The Nurturing Spirit - Eucharist


The Eucharist helps us to make sense of our world. To an onlooker, it may seem that what happens at Eucharist bears little relation to what's going on in the world; it seems irrelevant. But the Church sees the Eucharist differently. We believe that what happens at the Eucharist is really a picture of what is happening in the world. The Eucharist is like a lens which brings into sharp focus those things which often we overlook. Through this lens, we can see the true nature and meaning of our world and the reason for our existence. By looking at what happens at the Eucharist, we begin to see the world in a new way. So, let's look more closely at what happens at the Eucharist ...

Coming Together

The first thing we see is people coming together. They come from different homes and situations: some happy, some sad, some fulfilled, some lonely. But there is a unity. Church people are united in that we believe that coming together for the Sunday Eucharist, or Mass, or Holy Communion is important. For we believe that, despite all the problems, God's power is at work in the world and that God's strength can overcome human weakness. This is true for people of every race, color and creed.

Our coming together as Christ's followers
brings this belief in God's power within each one of us into focus.

Listening

The second thing we see at the Eucharist is that very soon everyone sits down to listen to the Scriptures being read. There are a lot of ways in which we believe that God has spoken and continues to speak to people. Human experience and our own conscience, for example, are ways in which God touches everyone. Yet, for Christians, there is something more: there is Jesus Christ and all that he has taught us about God and his love for his people. That's why, at the final reading, which is from the Gospels, we stand to listen to the words Jesus himself spoke.

When we listen to God's word in the Scriptures,
it brings God's voice in the world into focus.


Thanksgiving

The third thing we see as central to the Eucharist is what we call the Eucharistic Prayer. The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word meaning "thanksgiving". Everyone gathers around the altar with the priest to re-enact what Christ did with his disciples at the Last Supper. We listen afresh to Christ's words thanking and praising God saying:

"Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Then, "Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

We believe what Christ said. We believe that when we remember and act on his words, Jesus is present. This is the most precious moment of life. The bread and wine which has been brought forward to represent our life and work now become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. He is present, as he said he would be, and is our reminder of God's unending promise. But this precious moment doesn't mean that what's happening in the rest of the world is irrelevant. The opposite is true. This moment reminds us of the importance of every single person in God's eyes.

Our celebration of Christ's presence among us
brings into focus
just how precious is the whole of God's world.

Communion

Finally, at the heart of the Eucharist is Holy Communion. This is a personal moment. When we share in this sacred meal, we do indeed share in the life of Christ. We are experiencing the result of God's great desire to come to us and be one with us. To make the bread and wine for our Communion, grapes and grain are crushed. Jesus Christ was also crushed for our communion. He was crushed and crucified on the Cross, so that the power of God's love for all could be shown. In all our lives there is suffering, but our suffering is not meaningless. For when suffering is faced with love, that which is crushed and broken is transformed by such love into new life.
 

Our celebration of the Communion brings into focus
the cost of all true loving and shows us where such love
will lead us - into the hands of God the Creator of love.


What does the Eucharist tell us?

When we think about the reality of what our celebration tells us, it becomes clear that in the Eucharist we find all that we need in life. We find unity with others, guidance from our heavenly Father, food for the journey and confirmation of the promise which was made to us by Jesus Christ. The Lord has not the slightest intention of leaving us to our own devices and our narrow outlook on life. Having created each of us to be special and unique he doesn't leave it there any more than we would leave a newborn baby to fend for itself. No, our heavenly Father intends to nurture and cosset us every moment of our lives until the day we are completely one with him in love, unity and peace.

God gives us his Body and Blood as a sign of his continued presence to nurture and continually form us in his likeness. We are called to bring Christ to our home, our workplace, our world. And we are called to do this, not by hollow words and empty gestures, but as Christ comes to us in a simple, everyday way, a gentle way with ordinary, everyday gifts and actions which transform and nurture in a profound and authentic way.

What is the Eucharist?

Christ's own preaching of the Eucharist met with small success. In the synagogue at Capernaum, his claim that he would give his flesh for the life of the world was greeted very unsympathetically. Many of his followers walked away. And, at the Last Supper, with his closest disciples, when he took bread and wine saying, "This is my body this is my blood poured out for you," one of those with Jesus had the mind to betray him.

To the ancient world the Eucharist seemed "intolerable language." (John 6:60) It appears no more reasonable to the modern world. And so it has been throughout the Church's history. Jesus' claim seems to defy reason. "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" How can it make sense to suggest that, "Christ becomes present in this sacrament precisely by a change of the bread's whole substance into his body and the wine's whole substance into his blood?" (St. Thomas Aquinas)

We must be clear about two things. Firstly, in the Eucharist we are going beyond appearances. In the Eucharist, Christ is as truly present as he was nearly two thousand years ago in Capernaum. And, even then, people judged only by external appearances.

