Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Short Guide to the Eucharist. 2: Where is God to be found?

At the Eucharist, one of the most important things that we do is we come to meet with God. All worship is offered in the presence of God. We come into God’s presence to make our offerings of praise and thanksgiving and to ask God for help and blessing.

Standing behind this is Jesus’ promise that ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ (Matthew 18.20). In the Eucharist, we are especially mindful of the presence of Jesus among us.

In fact, the Eucharist is structured around three particular places or moments when we meet with God. This is not to say that God is only present at these moments, only that the liturgy is shaped to give special prominence to these three places.

1. Meeting God in his Word

The first place that we meet with God is in his Word, the Bible. We have three Bible readings at a Eucharist, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament and a Gospel reading. Here we hear the stories of God’s presence with his people, and we are given help and guidance for our lives.

The readings are taken from a list of readings called the Lectionary. This is shared between most of the major Christian denominations, so the same readings are read in the vast majority of Christian churches across the world. Taking readings from a Lectionary also means that we read from all of the Bible. The Lectionary takes us through the Bible (not absolutely all of it, but most of it) in three years. It also means that we don’t simply choose the easy passages, or our favourites. All of the Bible is there for us, easy and hard, challenging and comforting, we need it all.

In our Eucharist service, we give a special place to the Gospel because it is the stories of Jesus. It is the stories of Jesus that the rest of the Bible points to, and so we give them special prominence in our worship. In the Eucharist we process the Gospel into the heart of the church and sing our responses to it. This is a sign that the Gospel is at the heart of our life as a church, and should be at the heart of all of our lives as Christians.

In addition to the three readings, we have a sermon which explores and explains the meaning of the readings for us today. Just as later in the service the bread is broken and shared, so in the sermon the Word is broken open and shared. The sermon is also part of meeting with God in our Eucharist.

2. Meeting God in his people

Each of us in church is made in the image of God (Genesis 1.27). St Paul reminds us that each of us is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 5.19). And so we should not be surprised to encounter God in one another. We do this in many ways, in our sheer presence to one another as we gather together and worship. Together we are the Body of Christ – we are the presence of Christ to one another and to our world.

The place where this is marked during the service is at the peace. Jesus instructed his disciples that if when they came to the altar they remember that they were in dispute with someone, they should immediately go and be reconciled and only then come to the altar. So it is most important to share the peace with those we find difficult, and not just to share the peace with our friends!

3. Meeting God in the Sacrament

The final, and most important place that we meet with God in the Eucharist is in the sacrament itself – in the broken bread and poured out wine that are for us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Through Christian history there have been many arguments about exactly how we meet Christ in the sacrament. But what is important is that as we receive communion, as we eat the bread and drink the wine, that we are in the presence of God. The whole of our service builds to this point, and once we have receive communion, all that is left for us is to be sent out into the world to bring God’s presence to a world that badly needs it.

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