Julian Meeting for August 2020
There is a sharp distinction between thinking that God made nature for our benefit and believing that the world is created by God as the place where we are to exercise all our human powers of creativity, imagination and endurance, and learn those two most crucial things: what it means to trust and what it means to love. Our role in the world that is given us is to wonder at it, explore it, and to restore to it and to our own lives their true meaning. If there were no Christians, there would still be a wealth of religious activity, profound insights into the transcendence of God and the nature of human beings. But I believe that the deepest insight of all would be lost. And that lies in what you may think a surprising place. It lies in what Christians do when they come together for the Eucharist.
Eucharistia is a Greek word meaning ‘thankfulness’, first used of the sacrament by Ignatius in the early second century. To understand the Eucharist you have to understand our place in the creation. The Bible sets out to show that we are intended to receive the creation as we receive our lives, thankfully, as a gift, holding them on trust, offering them daily back to God from whom everything comes. The form that offering is to take is thanksgiving which implies a way of being and a frame of mind that is trusting, rather than anxious, grateful rather than grudging, compassionate rather than judgemental, and outgoing rather than selfish. But this is not how we are. Human nature is strangely perverse, and we tend to see the world as an end in itself, using and abusing it as we wish and regarding each other with a guarded, often critical eye.
God is not so easily diverted. He has created us for himself and he knows ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in him’. And so the Word becomes flesh in order that our eyes may be opened to truth. “You have eyes: can you not see?” At the very end of his life Jesus did two things that, more than any other, lodged in the minds of his friends. The first, the washing of their feet, spoke as no other action could, of the plain, unromantic, down-to-earthness of the love God both shows and asks for. The second has proved even more meaningful in the two millennia that have passed since Jesus first took bread and wine and did with them four deeply significant things.
He took bread into his hands; thanked God for it; broke it; shared it. And he said: “This is me.” He is showing them the profoundly simple pattern of this one totally good human life: a life taken and lived in complete openness to the Father and so ‘offered’. A life lived thankfully at every point by one who saw God’s hand in everything. A life spent in the costly love of others and finally broken on the Cross. A life totally shared.
These four actions of offering, thanking, breaking and sharing, together show the pattern of what self-giving love means, and are the only definition of God we need to know. And if we ‘see’ this final demonstration of what he has come to show, then if we accept Christ’s authority in our lives we are committed to trying to make that pattern our own. It may be so wrapped up that it is hard to discern, but strip away the often excess fat of prayers and readings and address and you have in these four actions the living heart of our central act of worship.
“What do you mean?’ they asked Jesus. “I mean this,” he replied; and he took the bread, gave thanks, broke and shared it. And that piece has been played in every conceivable setting and in very known language ever since.
That is what is meant by learning to live eucharistically, learning to set our whole lives, in times of unhappiness and fear as at the present moment as well as when times are good. By taking the bread and wine which represent God’s gifts worked upon by human hands and giving thanks for them, we are setting our lives in their true relation to God, and we are properly restoring matter to what God intends it to be – our means of contact with him.