In our last reflection we considered the Office as it relates to the Father, Abba, as we join in the church’s worship. It is the cornerstone of the Anglican-Benedictine way of forming disciples. I know that is counter-intuitive for Episcopalians and other liturgical churches. We handed daily faithfulness off to the evangelical world through our low-church brothers and sisters and then forgot after the liturgical revolution of the past forty years.
We elevated the Eucharist to the center of our common life and after the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, we made the Daily Office difficult and frustrating to use. I wanted to learn the Office as a Baptist convert in the 1990’s. I wanted to learn. I was motivated. AND I was educated. My undergraduate degree was Creative Arts in Worship. I read Dom Gregory Dix for fun. And yet I was utterly frustrated by the 1979 BCP and started printing off daily prayers from the internet!
Church Publishing, if you are reading along, I would love a BCP-based Breviary that is formatted for Daily Prayer. I don’t want something all that new. I want a simple formatted Breviary. I will do it. Just call.
But that isn’t our focus today. Let’s go back to the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the “great thanksgiving” in Greek. It is called Communion or the Mass or the Lord’s Supper, and it is at the center of our communal life. I love the Eucharist. Don’t let the first couple of paragraphs fool you.
The thing is that we are in a funny place recently where we are trying to use the Eucharist in order to welcome people into church. And that is like meeting a new friend as a couple by inviting them into your bedroom. The Eucharist is the most intimate thing that disciples do.
We follow Jesus. Jesus had his disciples, and on his last free night before facing trials and ultimately death, he had a meal with them that was remembered as a Passover meal. This meal was the place where he took bread and wine and gave it to his friends and fellow brothers and sisters, blessing them and giving instructions to share the meal together to remember him.
The Greek word for “to remember” is anamnesis. Plato considered the act of remembering as the only way that one could experience the real world beyond forms. This is not necessarily what Jesus had in mind, but the concept is helpful. When we remember we are bringing the fullness of our master to mind.
If Jesus and his teachings are our master or king, rabbi, lord, then we are subjects who are defined by the master. The master is not a popular concept in American culture, so we have lost some direct implications of what this means for us. I discovered these ideas looking at the archetypes around king images and monarchist cultures. These ideas are evident out as you look at the Mediterranean and Biblical cultural studies and early Roman and Greek literature.
The king defines identity for the subject. The king defines ethos. The king defines relationships, ethics, ways of interacting, what is acceptable and what is not. The king defines the world within the kingdom. (I know this language is masculine, but it is the most common. It is true of queens too.)
The ruler defines the ruled. This runs directly counter to our culture. I know. So as a disciple we come to remembrance to recall our salvation, but also to re-enter the world of our Maker and Master. We re-enter the space where the kingdom is present, where we are children of God, in direct relationship as brothers and sisters provided for and forgiven, healed and set free to love others as we are loved by God.
To step into such a world together is renewing and helps to make us whole. We hear the stories of our faith, pray as the priesthood family of God, and we remember our Lord in the meal and prayer that is the Eucharist. It is our internal reality, the reality that we trust in and believe in as we walk in the world that does not agree with those statements or that reality.
It is this that creates the tension around the open table movement. On the one hand, we are remembering Jesus whose messiahship was modeled in eating at the table with people from all different walks of life, a model that the church picked up and was persecuted for in the early centuries as much as the idea of cannibalism. On the other, the Eucharist is a re-enactment of this final meal and has a component of remembrance that defines our reality.
At the very least the church should be honest about what we are doing for our members and for visitors. But I have come to rest more and more uneasily with the movement to make our sacraments a portable portal for all comers. I don’t think that they are actually being brought in with any real honesty or fidelity because on some level we don’t take what we are doing seriously or we don’t take their participation seriously. They are being asked to enter a different reality and accept ethos, ethics, and relationships that they may not be ready to take on, may not understand, and may not really agree with if they did.
Outside of the reality that we are remembering our sacraments don’t really make much sense. Paul said that if there was no resurrection then he was a fool. I would hold the same thing about the play acting we are doing on Sundays. If we are not re-entering that reality in an intentional and prayerful way that involves our whole self, then we are just fools playing at images.
We remember Jesus and re-member Christ as we take our parts in his body and in the family as the children of God. This is amazing and wondrous. It is mystery and meal all at once.
When we come prepared, we enter that reality with less dissonance and greater clarity, we leave with more work being done on us, and we go back into the world to carry that reality with us. We prepare by joining in the ongoing universal prayers of the church daily in the Offices. We know the stories of our faith more deeply.
Our minds are trained for prayer, praise, and petition. Our hearts are trained for compassion and trust and forgiveness. Our brains can focus more easily. And we are free to come and go lightly into the world we live in intentionally daily, so we can greet our neighbors and love even in transition, and we are less thrown off by the incidentals of our lives and our church community.
In this way, the Office makes the Eucharist more readily available and our experience more communal. When we have done our office work we can do our work at the table with more joy.
At this table we are not strangers but family. We are not alone in the city but walking in the Garden with our God and our family. We are provided for and forgiven. We are loved and set free. That is salvation in the flesh. That is what we are trying to live into as we come to the table of God.
Come prepared and go home renewed. Remembering who God is in Jesus, what the world will be and what the kingdom is, and who you are, who your neighbor is, and how blessed the whole thing is, we come back to the sixth day of the new creation to enter our Sabbath anew.