Saturday, 9 November 2013

A Personal Understanding of the Celebration of the Eucharist

From a member of We Are Church (UK) to our e-discussion group

Although at this point I'm a reader only, I'd like to contribute my own personal understanding of celebration of Eucharist.

We seem to have lost the original meaning of Eucharist as a celebration of thanksgiving through table fellowship, and turned it all into a sacrifice which can only be enacted through an ordained priest, different from what we read in Acts of the Apostles when early Christian communities celebrated.

Jesus had spent a lot of his time having meals with people in open table fellowship, without distinction of persons. His table companions included women and men, pharisees, 'sinners', tax collectors, friends, disciples.. That's where also the people raised doctrinal/theological issues which he dealt in dialogue with them. It was his way of being among the people in the close friendship of sharing meals. The Last Supper was the culmination of this table fellowship. John has the washing of feet instead of breaking of bread in his Last Supper account, all of which expressed a total giving of Jesus himself, a bond of friendship, a powerful expression of love and of unity. (Of course when he said, (John, ch. 6) 'unless you eat the flesh of the Son of cannot have life in you' some went away unable to accept it. But he did then say 'It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh profiteth nothing', from which I would understand that he's typically presenting his message in pictures and they're taking it literally.

When the people celebrated Eucharist after his life on earth, they were doing as he used to do, and were strongly aware of him still present among them, to such an extent that they wanted to model their way of living closely on his. So after the celebrations they would go out 'with great rejoicing' and share life, what they had, with the poor, some sold property and shared the proceeds, and so on.

So for me, Eucharist is not just about Jesus sacrificing himself for us on Calvary and rising from the dead afterwards, it's about life as well as death and resurrection, total giving in love. It's about us as community of disciples celebrating with him among us and making a response to his giving. In receiving Communion we are receiving him into our lives, identifying with him 'you in me and I in you, that they may be one in us'. Then we go out in the strength of his empowering presence within us. The focus is on us, his disciples commissioned to go out and spread the good news, not on the bread.

There's an elderly lady I know, in the early stages of dementia, who sits in a wheel chair in a side aisle in Church. When after Mass her carer wheels her forward and then turns before the altar to go back down the centre aisle and out, the lady turns around in her chair and waves good bye to Jesus in the tabernacle ! So she leaves the church without him ! Now what's that all about?

Personally, I think the doctrine of transubstantiation has created far more confusion than understanding