The Eucharist is an Act of Community

One of the central tenets of the Christian tradition is the community of believers.  We are not single individuals, struggling along in a vast sea of humanity.  We are a community–a collection of people, sharing minds and hearts and desires. We share the struggles of a life of faith in God, faith for the sake of those who are lost, faith in humanity’s turn to God.

The principle expression of this shared life varies depending on the circumstances: in our online world of social media, a shared life is one that necessarily removes the personal interaction of the person from the other.  There is no embrace, no understanding through personal affectation, no handshake or laugh of mutual respect.

There can be shared things–shared articles, music, videos–but not the shared experience of these things, just the description of the shared experience.  I cannot stand next to my blogging friends here at Daily Theology and celebrate a Holy Thursday Mass with them, I can only share my experience of such things, and read about their own.

The modern sense of community must be divided into two sometimes overlapping parts: (1) Communities to which we are physically present, (2) communities to which we are digitally present.  And somehow, amid this bifurcated sense of community, we must hold to an idea of communion–of Eucharist–that is intricately connected to community!   It’s not an option: the celebration of Eucharist is necessarily rooted in the celebration of communal life together.

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NOT Jesus. (Der Alchemist, Joseph Leopold Ratinckx)

NOT JESUS. (Der Alchemist, Joseph Leopold Ratinckx)

Jesus was not a medieval alchemist.  He did not perfect a ritual over years of experimenting.  He did not practice making bread and wine into different things, only then finally realizing the mystery and changing it into his own body and blood.  He did not bring it to the Apostles in the end, saying, “look everyone, I can do this awesome magic trick now!”

Jesus was not a medieval philosopher.  He did not construct a dense philosophical system for the miracle of the Eucharist beforehand, layering concepts of action, substance, idea, and being together.  He did not wax philosophically on the act of communion before, during, or after the act was complete.

Jesus was a Jewish peasant.  He was the Son of God.  He was a person who lived in community. The great gift of the Eucharist, the gift of Jesus’ own flesh and bone, was first and forever celebrated in community, for community, through the community.  There is no Eucharist without the apostles.  There is no Eucharist without community.  It is a necessary ingredient in the fabric of the mystery.

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The Eucharist takes many forms, as it represents one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith.  As such, it is not wrong to see your own needs as being met in the Eucharist–it is simultaneously a gift from God, a tangible form of God’s love, a reminder that Jesus died and rose from the dead, a balm for our wounds, a symbol of the potential for transformation within the very essence of the world.

But on this Holy Thursday, I ask that we not forget the call to “community” that is present at the heart of the Eucharist.  We continue to live in a world where nightly news is dominated by signs of difficulty in the fabric of community.  Where bias often reigns unchecked, where Christians and non-Christians alike abuse the power given to them.

How can we be community, when so many live in poverty?  How can we claim the Eucharist, when Christians occupy nearly every seat of power in the US and yet cannot seem to quell the stench of warfare, bigotry, and apathy on a political level?  How can we claim the Eucharist when women and men of color are disproportionately incarcerated, given jobs, assumed good, given loans, given education?

The fact is, we cannot ever claim the Eucharist.  We cannot hold the Eucharist, ever, against others, because we can never truly claim the Eucharist for ourselves.  It is a gift–as is the grace of God–but a gift that demands.  A gift that expects.  A gift that is wrapped in the potential of humanity and the centuries of suffering humanity–especially suffering under a Christian name.

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The Eucharist gives freely, demanding without compelling, reminding us of the true and unimaginably merciful goodness of God.  But if we are to respond to Jesus’ call to his apostles, so soon after the precious gift of the Eucharist, to stay awake and accompany him on his journey to death, then the Eucharist must demand more.

It might mean the world metaphysically, the sublime exemplar of every philosophical and alchemical system ever conceived, but if it does not mean love-in-community, and if it does not demand upon us the necessity of love-in-community, especially in the bifurcated communities in which we dwell in the 21st century, the Eucharist means nothing.

2 responses to “The Eucharist is an Act of Community

  1. What, though, would it mean for the church to be in the work of “staying awake and accompanying Christ on the way to his death”?

    I think I could really like this concept, but what would it mean for the liturgical community that gathers to eat this meal (and be gathered IN it) each week? Is it a constant reminder to stay awake together? Nicholas Lash suggests that the goal of the Christian is to “keep your eyes open in the dark” with each other. That is to say, our goal is not to solve the mysteries of faith, but to acknowledge the darkness and overwhelming mystery and to simply keep our eyes open, waiting for who we will run into and what will be revealed to us.

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