Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Short Guide to the Eucharist.

1. What's in a Name.

I thought I’d begin this irregular series (also to be found in a certain Parish Magazine) by looking at the different names that the Eucharist has been called. Often these mark out a particular church or tradition or view of the Eucharist, but I think that they all have something to teach us about this act of worship.

1. The Lord’s Supper

Calling this act of worship ‘The Lord’s Supper’ reminds us that this service is rooted in the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. When we gather to share bread and wine, we gather to remember Jesus. We are obedient to Jesus’ instruction to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19). We remember Jesus, and especially his death and resurrection, in the context of the Passover meal – the great festival of freedom. This is Jesus’ own interpretation of his death, given to his disciples at the meal table at which the story of the Exodus (the freeing of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt) was told.

2. The Eucharist

‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek work ‘eucharisto’, which means ‘to give thanks’. To call this service a ‘Eucharist’ is to speak of it as a great act of thanksgiving. This is seen in particular in the great prayer of thanksgiving, or the Eucharistic Prayer. At the Eucharist we give thanks to God for all he has done for us, especially in his sending of Jesus to live among us and be our Saviour. We also give thanks for all he continues to do for us through the Holy Spirit and the continuing presence of Jesus with us.

3. Communion

When we speak about a ‘Communion’ service, we are reminding ourselves that this service is where we are joined with God. Another word for ‘Communion’ is ‘fellowship’, and as we make our Communion, we are brought into fellowship with God. We come into his presence and become part of his people. And so we do not only make our Communion with God, we also make it with one another. At Communion, we are brought into fellowship with God and with one another.

4. The Mass

It is mostly Roman Catholics who call this service the Mass. However, it is a name that has something to teach us all. The name Mass, comes from the Latin word ‘missio’, which means to send. This name comes from the end of the service when we are sent to ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. To speak about the Mass, is to be sent out into our world to work for God’s Kingdom.

So there you have it, four different names for the same act of worship. Each of them speaks of a different aspect of this central Christian act: remembering Jesus, giving thanks, being brought into fellowship with God and one another, and being sent to work for God’s Kingdom. All together help us to enter into the fullness of this mystery by which God’s love is made present in our lives.

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