The Form of the Eucharist

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June 27, 2018 by Worship, Community, Formation

At Monday night’s lecture we heard about desire, the fact that desire, well ordered, is a spiritual and Godly thing, and that worship and especially the Eucharist might have a place in helping that ordering.

Here’s a tweet-length summary:

“Desire is a thing, and more biblical than we realise. Desire is good: the tradition has always been that desires be sorted and ‘ordered’.  But today’s desire is all going to pot. The young are lost and out of control, the media’s a nightmare. Still, I have an answer (of sorts) so listen to me. The answer lies in Eucharistic worship.  What do you think?”

Of course that’s a savage injustice to an amazing hour-long lecture, glittering with many individual jewels.  Wonderful references, and great accounts of the spiritual struggles and writing of other ages abounded.  There was so much in the lecture that I personally have saved for the future.

But the lecture took us on a journey.   And that summary shows what the skeleton of that journey was.

Presented like that, you’ll see the lecture was a message about the Eucharist.  But it was not a Eucharistic message.

In other words, the lecture commended the Eucharist, but it certainly didn’t feel like the Eucharist.  It didn’t have the form of the Eucharist.   The lecture could have been a redemptive event that formed us in hope, before sending us out ready to enter into God’s service.  But it was not.  Then again, do most Christian lectures?

The form of this lecture can be contrasted with the form of the Eucharist in myriad ways.  Here are just four:

(1) In the liturgy we confess our own sins.   This lecture confessed others’ sins – specifically the harm done by the world to desire, and the victimhood of our young people.  The problems were ‘out there’.  By contrast, in the Eucharist we confess our own sins!   This does not allow us to point the finger, or encourage us to feel powerless; confessing others’ sins does both.

(2) The mode of the event was analytical. Analysis is for the brain.  It is not a mode for engaging the heart or feelings (and felt especially odd in a lecture on desire!).  The Eucharist gathers and works on whole people, not just brains.  Theological Colleges nowadays are aiming to form future ministers in reflective practice which is integrative and allows them to engage their faith at any level – intellectual, relational, cooperative.  .

(3) The liturgy of this event foregrounded and therefore glorified the work of the speaker, rather than the work of God.   If that sounds like a very harsh criticism of an individual, it is not: probably a thousand theological events every week do this.   It is ubiquitous in the form of academic thought (and may even be essential to it).  We don’t even notice it because it’s the water we swim in.  It’s only when someone like this lecturer has the courage to say, ‘yes, but what about the Eucharist?’ that we might even notice the discrepancy.

(4) The event was not missional.  That is to say, it did not ‘send us out to love and serve the Lord’, either in word or in form.  A simple ‘commission’, such as that used at the end of the Eucharist, could have been added at the end, but it would have felt confusing and inappropriate, because what had gone before did not frame us for readiness to serve.  There was no expectation that the kingdom of God would be more likely because of the event.

These are just some of the ways the form of the Eucharist contrasted with the form of the lecture.   The habit of remembering our shortcomings each week before remembering they are blasted out of the way by Jesus’ passion is a potent touchstone of our faith.  Why do we bring it out as a talking piece rather than something that actually forms us the rest of the time?

***

Of course, the observant reader will note that the form of what I have written here is not Eucharistic either.  It is as secular in form as the original lecture!  Like the original lecture, I too have confessed another’s sins rather than my own; glorified my own analysis over any mention of God’s work; and barely shared any sense of hope with you, my audience.

You did notice that, didn’t you? Please say you did!  For if you did, then God’s work in the Eucharist is already forming you.  If you noticed, then the Eucharistic sensibility is already deeply enough in you that you can recognise when a form is or is not Eucharistic.   If you spotted my sin, then the Eucharist has itself used my sin to some form of redemption for you; just as the lecturer’s sin has been in some way a redemption for me.   Our offerings at the altar may be ever so broken, but simply naming our deepest desire – that God be in our lives – is enough for grace to be recognised.

The Eucharist is too powerful to be gainsaid.   It is a sign of the power of the Lord, an immutable constant against which we see ourselves more clearly.  From here on, I am saved afresh, both by your noticing, and by the lecturer’s giving me an opportunity to notice.

Who knows what desires and how many were in play for me on that day?  Until Monday’s lecture, my desires were not something I had ever thought about.  But here are surely two:  my desire to be really something; a thinker, a writer, an analyst.   And my desire to really trust in God.  They may not conflict, but one is surely more important than the other.  And they really have been ‘sorted’ or ‘ordered’ by the Eucharist.. which was always the lecturer’s claim after all.   Bless you, lecturer, and you reader, and together let us bless Jesus and remember him as the Eucharist enables us to do each week.

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