Practicing The Eucharist in the World (Part Four)

The following paper was written in the year 2000.  It was formative and powerful as all the pieces of everything I had been learning about the Eucharist were put together.  It was written while a seminarian at Regent College in Vancouver, B. C., Canada.  I was not yet an Orthodox Christian, let alone ordained.  Note that the liturgical passages are mostly from western sources – I was a liturgical / sacramental western Christian at the time.  Also, some of the citations are from Protestant authors – after all Regent College is an evangelical seminary, yet the quoted authors impart wisdom, and their insights were employed in this paper.  It is a bit lengthy and will be posted in parts.

PRACTICING THE EUCHARIST IN THE WORLD
(PART FOUR)

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By means of the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist transforms the people of God into priests who offer God to creation and creation to God.  It also transforms us into a sacrament that bears Jesus Christ to the world, and into an offering of broken bread and poured out wine for the life of the world.

All of the transformations that take place by participation in the Eucharist and by means of the saving actions of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not intended to remain a “still-life” within the frame of the Liturgy.  There is a final movement of all Christian liturgies which move us all back out into the world.  This is the movement initiated by the Dismissal.  In the Divine Liturgy we have, “Let us depart in peace!”  The Roman rite offers this, “the Mass is ended, go in peace.”  These dismissals demand movement.  The word Mass comes from the Latin, missa.  The word mission is part of its meaning, and we are to depart peacefully on a mission.

In their book, Liturgy for Living, Charles Price and Louis Weil describe two liturgies:  the intensive and the extensive,

The liturgy which Christ is has an intensive form, enacted when Christians come together.  It also has an extensive form, directly related to the intensive.  The extensive liturgy begins when the gathered community scatters into the world to live obediently to the Christ whose liturgy was encountered by prayer.[1]

Within these cyclical movements of gathering in and scattering abroad we may see our purposes as priests, sacraments, and offerings.  As we are scattered we are in actuality sent — also as apostles, or ambassadors — with the purpose of gathering in what remains in bondage of alienation.  As all these things we serve the eschatological purposes of the Recapitulation!  St. Paul teaches that as such we serve God as co-reconcilers:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away — see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (2 Cor 5: 17 -20)

This reconciliation is not to be understood in individualistic terms, an unfortunate understanding of salvation inherited from past generations and a dominant culture influenced by the crass individualism of modernity.  No, the very concept of the Recapitulation’s “all things” (Eph 1: 7 – 10) speaks far beyond a simplistic and reductionistic “individual salvation.”  The new creation calls for reconciled and renewed relationships within the context of a new community:  the Church.  An essay in Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh declares,

Humanity’s awesome dignity is found in its call to be the ambassador of God in the ongoing creation of community.  In this sense, humanity is given a deeply and profoundly priestly role between God and the rest of creation.  God has begun the great work of creation, and the imago Dei invites us to take up the task of completing the work of creation.  As priests to the God of creation, we are offered the opportunity to unfold the relational mystery of the created order and present it complete to our Lord and God.  As priests to the creation, we have the missional responsibility to show forth both the sovereignty and the healing power of the Creator in relation to the creation.[2]

As the formative center of the Church’s life, the Eucharist would have us offering new realities, and within those a reality of a new community with a new culture of new relationships.  As sent priests we are to declare these new realities:  we are priests who are to evangelize.  This evangelization is not just the dispensing of arguments or propositional truth statements.  Added to this, the work of reconciliation leading to conversion cannot be seen as an ascent to a set of truths and doctrines, but an immigration from a “community” and “culture” of alienation into the Church, the community and culture of the Eucharist and Recapitulation.

As an ecclesial practice the Eucharist defines the Church’s actions in the world.  Consistent with the Christus Victor theme, there is to be a contending with and a confrontation of the realities of the old order over which the Principalities and Powers still hold sway.  The actions and symbols of the liturgy speak of invitation, of gathering in, of offering ourselves and our resources, of belonging in peace, of distribution, and of needs met, and of life’s hopes fulfilled.  These actions are fully relational, incarnational, holistic, and offer hope.

All of this is known and understood, but is somehow, and too often, not how we act as we move through our lives’s mundane, yet complicated realities.  The priests of God all too often walk about in a fog, in a daze, well distracted by the buzz of activities that surround us.  How do we live the Eucharist before the world?  How do we give and receive?  How do we gather in and manifest the Recapitulation in our parishes and churches?

