ, it is also our offering, of ourselves and of all creation. These elements of bread and wine represent all creation and us in it. And because they come from Christ, and represent us, they are received by God. And because they are received by God, they are redeemed and made holy. So in the eucharist we are being offered to God – Christ is presenting man to God and God receives him.
But the offering is also made to us. At that Passover supper celebrated with the disciples in that upper room, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. So here and now, he brings us in, sits us down, breaks this bread, and gives it to us. He feeds us and waits on us. The food he offers us comes from this creation that he has prepared for us and placed us in: all creation is the garden which he has opened for us. And he not only serves us at this table, but he also eats with us, and by this act he makes us his equals. We are not left out, but sat at his table, not dirty or excluded, but made whole simply by being near him. So, happy are those who are called to his supper.
3. Our Passover
Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Dying you destroyed our death
Rising you restored our life
Lord Jesus come in glory
The words of eucharist remember the past event of the passion of Christ who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to his disciples
In the eucharist we remember the incarnation and the passion and death of Christ. We remember the last supper in the upper room and the chain of events that followed it: supper with the disciples was followed by the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ arrest and trial, his being scourged, stripped and put to death on the cross. Let us call this the ‘passion’. But the passion just tells us what the incarnation is, and how deep it goes: the incarnation goes down all the way to the bottom. The incarnation is the meeting of God with man, and the passion is the incarnation in miniature. It shows that God really has met man and is with him, and that this is irrevocable now, because not even death can undo it. So the passion is the unchangeable fact of God’s being with man and therefore of his dedicating himself to man and giving himself to man.
Jesus is about to be handed over, so he hands his disciples this bread. Jesus is about to be broken and divided up, so he breaks and divides this bread. He performs this handing over and being broken up in miniature. In this way we realise that this did not happen to him without his knowledge, without his permission and deliberate consent to it. It looks as though man is taking Christ into his hands, into his power to do something appalling to him in which Jesus is simply the victim – and so it is. But, by playing this all out before hand, Jesus shows that in all this action in which man’s violence rolls out, man is not master of this event at all. Jesus even tells Judas – ‘go and do what you are going to do’. In the last supper Jesus shows what is going to happen so that it is clear that he freely took this role in it, and that in all this action, in which he is entirely passive, he is entirely free and willing, and so entirely in charge. He is actively passive. In all this passion it is not man who is in charge – not Judas, not the crowd, not the Sanhedrin or high priest or Pilate – but Christ.
Christ breaks open this bread, tears pieces off and so divides it and hands it over to his friends, because he is going to open, and break and divide, hand over and share. He opens, divides, hands over and shares himself. What we are getting in all this, what we are being offered, is not this or that thing – it is Christ himself. God is given to man because he places himself into our hands.
Our time here and now in this eucharist, is superimposed on that moment then, and which is followed by the Mount of Olives, the garden, arrest, passion and crucifixion, all the events of the passion. These two times come into synch, our time like a small fly-wheel comes into synch with the master fly-wheel which is Christ’s time. The eucharist is the passion, and the eucharistic service superimposes this passion on our time. As a result we are able to follow him, standing on the side, and watch this offering and giving of God to man, from a distance.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble womb to spring. Thomas Aquinas Pange, lingua, gloriosi Corporis mysterium
4. One body
We break this bread to share in the body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.
Christ has opened himself for us. He is the bread that divides and shares itself out. But this division and opening is not the only thing going on. He gives himself because nothing else in all creation can give him to us- that is nothing else can break or open him up. nothing on earth can divide this body is not divide him and The body is united. It is never broken, for nothing in all creation can divide it or even leave a mark on it. It is a single indivisible loaf. Nothing can ever leave a mark on it.
We process up to the altar, and that the priest who stands there holds up this single loaf. This eucharistic bread, the ‘host’, is a larger version of the wafer we receive individually at communion. But imagine that this one bread’ is as large as those flat unleavened Middle Eastern loaf, a giant round pitta bread. This loaf is us, in Christ.
Now whether we are aware of it or not, each of us brings something to the eucharist. Imagine that as we reach the altar each of us empties our pockets of whatever bits and bobs have accumulated there during the week, each crumb representing some event in which we have been involved. Now imagine that we put these crumbs are put together in a bowl and, extraordinarily, all these discarded fragments turn into a single unleavened loaf of bread. We are those crumbs. Brought together we become that single loaf.
The almighty power of God combines these fragments together to make this loaf which is so pure. When the loaf, the host, is held up, it gleams, so that you can see it quite clearly even from the back of the Church. God has called us from all corners of the world, and collected us to form this assembly, and this gathering is the first batch of the new creation.
5. The indivisible divides himself
The second thing is that Christ, the indivisible loaf, breaks himself open for us. The indivisible shares himself out. Since it is impossible to break open unaided, it must be Christ who breaks open this loaf so that we can eat from it. When we do its strength will flood into us, and it will make us pure, indivisible and unbreakable.
So two things are going on. The first is that that loaf is that community, and that community is the indivisible Christ: we are him and he is us. The loaf is the Church, that is to say, all the other Christians who we must grasp and hold on to. Only joined to them, clinging to them are we one with them, and are integrated into this body that is Christ’s. The second thing is that Christ, the loaf breaks himself open for us and distributes himself to us. The Holy Spirit, the indivisible and indestructible, divides and distributes himself to us, so that without ceasing to be one he is simultaneously many, and gives us many gifts and packages, which increases the holiness and uniqueness of each one of us, and make us a single spiritual people. These two distinct things have to be said about the eucharist.
We have said that every act of worship is God’s act for us. We are invited to share in Christ’s worship of the Father as this is experienced by the whole company of heaven. Secondly, in this service Christ ministers to us. The Lord gathers his Church around him and serves them. He gathers us his table. When we celebrate the eucharist, we are gathered by Christ and he waits on us.
We become his holy people. We now participate in this prayer, so we are able to pass the whole world back to God who will redeem it and renew it for us. This is the reason why
With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we proclaim his great and glorious name.