March 10, 2015

Liturgy for Lent: Eucharist, an Introduction

This is part of a series my friend, Mike Angell and I are posting at each of our blogs. You can read the other posts here.

Mike: We first met as we prayed at the fence on the US/Mexico border in Friendship Park. We were there for the Border Posadas in Advent 2006, holding hands with fellow worshipers across border and hearing “there is no room at the inn.” This was figuratively true for some families, torn apart by our immigration courts. I remember the night well, partly because of the long walk back. The border patrol had shut down the parking area nearest the fence that day. Your kids were really small at the time and we had hike about two miles across beach sand and scrub brush to get back to our cars. I was impressed that you would bring your little kids down to the border to pray for immigration reform, and with the people caught up in our broken system.

I bring up the fence as we talk about Eucharist because there I saw an image of Communion that has redefined what liturgy means for me. Even as we prayed the Posadas, the US government was planning to “enhance” the fence, to build a giant “triple layer” concrete wall complex. Everything about this plan felt wrong, especially when you had prayed with families separated by the fence. We joined a small group with The Rev. John Fanestil, a Methodist minister celebrating Communion through the fence. I will never forget the night we went. Passing the bread and wine to the other side was illegal (you can’t import food without a proper form), but the liturgy made our broken systems fade away. We stood in witness to a spiritual truth that felt deeper facing such a visible human boundary: We are one body. I’ve never been able to celebrate The Eucharist in the same way since.

Over the next posts we’ll talk about the liturgy of Holy Communion, also known as “The Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist.” We’ll talk about some of the historic controversies, and we’ll talk about some “hacks” that have helped Eucharist come alive for us. But I couldn’t start talking about the Eucharist with Jason Evans anywhere but at the border. There are a lot of historic theological arguments about how Jesus is present to us when we celebrate Communion. None of those mattered in Friendship Park. When we passed that bread and wine to one another, through the fence, Christ was there, praying with us for healing between nations.

Jason: I’ve spent most of my adult life around young adults disenchanted with the Church. Many have experienced deep wounds from Christian communities. While these friends will go to great lengths to avoid almost anything remotely Christian, the Lord’s Table is a practice that I’ve seen many come back to.

Sorry to say it preachers but I think this has more to do with the actions of this practice than the words recited.

Each time we participate in the Eucharist, we re-enact the last meal Jesus had with his best friends. All of them, those that were faithful to Jesus and those that would betray him, shared in the same meal. No one was more or less deserving. When Mike and I first met, I watched bread passed through–and chalices pressed up against–a rusty fence. We all shared in the same meal. No one was more or less deserving. Through this sacrament, the same dignity was extended to two groups of people which our culture had stratified. Through this simple, routine act the beauty and scandal of the Gospel is exposed.

A few years later, I worked at a church in downtown San Diego that had a wonderful ministry to the urban poor. When we celebrated communion, women with beautiful big hats and men in expensive suits would approach the Table next to women and men wreaking of their own urine and vomit. They were welcomed equally to Christ’s table. Jesus makes no distinction. They each received the same treatment at the Table. They received the same bread and wine. It is a tactile example of the kind of life we are invited into as followers of Jesus. We’re reminded of our need to be filled with a kind of life that we cannot fabricate on our own. We’re reminded that we are no more deserving of that life than anyone else. We’re invited to this life, not as individuals but as a community. I’m fond of how The Message version of 1 Corinthians 10 speaks of the Lord’s Table:
“When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him.” (emphasis mine)
Mike: You can tell from both our stories, participating in Communion has had a big effect on our faith. I think it’s important to start with our experiences, rather than with abstract ideas. I’ll admit, since Friendship Park, Communion tends to make me nervous. It’s not safe. Invoking Christ, remembering his last meal, participating in his Body and Blood tends to get you into trouble. I pray that continues to be true.
The Series: Introduction Pt.1 | Introduction Pt. 2 | The Daily Office | Praying Through Scripture | The Daily Office Cont. | Explaining the Pieces | Eucharist, an Introduction | Too Much Structure? | 8 Essential Actions | Moments of Transition | Saints and Sanctified Time

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