I was asked by a colleague to prepare an instructed Eucharist for his congregation. Here (in two parts) is my instruction.
At the Peace: We reform the community
Since the days when we were preparing for our current Prayer Book, we have made a deliberate break at this point in the service. While I acknowledge that it can feel like a disruption, we do it for two reasons. We do it because it is what our Christian forebears did, as far back as we can clearly document; but perhaps that may not in itself seem reason enough. So, we do it for the same reason they did it. We do it to move out focus from the whole Christian community to our local community, to this congregation.
We are making the transition in our work together from the general to the specific, from the tradition writ large to it’s very local expression. We are preparing to gather at table; and, like most other such gatherings, we take time together to greet our fellow guests. Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you disciples. I call you friends.” Paul said, “We are adopted siblings in God’s household, inheriting siblings with Christ.” So, as friends and family gather it is only natural that we greet one another. And there is one detail we have retained from our Christian forebears. We have taken for ourselves their greeting: “I wish you health; I wish you wholeness; I wish you peace.”
Liturgy of the Table: We participate in the heart of the story
If we are a people of story, it should come as no surprise that we gather around the table. After all, whether we gather as families or as friends, the table is a place where stories are told, stories that help those families, those communities, connect and understand themselves.
And for us, this is an essential part of our story. Indeed, more than anything we have done so far, this is a part of the story in which we are fully participants. We hold this as essential because Jesus himself said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And beginning from that night, his followers have been doing it ever since.
Note carefully that word, “remembrance.” I am sure you have heard before, but I will tell you again, that word does not mean “remember” in the sense we do. Rather, it means to relive the event, to experience it again. We are not simply recalling the past event. We are participating in the ongoing event that is, as Jesus described in Matthew, “the banquet prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For that reason a Christian story teller I once heard said it is not the Last Supper; it is the Next to the Last Party.
As we are a people of words, if you read In the Prayer Book, and I hope you will, you will find there are many ways we tell this part of the story: two in Rite One, four in Rite Two, plus guidelines for shaping our own. And there are more, for General Convention has approved another four “for trial use.” Why so many? Because no one of them tells the story completely, much less perfectly. No one of them reflects the breadth of our tradition.
There are, though, points that all have in common. All speak to the full history of God’s work with his people. All speak of Jesus’ ministry in the world. And all include the words of Jesus: “This is my body. Take and eat. This is my blood. Take and drink. Do this to relive this with me.” The Lord himself is our host; and like the first disciples we receive as from his hand.
Dismissal: Carrying the story into the world.
However wonderful the meal, however wonderful the company, the time comes for the meal to end and for the company to leave. And so we also rise from the table.
Our first words as we rise are to thank our host. He has served us, shared himself with us. He has given his body to us that we might be his body in our life and times.
And then our words ask that we be sent. We have said that we gather in Eucharist to be formed as Episcopal Christians and to be conformed to Christ. So, we ask that we might be sent into the world to inform, to allow the wider world to see just what formation and conformation can mean. We know that can be challenging. We want to inform at our best, always a challenging proposition. So we ask for strength and guidance. Remarkably, this once we don’t ask for words. Rather, we ask for help that our witness may attract and our ministry may inform.
Formed that we may conform that we may then inform: that is our intent when we gather in Eucharist. We come in from the world to encounter Christ in story and at table. We return to the world polished a bit, reshaped a bit, better to live, better to serve, better to share the story.