St. Paul writes this, “…and become thankful […kai eucharistoi ginesthe]” (Col 3: 15).  He could be saying to us:  “become Eucharists!”  Thankfulness, or gratitude, is eucharistic (Eucharist means, “thanksgiving”).  Thanksgiving is given in the Church’s liturgies.  In the Anaphora (“offering up”) of the Divine Liturgy we have, “Let us give thanks to the Lord.”  So as it is in the intensive liturgy, so it is in the extensive liturgy we are to live before the world.  Regarding the extensive liturgy, St. Paul gives us further instruction:  “Rejoice always.  Pray constantly.  Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5: 16 – 18).

Regarding this verse, some English translations read, “…in all circumstances”.  This is a good translation, and gets to the heart of what St. Paul is getting at in the epistle’s verse.  However, a better way to translate the phrase is, “give thanks in, with, and for all things.”  Although awkward, it captures our relational union with the circumstance in which we find ourselves.  This awkward translation teaches how we are to view ourselves in any situation – however pleasant or unpleasant it may be.  “…in, with, and for all things” states that we incarnate the situation.  We are in union with it.  We do not keep it at arm’s length and deny the opportunity.  We act in solidarity with the circumstance and the people found in it.

Eucharistic actions are ministerial and priestly as we encounter and are engaged with the people and activities of the world.  Yet to provide further guidance, borrowed from ethicist Timothy Sedgwick are two actions by which we may assess the situations in which we find ourselves:  consent and denial.  Of consent Sedgwick states, “[consent] is to open ourselves to creation, to its power and possibilities.”[3]  He also states that only by consent can the Christian come into relationship with others.[4]  “The alternative [denial]”, Sedgwick continues, “is the atrophy of our world and ultimately the collapse of the self upon itself in death.”[5]  Hence, we either will consent to live eucharistically and bring about present day realizations of the Recapitulation, or we will deny the opportunity for Christ’s victory over alienation to be manifested before a lost and hopeless world.

Our privilege is to gather in what is lost by offering these communal realities of the Eucharist.  The profound responsibility of the eucharistic community is to make this a reality — first among the members of the community, and then to those, and all of creation, who abide outside of it.  If these realities do not exist, we mock Christ.

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CONCLUDING COMMENT

About 15 years ago, on a flight back home from the “happiest place on earth,” i.e. Anaheim’s Disneyland, while my third of three children slept on my lap, one the stewardesses struck up what would be an extended conversation with me.  She learned that I am a clinical pharmacist in a Puget Sound area hospital, as is her husband.  She was particularly intrigued that [at the time] I am a seminary student.  She ultimately asked me a philosophical question, “what is the basis of reality?”

Surprised, I rattled off a few smart replies while waiting for years of study and thought (not to mention a whole lot of money) to come through — as well as divine aid.  Then there was deliverance.  I consented to the opportunity before me.  I told her I owed her better and responded.

“In a word,” I said with confidence:  “relationship!”

She gave me a quizzical look.  She excused herself.  After she passed out a blanket or two, she returned.  “Explain.”

“God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Three distinct Persons who eternally exist in union as one God.  God’s nature in trinity is relational and loving.  This is the One who created all things.  He created all things, and all things reflect his nature in some manner.  It follows that all things exist in some manner for relationship, first to and for God, and then to and for each other, as they through these relationships relate back to God.”

I had her full attention.  Then with passion I added, “This is why God the Son came to us as the man Jesus of Nazareth:  to enter creation as a creature.  He joined himself to all things, and he gathered to himself all that he created which is now scattered and weeping in loneliness.  And he came to take away our alienation by means of the Cross that we might be restored and reunited to God, to each other, and to all things.”

Her eyes held tears.

This is the wonder of our salvation.  This is the glory of our God.  And I fully believe that this message of Recapitulation is that which can reach a generation.  It speaks not only to the intellect, but more important to the imagination — it is fully narrative in nature.  The message of Recapitulation is also empowering to the people of God.  It speaks fully and powerfully to the hopelessness and alienation experienced by a world that has been damned by modernity and now emerges, albeit disoriented, into a time for searching for new answers to old questions.  This Christus victor proclamation — specifically Recapitulation — will be new to ears inoculated to the typical evangelical message, which is mocked.  Perhaps, if the Church lives fully as a eucharistic community before and for the life of the world, the day will be ours.

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Endnotes
[1] Charles Price and Louis Weil, Liturgy for Living, (New York:  Seabury, 1979), 23 – 24.  Hereafter referred to as Price and Weil.
[2] Alan Roxburgh, “Missional Leadership:  Equipping God’s People for Mission,” in Missional Church, op. cit., 189.
[3] Timothy Sedgwick, Sacramental Ethics, (Philadelphia:  Fortress, 1987), 21.  Hereafter referred to as Sedgwick.
[4] Sedgwick, 43
[5] Sedgwick, 43.  Emphasis added.



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