>In my previous blog, I listed problems when it comes to placing a minister’s sermon as the pinnacle of Sunday worship. I appropriately tagged that blog as an “iconoclasm” since I know that many who may come across this blog consider such a set up as something so fundamental that I might as well be questioning sanctity of scripture itself. Thing is, I think most people who read enough theology know that iconoclasms are necessary from time to time. Every once in a while you have to scratch at metaphorical icon if for no other reason to get people thinking about why it is there in the first place.
But I would be total cliché tool if that is all I did right? Yes, the average 20-something post-evangelical Christian who attended a private Christian college probably does this all the time. Those of who are (sadly) more well-read than many professional ministers have a lot to say about what’s wrong with churches we usually don’t even attend anymore. We’re so cool about bringing hope to the world, that we make sure we segregate ourselves from the rest of Christianity. If you have to ask why, you’ll never know.
So in order to avoid said cliché and in an effort to ensure that my blog is motivated by Christian charity, I have decided that I will always try to follow up an iconoclasm with something positive.
What do I think should take the place of a lengthy sermon? I don’t think I will ever get away from the worship of Christ though the Eucharist. It is difficult to explain why. Much of what Eucharistic worship means is done by doing, not by reading and not by listening. Nonetheless, here are a few reasons why.
Eucharistic worship, is a largely egalitarian “team effort” form of worship. It is ironic to me that a tradition that has some official sacerdotalism behind is still less sacerdotal than sermonizing in many ways. When a church body takes the Eucharist, the minister my still pronounce a few words, there are of necessity people who serve the wine and the bread, but nonetheless Eucharistic worship does not happen unless everyone in the service takes a role in what is happening.
For instance, many traditions precede the serving of the Eucharist with times of recited prayer in which the whole congregation is involved. Everyone is given a part to play, so to speak. In fact, a “script” analogy works great here. If preaching is central, only one person has a part. In the Eucharist, everyone has a role.
Consider the following liturgy taken from the Book of Common Prayer:
MinisterThe Lord be with you.
People And with thy spirit.
Minister Lift up your hearts.
People We lift them up unto the Lord.
Minister Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
People It is meet and right so to do.
Then, facing the Holy Table, the Celebrant [minister] proceeds
It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should
at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord,
holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.
Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the
company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious
Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,
Minster and People
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts:
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.
This is fairly representative of most “high church” liturgical settings. The minister is more like a guide, rather than authority to be obeyed, or a Prometheus who brings down the fire from heaven.
Furthermore, when the Eucharist is central everyone takes the Eucharist, the minister included. This is good for the minister, as it allows him to get off the pedestal for moment and join his flock in following the God that they all worship.
The Eucharist was instituted by Jesus himself on one of the most important holy days of the Israel’s calendar. Look through the Old Testament and you will find an elaborate list of rituals, customs, special days and other such details down to the tiniest of minutia of how to worship the God of Israel. As Christians, we know that we are no longer bound by such things and that God has given us great liberty in how we worship him (my Eastern Orthodox friends will disagree with that point). Jesus did, however, instruct us to “do this in remembrance of me” on an incredibly important holy day, and on the night just before he was betrayed and crucified.
If Jesus does not demand that we obey the innumerable laws of Old Testament worship propriety, but he does ask this one particular sacred meal. Furthermore, he asks his disciples on very sacred day in an incredibly intimate moment the synoptic Gospel writers sought to make sure we heard about. Does this not indicate a certain kind of gravity to this sacrament? Compared to ancient Israel, the modern day Israel (Christianity) is asked very little. I like to think on this one thing we can get it right.
Christ is physically present through the sacrament. This last point is a point I suspect that most people reading this blog will not share. I do not believe that that Eucharist is only remembrance of Christ’s death and Resurrection, but that Christ is physically present through the sacrament. In other words, I accept the doctrine of “real presence” and it is an important part of devotional life. Because of this, the centrality of the Eucharist has become fairly straight forward for me: if the Eucharist is the presence of God, why would anything other than the presence of God be central?
I realize that this point is clearly a point of contention. I do not have the space to expand on a defense of this point. I really do understand how weird it is to say “I eat the body of Christ on Sundays.” It took me a long time to really get it myself. I can leave my readers with this small thought: is there not a strange silence on John 6 in many evangelical circles? Very, very few times have I heard this passage even addressed –much less exegeted- by people who do not believe in the real presence. When they do, they usually explain what Jesus didn’t mean when he said “I am the bread of life,” but do not explain what they think he did mean and why.
No, I do not expect everyone reading this blog to be persuaded. I admit that scripture is ambiguous on this issue. Nonetheless, John 6 really tipped the scales for me.
In any case, the centrality of the Eucharist is something I will never get away from. Even as I attend Mosaic West LA I must frequently return to a local Lutheran Church or Mountainside Communion to really feel like I worship fully. The truly communal experience and physical, tangible, presence of God are things that can be found there, and is sadly missing in much of Evangelicalism.