Sisters and brothers:
I recently had the opportunity to read a portion of the report produced between the Lutherans and Roman Catholics. These two church bodies have moved closer together and in this particular report they identify 32 points of agreement ranging from the way ministry is ordered, the sacraments (primarily baptism and Holy Communion), apostolic tradition and the saving work of the church.
What I found striking in this most recent reading was the common understanding of the importance of the Eucharist and the centrality of that sacrament in the life of the church and in the spiritual lives of us as individuals. For centuries Roman Catholics and Lutherans have been divided on a particular aspect of the Eucharist. Lutherans affirmed their belief in the “real presence” of Christ in, under and within the bread and the wine. Roman Catholics have tended to focus on the changed nature of the species and have argued that while it may “appear to be bread and wine,” it is in fact the very body and blood of Christ. This document spoke about how both of these understandings are correct and that there is very little that separates them. They are hopeful that they will soon find the ability to share the Eucharist together.
I’d like to share with you some points of their common points of view as a reminder of the importance of the Eucharist. First, the body and blood of Christ is understood to be a sacrament – that is the Eucharist conveys spiritual graces to those of us who receive it. Thus there is something “salvific” about receiving the body and blood of Christ. When we partake, we are not just receiving nourishment, we’re actually being imbued with “saving graces” each time we eat or drink together. In John, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood are those who shall be saved.
Second, Jesus instructed the disciples (and us) that whenever we do this we are to do so in “remembrance.” There is something about the “remembering” aspect. In a way, we are not just remembering what happened long, long ago, we are actually participating in the act that took place at the Last Supper. Just as the Jews recognized that their Passover ritual somehow connected them directly to the events of the Exodus, so too our participation in the Eucharist connects us to the Paschal event – the saving acts of Jesus in that last meal and the trial, crucifixion and resurrection that followed.
Third, while we are commemorating what happened in the past – that is Christ’s ultimate sacrifice – we are also participating in our own sacrifice – the giving of ourselves, our souls and our bodies to God. Thus Eucharist is a 2-way giving and a 2-way prayer. God gives of God’s self through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and we in turn give of ourselves in praise and thanksgiving.
Lastly, whether we use 1 loaf of bread or many loaves we are sharing the ONE BREAD and the ONE CUP. That is when we share communion together we are sharing not only with our sisters and brothers in this family of faith, we are sharing with our sisters and brothers all across the world as well as those saints who have gone before.
I hope you might keep these things in mind as you come to the altar rails this Sunday. Let the body and blood of Christ nourish you – AND SAVE YOU.
And, perhaps more importantly, I hope that if you haven’t been to church in a while – that is if you have not received Holy Communion in a while – you might consider the importance of the sacrament and avail yourself of the gift that is offered.
To read more: Around the Parish, June 7, 2017Around the Parish, June 7, 2017