The Eucharistic Life

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As I was preparing my sermon notes for the Third Sunday of Easter, I was struck by the Collect. It recounts how the Risen Lord revealed himself to his followers through the breaking of bread. Specifically, though not exclusively, this is a reference to Luke 24 when Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples, who did not recognize him until he took, blessed, broke and gave them bread. I think the revelation of Jesus through the breaking of bread and our weekly celebration of the Eucharist calls us to something great.

We are called to the Eucharistic Life.

New Testament Witness

Every biblical account of the Eucharist provides the same basic structure: bread was taken, thanks was given, the bread was broken and then given.

The Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) accounts of the Last Supper are similar, but John’s Gospel does not contain the Last Supper; instead John connects Jesus’ words of institution with the feeding of the 5,000. In this story he “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” Jesus then says, “I am the bread of life,” which Paul Bradshaw explains as a possible variation of “This is my body.” He writes, “Several scholars have already suggested that this latter statement is John’s version of the saying over the bread at the Last Supper.” (Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship, p. 4)

In 1 Corinthians 11 recounts Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper. Paul records that which had been handed down to him. Paul places the meal in the context of the crucifixion and resurrection: “On the night he was betrayed…Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…” This summary has provided the foundation for Eucharistic prayers since the time of the Didache and The Apostolic Tradition.

The same structure was recorded in Acts 27 when Paul celebrated the Eucharist as he was sailing to Rome as a prisoner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus instituted four key actions (and corresponding words) that have been modeled and replicated in Eucharistic offerings for 2,000 years. These four words form the foundation of the Eucharistic life.

The Eucharistic Life

If the Eucharist is both “the sacrament of the Kingdom” (Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 28) and the sacrament that constitutes the church, and if in the Eucharist the church is not doing church but is doing the world the way it was meant to be done (combination of Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh) then the Eucharist has meaning for the entirety of our lives. To live the Eucharistic life is to live a life that is taken, thanks-given, broken, and shared.

Taken

“Take my life and let it be,” O Lord! We offer our lives up unto the Lord that he might take them, consecrate them, and send us out with purpose. The act of offering is an act surrender and reverent submission to the triune God.

The Eucharistic life offers not just us but creation as well. Jesus took the bread and the wine, the most common food and drink in the world, and in so doing he celebrated the goodness of God’s creation. He did not comment about the nature or quality of the bread and wine, nor did he suggest that they were somehow bad because they were material. Instead he took the elements and transformed them in an act of oblation. “All things come of thee, O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” We are called to stewardship in God’s Kingdom as we recognize that God is the creator, sustainer and owner of all things.

Thanks-given

Eucharisteo means “the giving of thanks.” The Eucharistic life is one that recognizes the kindness and generosity of God in all things; it is a life that overflows with gratitude for God’s redeeming work throughout human history and above all in Jesus. In both the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Life we celebrate “the memorial of our redemption,” through our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Our very lives proclaim the grace of God which leads us to a lifestyle flavored with gratitude, thanksgiving, and adoration. May we be the kind of people for whom the Doxology is ever on our lips. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Broken

Brokenness always comes with a purpose. Christ was broken that we might share in his eternal life and kingdom. We are broken that Christ may live in us. The bread was broken and the wine poured out that all may share in the feast. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast.” Jesus taught that a kernel must fall to the ground and die that it may be opened up and give new life.

To be broken does not require tragedy or great loss—indeed I pray that you never have to suffer such sadness. Rather, to be broken is to daily die to self and to rise to life in Christ; it is to pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sinfulness and transform us daily into Christ’s likeness. It is to walk humbly before our God. It is to show the world that the only reason we can be an Easter people singing “Alleluia” is because we were first a Good Friday people shouting “Crucify him!” (Pope John Paul II)

Shared

When we live the Eucharistic Life, our desire to share the Good News flows from our gratitude. It is to be always pointing people back to the One who is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. We are distributed to the corners of the earth that others may, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are shared not for our own glory but for the glory of God and for the life of the world.

The Eucharistic life is not for the faint of heart. We go back to the Altar weekly to partake of Christ’s self-oblation that we might receive spiritual nourishment and encouragement for the pilgrimage that we might:

Serve them with the very substance of your life. Paint them a picture of the Kingdom, weave them a shawl of love, sing them a Psalm of praise, write them a sonnet of promise, play them a symphony of grace, build them homes of compassion, mold them a pot of mercy. Demonstrate the Resurrection to them with your words and your actions to tell them that He loves them.

The Rev. Canon Ellis E. Brust, Church of the Apostles, Kansas City

Jesus’ life was taken by God and consecrated. It was a life that constantly gave thanks to the Creator. It was a life broken by sin and the cross. It was a life shared with all that we might come to know God. The call of discipleship is the call to follow Him and live the Eucharistic Life.

