Presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist felt like the greatest honour
Thinking Anew: We only gather together to share the bread and wine because of Jesus
‘Take, bless, break, share . . . Jesus took the bread, just as he took the loaves and the fishes that were brought to him when he fed the 5,000 on the hillside.’ Photograph: Getty Images
Last Saturday I was ordained a priest. It was the happiest of days – wedding-day kind of happiness! The next morning I had the unspeakable privilege of presiding for the first time at the celebration of the Eucharist. It felt like the greatest honour of my life.
The Eucharist, otherwise known as the Mass, Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Unity, the Liturgy, the Lord’s Supper – and I am sure other things as well – means different things to different Christians. Yet it is a sacrament in which (almost) all Christians share. I remember some years ago attending a training day on the Eucharist. The tutor started by telling us that it is one of the main ways in which people encounter Christ. This had not really been my experience so I questioned him: “What do you actually mean by this?” He replied that he hoped I would understand better by the end of the day but if not, to come back to him.
Sure enough, by the end of the day it gently dawned on me. It was so simple and obvious that I had missed it. We only gather together around the table to share the bread and wine because of Jesus. Christ is the only reason we do it. He is the two ends and the middle of it. Without him there would be no Eucharist. He commanded us to do it and he promised to inhabit it when we do. So of course in doing this we will encounter Christ! My orientation changed from that day, and I started learning to recognise him in the breaking of the bread.
Since then, over the years, as I have time and again received the bread and wine into my body to become part of me, I have also been slowly learning to recognise the shape of the Eucharist in other areas of life. At the last supper Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it. Taking, blessing, breaking, sharing – it is the experience of many Christians that this is mysteriously the template for all that is deepest and truest in our lives.
Take, bless, break, share . . . Jesus took the bread, just as he took the loaves and the fishes that were brought to him when he fed the 5,000 on the hillside. We are taken or chosen by God and we inhabit where God has placed us, right now, this very minute.
Bless . . . He blessed the bread and the wine that were before him on the table. God blesses us and we learn to receive his blessings with gratitude, even those gifts we don’t want, as we know and rely on the love he has for us.
Break . . . he broke the bread. We being many are one body, because we all share in the one bread. We too are broken again and again as we move through life, laid low by the risks and challenges of love. And our task is to offer our brokenness to God, embrace our brokenness as he embraces us. Our calling is not to remain intact, to defend ourselves, to use violence of any kind to keep ourselves secure. Like Jesus, our calling is, rather, to accept our weakness, our vulnerability, our loneliness, our fear. Grief and sacrifice are part of love. They just are.
And then . . . he shared the bread. Because it was broken there was enough, just as there was enough fish and bread for the 5,000 on the hillside, just as the broken body of Jesus on the cross meant that the way is cleared for each and every one of us to become children of God. In the sharing there is enough, always enough. As wounded, forgiven, beloved people we are enabled to share our lives authentically with others. This is a pattern of freedom and blessing, of mutual love and commitment to one another. All are welcome. Nothing is wasted. What we offer is enough. God’s love covers all.