"This is the son of Joseph. We know his father and his mother," they said, "how can he claim to have come down from heaven? What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you?" Appearances were deceiving. Appearances are deceiving.

Secondly, Christ's presence among men and women was not in itself sufficient to save those who met him. To be saved, they had to approach him in faith. We have to communicate with him. He is present as our food, the eating of which gives us a share in his saving sacrifice and resurrection.

God knows that we human beings are not creatures of spirit only: we are also made of flesh and blood. That's why Jesus became incarnate, took flesh and blood to save us. In the Eucharist Jesus is incarnate again. He comes to us, not only spiritually but physically, through his presence in the consecrated bread and wine. Like all the sacraments, the Eucharist is more than words, it is a tangible expression of God's love for us. Even in ordinary relationships, a single hug can sometimes mean more than many words. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us this physical, tangible expression of his self-giving love, to express and sustain our relationship with him.

Sadly, debate about the meaning of the Eucharist has been one of the major points of division between different churches. However, after the centuries of arguments about how exactly Jesus is present in the Eucharist, there are some signs of the convergence. An important Agreed Statement on the doctrine of the Eucharist has been drawn up by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which underlines the importance of this real, physical and objective presence of Jesus in the sacrament. The World Council of Churches has also produced a statement of Eucharistic doctrine along similar lines.

To speak of the objective presence of Christ in the bread and wine means that it is not limited to the duration of the Eucharist service. In many churches, some of the consecrated bread is reserved in a safe called an aumbry or tabernacle, so that it can be taken to sick people who are unable to come to Church. A white or red light always burns near the place where the sacrament is reserved, to show that the presence of Christ is focused there in this special way.

Eucharist Means Thanksgiving

The eating of the bread and wine, which are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to be the food of eternal life, is the sign of our union with Christ. In the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus said, "Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day." (John 6:54)

Jesus instituted the Eucharist within the Jewish passover meal on the night before he died. Jesus said, "I have longed to eat this passover with you before I suffer, for I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15-16)

Then Jesus took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying,

"'Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup and gave thanks; he gave it to them saying, 'Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you.'"

In the Eucharist then, we are united with Christ through the power of the Spirit and so united with the risen Christ's worship of his Father. "Nourished by his body and blood and filled with his Holy Spirit, we become one body, one Spirit in Christ," and give honor to the Almighty Father.

The Eucharist unites us
with Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

The Eucharist unites us with Christ's sacrifice of Calvary. This is the central mystery of our faith. But what does it mean? After all, the casual observer sees no similarity whatever between the cold callousness of Calvary and the calm comfort of today's celebration, separated by nearly two thousand years. How do we explain our statement of the truth? We will make our explanation in three stages.

What happened at Calvary?

On the Cross, Jesus chose to offer himself to the Father, in the supreme sacrifice of the giving of his own blood. At that moment Jesus breathed his last breath with the words, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." But, then, into Jesus' lifeless body the Father poured his life-giving Spirit. The Son, who offered his life into the hands of the Father, now sits at the right hand of his Father, raised up as Lord.

On the night before he died, Jesus had instituted the Eucharist to be a sign of his true and continuing presence. To understand the full significance of his presence then, we look at the full meaning of the sign.

The New Passover Meal

According to the first three Gospels, on the night before Jesus died, he celebrated the Passover meals with his disciples, but he changed its meaning, putting himself in the place of the Passover lamb. At the last Supper, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a new Passover meal, to recall his own sacrifice on the cross, which fulfills all the sacrifices of the old covenant. This is what we re-enact each time we come to the Lord's table.

How does the Eucharist join us with Christ's sacrifice?

When we do this "in remembrance" of what Jesus did on the cross, we are not just looking back at something that happened long ago. Through the Eucharist, his sacrifice becomes as present and powerful for us now. Although the cross happened at a point in history, the sacrifice of Christ is timeless, eternal. In the Holy Trinity, the Father and Son are in an eternal relationship of self giving to one another. Through the Eucharist, we are drawn into this eternal relationship of self-giving love. We, for our part, offer our praise, our thanks, and all "the work of human hands" symbolized in the bread and wine. But then Christ takes our poor offering, unites it with his perfect offering, and gives us back - himself.

At the Eucharist, in other words, Christ's offering becomes our offering; for in baptism we became members of Christ's Body. We are not spectators at the sacrifice like the bored soldiers playing dice at Calvary, nor even like Mary and John at the foot of the cross, looking up at the face of the dying Jesus. We are members of Christ's Body. We are united with his sacrifice, "through him,' and with him, and in him."

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