For the Life of the World

For The Life Of The World

Sermon Notes for Maundy Thursday, Year B 

Hypothesis

The lessons appointed for Year B, along with the Collect for the Day, compose a beautiful harmony of biblical imagery brought together in one event: the night before Jesus died. We see the Passover, the Eucharist, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and Jesus’ command to love one another all in the same scene. All discipleship and Christian ministry should be eucharistic and loving in nature.

 

Analysis

Collect

The Collect immediately identifies this night as the night before Jesus’ death and the night on which he instituted the Eucharist. One cannot separate the Eucharist from the Crucifixion; to do so would be to rob one of interpretive meaning and the other of a sacrificial nature. We are to receive the meal in two ways: thankfully and in remembrance.

To receive thankfully is to understand the nature of the Eucharist. From eucharisteo it literally means, “the giving of thanks.” Every story in the New Testament with reference to the Last Supper (and John 6) always includes Jesus (or someone else) giving thanks for the elements. The call is not merely to give thanks for the bread and wine but to live lives that are thankful to Almighty God.

Remembrance is a word that muddies the water in Eucharistic theology. For some the idea of remembrance is merely the ability to bring an image or thought to mind. It is a memory. However, many others and I are of the opinion that it is a dangerous memory. It is the act of dragging into the present something from the past in order to make it real, to make it present. This type of remembering is what the Jews did (and still do) annually in keeping Passover. They remember the Exodus as if they were actually there. The word for this is anamnesis and Jesus says to “to do this in anamnesis of me.” It is an active, volatile, efficacious and dynamic memory.

These are the two appropriate responses to the Eucharist as outlined in the Collect. We should bear that in mind…

 

Old Testament

Speaking of Passover, the Old Testament reading recounts this great event. The last verse gives us a clue about the meaning of the Passover, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” This is to become the festival of festivals for Jews and then for Christians; it is to be the center of the calendar and liturgical life of the people as they remember annually the mighty acts of their saving God.

This isn’t just a meal. No, it is a meal tied to a historic event that is retold, reenacted and re-presented on an annual basis. The Exodus wasn’t simply a saving moment but rather the key event in the history of Israel when YHWH kept his covenant, made a people for himself, and gave his people a land, a hope and a future. All of this is tied up in a single meal. This is extremely important for our understanding of Paul in 1 Corinthians.

For now it will suffice for you to remember the story: Israel has been in slavery for 400 years because a Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. God’s people had become too numerous for the Egyptians and they were oppressed and enslaved. Moses heeds YHWH’s call from the burning bush and is sent to deliver Israel from the hands of Pharaoh. Why? That God’s people might worship him. Pharaoh’s heart is continually hardened throughout the plagues until finally the tenth and worse plague, that of the death of all firstborns, is sent upon all Egypt. God provides a way for his people to be safe: to mark their doorposts with the blood of a pure lamb that God might literally pass over their house. This is also bound up in the meal.

 

Psalm

This is a Psalm of praise. As I am neither a scholar of the Psalms or a Hebrew linguist there are only two images that I want to highlight: “the cup of salvation” and the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” The context for both these images is the might and redeeming works of God. God has done x, y and z and therefore I will respond thus. Our two images are therefore responses to what God has already accomplished. Neither is the cup raised or thanksgiving sacrificed as a means to an end but rather as a response. Remember why God redeemed his people? That they might worship him!! The call of all creation from the beginning of creation has been to worship God in the majesty of his splendor…that has not changed! Our response to God’s goodness, grace, love, and mercy should be WORSHIP.

 

Epistle

We have now arrived at a central text for the Pauline understanding of the Eucharist and indeed for Maundy Thursday.

To jog your memories, Paul has been writing to the Corinthians for several chapters about different issues hindering or affecting the community. One such issue was the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Another issue was a misunderstanding of misappropriation of the agape feast during which the rich were marginalizing the poor. Neither of these were acceptable in the new community formed by Christ.

Paul then goes on to the tradition of the Eucharist and relates it to the Corinthians. You can read this alongside the Institution narratives in the Synoptic Gospels to see the similarities.

First, this is a tradition that Paul has received and passed along. The word here is paralambano and it is much like an Olympic runner who passes the baton to the next relay runner on his/her team. Indeed this is much the basis for the idea that Apostolic Succession is not to be understood in terms of the office of Apostle (or bishop) but in the passing on of teaching and tradition going back to Christ. (I am not going to wade into any conversation regarding Succession at this point.) Paul received this tradition, likely from Peter and the disciples during a trip to Jerusalem, and has found it significant enough to share with one of his churches.

Second, this event took place on the night before Jesus’ death. This is important because as I’ve already mentioned the Eucharist and the Crucifixion cannot be separated—the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is only understood within the context of the Crucifixion.

