In Part 1, I explored what it means to see the Eucharist as a symbol, a mystery, and a memorial. I asked if we could hold together the best contributions of each approach. Here, I want to explore what the Eucharist is a symbol and mystery of. Here are four things:
1. It is the Symbol and Mystery of the World and It's Future. [HOPE]
The "story of the world" is wrapped up in the story of Christ's death and resurrection. The world was created good, but it has been broken by sin, just as the bread is being broken. The result of this brokenness is death, symbolized by the blood being spilled-- the cup of wine. Christ takes in Himself the brokenness of the world and its resulting death.
But the Eucharist doesn't just show how the world's brokenness and death is summed up in Christ; it also shows how resurrection will come to the world! Just as the meal reflects on Christ's death, in a similar way, it points forward to the Great Feast. Isaiah 25 speaks of a Great Feast for all nations. In this poem, the prophet declares that death will be swallowed up in victory!
Jesus references this Feast at several points-- particularly in Luke's Gospel-- during His earthly ministry. Paul and John pick up on this theme of a feast representing the renewal and resurrection that will come to God's people. Walter Brueggemann has called this God's "cosmic generousity", a world made new with never-ending bread, and an overflowing cup. Joy abounds in this Feast.
2. It is the Symbol and Mystery of Christ and His Salvation. [SALVATION]
The "Lord's Supper" was Christ was participating-- and redefining-- Passover. The Passover is a meal that is itself rooted in a salvation story. It was the night where God defeated the enemy Egypt, saved His people from death, and led them out of slavery. This story was the central saving story of the Old Testament. It makes sense, then, that Jesus would enter that story and use it to speak of His own "exodus": the leading of the whole cosmos out of slavery to Evil and Death. (Or, was the Passover always pointing forward to Christ? Both, I think.)
The Eucharist sums up the great salvation story of the Passover, shows how it is fulfilled and completed in Christ, and points the way forward to day when this deliverance will come to pass. Christ is BOTH the greater and truer "Moses"-- who leads us out of bondage to sin and the Enemy-- AND the Passover Lamb-- whose blood rescues us from death. Paul uses this precise image in Ephesians 1 to talk about our redemption. The Eucharist centers us on Christ and on His great work of Salvation in both individual and cosmic dimensions.
3. It is the Symbol and Mystery of Christian Life and Worship. [WORSHIP]
The Eucharist is picture of the Christian life as a whole. We receive all that is good, beautiful and true in this world as a gift from God, a "grace"-- what the word charis means. Then we offer it back to God in thanksgiving-- what the word eucharist means. Imagine living this way!
As the symbol and mystery of Christian worship, the Eucharist reminds us that we are not gathering for a mere intellectual assent to a set of ideas; we gather to encounter the Triune God! At the Eucharist, the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit is a reality we are to become aware of. This is not the same thing as saying that we want to "feel His presence." Much of modern worship-- especially in Charismatic settings-- has been plagued by the notion of having a subjective experience with God. Some people make it their whole goal to "experience God" everytime they gather, and are despondent when certain emotions or feelings do not accompany their time in corporate worship. But the Eucharist as the central symbol and mystery of worship reminds us that Christ is here! We may feel it or not; but we must always remind ourselves of His presence. (And, if you do have emotional or mystical experiences that accompany this awareness-- as many of the Desert Fathers and medieval mystics did-- then, hurrah!)
The historically controversial element of the Eucharist has always been how Christ is present. Whether one affirms the Catholic belief that His presence is in the elements themselves or the Protestant (Calvin and Cranmer) view that Christ is present in the worshipper, the place of agreement is that Christ is present. And His presence is not dependent on a skilled worship leader or a tuned-in worshipper; He is there at His Table by the Spirit. May we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have our eyes opened and our hearts burning as we come to the Table.
4. It is the Symbol and Mystery of the Church and Her Mission. [MISSION]
There are three key moments in Luke's Gospel where Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. The last one is the story mentioned above with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The middle story-- the one that holds it all together-- is at Passover, where Christ speaks of His own life as being blessed, broked and given for the world.
But the first story is the feeding of the five thousand, where Jesus takes what a little boy has, blesses it, breaks is, and gives it to feed the hungry crowd. This is a picture of how our lives beome "Eucharistic." Often, Jesus says to the leaders of the Church what He said to His disciples, "You give them something to eat." And often, we find ourselves scratching our heads saying, "But, how?" The answer is found not from the leaders or from an organizational plan or vision or system-- as good as all those things are. The answer comes from a boy within the crowd. The Church embraces a Eucharistic life when every person sees their own life as being blessed (the grace of the Gospel!), broken (laid down in humility, forgiveness, and sacrifice), and given (sent back into the world).
In Christ, we have been brought into the Story so that the Eucharist is not simply a re-enactment of the Jesus Story, but of the Story which gives meaning to own lives. (I preached for 45-minutes on this a few Sundays ago. Here is the link to the notes and to the audio.)