I considered scraping the second part of the Instructed Eucharist for today, and presenting it later. The events in Aurora, Colorado this past week gave me pause to consider preaching a pastoral sermon on such tragedies, evil, and the brokenness of creation – how quickly and randomly life can be taken, and how fragile life is. Then I decided what better words can be offered than the heart of our worship, the celebration of God’s revelation and acts to save and redeem us in Jesus Christ – the hope of God’s reign we now glimpse, yet to come fully – the love in which we are held, and the gratitude and thanksgiving we present of ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
As promised from last Sunday – the rest of the story; and that story would be Holy Communion, forming the two parts of the Holy Eucharist. Think of what we do on Sunday mornings as a drama – a play, not what you usually think of theatre. Unlike attending a play at the Marcus, we don’t go to the box office, pick up our tickets and find a seat to watch and be entertained. In this theatre, we get a role, not a seat. We are participants, and God is our audience.
In Act One, “The Word of God,” we quiet our mouths and minds. We shift focus. We center ourselves in and open ourselves to God. We are in another world, now, God’s reign, seen with eyes of faith. We present ourselves to God who is always present with us. God’s Word is spoken through scripture, prayers, hymns, and sermon. We listen intently and that takes work on our part. We respond to God’s glory and love for us with our praise, thanksgiving and prayers. We confess sin, because God already forgives us. Forgiven and reconciled with God, we then share that reconciliation with each other. That’s called the Peace. At peace with God, we are to be at peace with each other.
Act Two, “Holy Communion,” begins with an invitation to offer our gifts and selves to God – the Offertory Sentence. Turn to page 361. A hymn or anthem may be sung as the altar is prepared. Bread and wine are presented. Plates gather tithes and gifts to present with bread and wine before we begin the Great Thanksgiving. Bread, wine, resources, ourselves – our sacrifices presented to God who first sacrificed for us. Jesus’ sacrifice sets all this in motion. We honor Christ by our presence – that what God has done is worth our time and attention.
As we ready ourselves for the Great Thanksgiving the presider reminds us the gifts we offer are God given – and of God’s own, we give back. We are reminded we are stewards, and God’s generosity and abundance to us prompts our response to God. An invitation to the altar inviting you to the sacrament or a blessing is extended. God nourishes our souls and transforms us, as we offer ourselves as sacrifices to God, with divine grace and love.
And the Great Thanksgiving (page 361) begins with another invitation and dialogue: “Lift up your hearts,” and you affirm you will. God lifts us into heavenly places – a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Together we give God thanks and praise.
We then give thanks in a prayer that contains what’s called a Proper Preface. These can be found in the Prayer Book (pg. 377). They preface the Great Thanksgiving with the theme of the day or church season. The conclusion of this prayer joins heaven and earth – angels and all heaven’s company. Here I think of those we love, now in heaven’s company, with us at this table, always when we come make Eucharist. Our response is the Sanctus (page 362): “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might; Hosanna in the highest.” We bless the One who comes in God’s name. The One coming in the Lord’s name reveals the image, the heart and nature of the One who sends. Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd anticipated in Jeremiah, the One who keeps leading us into God’s protection and reign.
On page 362: The people stand or kneel. Standing is the preferred posture; kneeling or sitting is permitted. We stand to signify God has made us worthy. We kneel in awe of God’s saving deeds. You do as you feel comfortable. Next the Thanksgiving becomes a narrative of God’s loving, redeeming action, Jesus living and dying to reconcile us. We recognize the perfection and completion of Christ’s sacrifice – giving thanks that God has completed in us, that which we could not. Next we remember the night Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples, not as a memory, but bringing that meal into ours.
We proclaim a mystery of faith we cannot understand: Christ died, risen, and will come again. We offer God our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, as we offer gifts of bread and wine. We ask God to sanctify the gifts – making them more than bread and wine, the presence of Christ – the living bread and water that sustains unending life. We pray a startling and dangerous prayer. As we receive the sacrament, we pray God to sanctify us to be worthy servants of God, and the hope of God’s eternal kingdom is set before us.
We pray the “Our Father.” The Bread is broken and the Cup is to be shared. Christ’s Body is reunited as receive Christ’s love and life – bread and wine, into our bodies, individuals, yet together we have become Christ’s Body. Communion is central to our faith, and life in God. We have entered a world and mystery, and a reality we don’t fully understand, and won’t on this side. Receiving God’s love and gifts comes alive by faith, not intellect, having all the answers, or seeing clearly. Holy habits of faithful weekly worship form us.
We have been nourished and our lives our deepened in God’s love. Now God gives our lives back to us. We have been transformed again in His grace and love – SENT into the world to be Christ’s Body and presence. In this moment our ritual life in God’s reign meets our daily life and work in the world. Let us truly serve the One who loves us so with gladness and with singleness of heart.
The Holy Eucharist – a drama, a play, a dance of love with God. Reconnected, nourished, transformed, we are drawn into a greater reality that we can help bring heaven more fully to earth.
Liturgy – the work of the people – our work and worship together. And what needs to be said this day in light of the recent tragedy, the pain and losses of our lives – it’s enacted in the Holy Eucharist – Death, life again, and hope yet to come. God coming to us, and our coming to God. We are held in the heart of a loving, generous God who never loses any of us. Thanks be to God!