Third, the four actions are present: “took…given thanks…broke…gave.” These are the same actions we see in the Synoptic Gospels, in John 6, and at the end of Acts when Paul is shipwrecked. Paul also relates Jesus’ words—and they are words that we should take literally—“this is my body…this is my blood.”

Fourth, they (we) are to do it in remembrance anamnesis of Jesus. This is that active remembering that I wrote about above.

Fifth and finally, to celebrate this meal is to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. That is, it is to proclaim the Lord’s victory. Passover recounts God’s victory over Pharaoh just as the Crucifixion and Resurrection prove God’s victory over sin, evil and death as Jesus “trampled down death by death.” To celebrate this meal is to rejoice victoriously and to hope for the completion of that which has already been inaugurated in Jesus.

That is a lot of meaning for 4 short verses and as I’ll argue below, such robust meaning needs to be read into John 13 and Maundy Thursday…

 

Gospel

The first thing to notice here is that the gospel lesson does not record the Lord’s Supper. Very interesting on a night when we celebrate the washing of feet and the Eucharist. Just look at the Collect: “Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.” You would certainly assume that the institution narrative would be read, but it isn’t. In fact, John’s Gospel is the only one of the four to exclude the traditional story of the Last Supper and instead John has opted to give an extensive look into the Great Commandment and the washing of the disciple’s feet.

Furthermore, most Johannine scholars point to the feeding of the crowd in John 6 as the eucharistic story of this gospel. Jesus performs the same actions of taking, thanking, breaking and giving. Jesus gives us the foundation of most eucharistic theologies in his words about being the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the manna that the Israelites ate. Paul Bradshaw has argued as to whether or not John 6 should be considered the earliest eucharistic text (chronologically). Either way, John 6 has to be read into John 13 given the words written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: “on the night before he was betrayed our Lord took bread…”

John’s choice to relate the washing of feet and new commandment instead of the Eucharist is important. Jesus is about to move into four chapters of his High Priestly Prayer before his betrayal—these prayers demonstrate the nature of Jesus’ relationship with God, his relationship with his people, and the call to embrace the Holy Spirit. In short, Jesus’ prayers have as much to say about discipleship as any other words recorded in the Gospels. Jesus sets the stage of “love in action” by commanding his disciples to love one another.

He first demonstrates this love on a very realistic and common level by washing their feet. I would HIGHLY encourage you to have a full feet washing as part of your liturgy. I do not think it is sufficient for only the clergy to wash each others feet or to have some sort of symbolic or representative (read: vicarious) washing ceremony. Jesus did this for his followers that he might call them to love one another.

You can get creative and talk about how stinky, crusty, and nasty the disciples’ feet must have been or illustrate just how out of place it would have been for Jesus’ to do this. You can pick on Peter—don’t we all love to do that!—and comment on his words of pride and then zeal. You can certainly do all of this but I think that painting the picture of love in action and then moving into the Liturgy of the Feet Washing and the Liturgy of the Table is more than sufficient.

Jesus will then follow up this ritual of love by demonstrating the fullness of his love on the cross.

 

Synthesis

This is the Passover meal that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and so it already has an anamnesis factor to it. The Jews around Jerusalem were celebrating the mighty acts of God that night and Jesus changes the meal by giving his disciples a new command and a new meal.

Maundy Thursday—maundy coming from the Latin for mandate—is really about two commands we’ve been given as disciples: love one another and do this for the remembrance of me.

I am yet again reminded of the beautiful line from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with reference to Jesus’ betrayal. It reads, ““On the night He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world.” This is what Fr. Alexander Schmemann explored in his book For the Life of the World. It was no mistake that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, as if he forgot that he was to be betrayed. No, Jesus went to the Garden with the same face-set-as-flint with which he turned toward Jerusalem earlier in the gospels. Why? That he might offer himself as the cup of salvation, the perfect sacrifice, for the life of the whole world.

That is why we love, that is why we worship, and that is why we make Eucharist: for the life of the whole word. This is where discipleship gets serious. It’s all fun and games when we’re checking boxes off our “Piety Chart” for personal growth but it is an entirely different subject when we realize that in our love, worship and making of Eucharist we are bringing the world before Almighty God. We are bringing our neighbors, our family members, strangers, and all who do not yet know Christ (literally the whole of creation) before God that they might experience the riches of his goodness and mercy. Think about that as you’re having your feet washed and you’re partaking of the Elements.

So, what does it look like for you to live a life of thanksgiving? Of remembrance? Of love? Of discipleship? What does it mean for us to drink the Cup of Salvation—of Jesus’ oblation—for the life of the whole world? Remember, Israel was blessed to be blessed! Are you blessing or are you sitting on your blessed assurance?