Friday, August 27, 2010

Three Feasts At One Altar

The Eucharist is the ritual shape of our worship,
and we hope that as the years go by,
our worship will more and more shape our lives.
How we understand the Eucharist makes a difference
for how we understand everything.
A deeper, richer understanding of the Eucharist
will deepen and enrich our experience of all our days.
So let’s look at 2 ways to think about our worship.
Let’s consider the meaning of the word, “Eucharist;”
and then let’s look a the meals in the Bible
that the Eucharist calls to mind.

First, the meaning of the word.
Eucharist is a Greek word. Its root is charis
which means gift or grace -- something freely given.
Whatever God has given us is charis.
And what has God given us? Everything.
In the Eucharist, we remember
where everything we have came from.
We remember that our lives, our loves, this whole wonderful world
is God’s free and unconditional gift to us.
We have not earned it. We cannot earn it. It’s all gift.

If charis means gift, then what is Eucharist?
Eucharist in Greek means our response to the Giver.
It is an act of giving thanks.
That’s why the Eucharistic Prayers are called “The Great Thanksgiving.”

We are thanking God for the great gift of “our creation, our redemption,
all the blessings of this life.”
But this Greek word, eucharist, is a specific kind of thanksgiving.
It isn’t just a polite thank you note.
It is a giving back to God – not a repayment, but a gift back
to acknowledge what we have received.
In the Eucharist we give something back to God.
We give our very selves. That is the sacrifice on this altar.

In Rite I, we say,
“Here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord,
our selves, our souls and bodies, to be
a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola put it this way:
“Accept O God my memory, my will, my understanding, my imagination.
All that I am and all that I have you have given me.
I give it all back to be disposed of according to your good pleasure.”

The bread, the wine, and the alms are brought to the table
as symbols of our lives, given back to God,
to be blessed, broken, and shared with the world.
A young student once said to Socrates,
“Master, I have nothing to give you.”
Socrates replied, “Then give me yourself
and I will give it back to you much improved.”
Each Sunday, we give our frail, broken lives to God,
and God gives us our lives back, healed and made holy.

Now what meals in Holy Scripture does this ritual enact?
The first and most obvious answer is the Last Supper.
We remember the solemn meal which began the Passion.
It is a meal to remember that the Lord’s gift to us was costly.
We remember the death of Jesus which purchases our lives,
redeems us from the wages of sin.

But that is only the first of the three meals.
For in the Eucharistic Prayer make three acclamations of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is raised.
Christ will come again.”
The Last Supper is the meal of his death.
The meal of his resurrection was on the road to Emmaus.
You remember the story.
It was the first Easter.
Two disciples were leaving Jerusalem downhearted
when they met a stranger who told them
the meaning of Jesus’ death.

Then at supper, Luke tells us,
“He took bread, gave thanks -- that’s eucharist in the Greek –
and began to give it to them.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
This meal, this Eucharist, is an encounter with the Risen Lord.

We believe in the Real Presence of Christ in this sacrament.
We don’t just remember a dead hero. We encounter a living savior.
This is profoundly important.
I have known so many people
whose religion was stuck in Good Friday,
whose lives were a perpetual grief and a constant remorse.

But that is not our faith.
We meet a Lord of Love, and Power, and Might,
a God of Grace subtly put absolutely present
in the simple act of sharing bread.

And now the third meal:
There is as sense in which this meal has not happened yet,
and another sense in which it has been happening
for all eternity.
It’s called the messianic banquet.
Again and again, Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a dinner party.

Jesus was referring to a meal first described by Isaiah:
“On this mountain, the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine – the best meat and the finest wines.
On this mountain, he will destroy the shroud
that enfolds all peoples . . . ,
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all their faces . . . .”

The Eucharist is a foretaste of that banquet.
We take this morsel of bread and this sip of wine today
to express our faith that one day
we will sit at the Lord’s table for a rich feast
to celebrate the end of death
and erase of all suffering
with transcendent joy.

We remember is death.
We proclaim his resurrection.
We await his coming in glory.
All our hope is in this simple physical act
with spiritual consequence beyond our imagining.
That’s why Jesus commanded us to do it.
The liturgical scholar, Dom Gregory Dix, said,
“Was ever a command so obeyed?
For century after century, spreading slowly
to every continent and country and among every race on earth.

This action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance,
for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it
to extreme old age and after it,
from the pinnacle of earthly greatness
to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. . . .

And best of all, week by week . . .
on a hundred thousand successive Sundays,
faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom,
the pastors have done just this to make the plebs sancta Dei
– the holy common people of God.”