Christ is Risen!
And so, we come to the end of this year’s series of Lent Reflections. However, today as we celebrate Easter is the Seventh Feast. It’s not found directly in the story of the Prodigal Son, but as we have seen feasting is important in the story of the Prodigal Son. Sometimes we can read scripture and wonder about its applicability to our lives. Today’s feast is not just applicable, it’s a vital part of the exercising our Christian faith in the Crucified and Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In Eucharist we remember Christ’s death upon the Cross. We remember his body, broken for us, when we eat the bread. We remember his blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, when we drink the wine.
Now different churches have different traditions and beliefs about the Eucharist. Some hold that it is just a symbol, the bread and wine are strictly bread and wine and the associations are found in the minds of those remembering what Christ has done. Others hold that in the Eucharist the bread and the wine actually and truly become the body and blood of Christ, though they still taste, look and feel like bread and wine.
My perspective is slightly different (I will be brief, as I did my undergrad dissertation on this and could go on quite happily for hours!).
Simply put, I find a lot of value to the way in which a theologian called Thomas F. Torrance views theology, particularly when applying it to the sacraments.
He says that there’s three elements to knowing God. There’s the raw, unfiltered experience of God when we worship (alone or in church), there’s the theological and liturgical experience (our thoughts and understanding of God, particularly in church services), and there’s what is actually happening from God’s perspective (the ontological reality of the event we are experiencing and theologising about)!
When we apply this to the Eucharist we end up with three ‘layers’ of meaning. These three layers cannot be separated from each other but explain and reinforce each other.
- We eat and drink bread and wine. That’s it.
- We remember that the bread represents Christ’s body, and that the wine represents Christ’s blood; and that these were given for us on the Cross so that by his death and resurrection we could be forgiven of our sins and be declared Children of God.
- As we eat and drink the bread and wine, the Holy Spirit is present in such a way that we are actually united with Christ in his death and resurrection, receiving the ongoing forgiveness for our sins, and joining in with Christ’s worship of God the Father as he stands at the right hand of God the Father as our high priest, intercessor and mediator.
What this means for me personally is that I have a very strong respect for what happens in communion, whilst being relatively casual about how we take communion. I feel that it is generally just as valid in a Catholic Mass as it would be in a Baptist context.
I also particularly like the way that the Church of England phrases it in the Eucharistic prayer(s):
Draw near with faith.
Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ
which he gave for you,
and his blood which he shed for you,
and feed on him in your hearts
by faith with thanksgiving.
– Church of England Liturgy, emphasis mine.
Bearing all this in mind, I love this painting by Nikolai Kharlamov.
Jesus is on the throne, holding bread in one hand and wine in the other and giving it to nine believers (I imagine the ‘9’ is significant, however I don’t know of what).. In this moment of Eucharist, they are receiving normal bread and normal wine, they are acknowledging Christ as Lord, and they are welcomed into the living presence of heaven – symbolised by all the angels.
This Easter day as we celebrate the Risen Lord by taking the Eucharist, may we reflect on the place that this feast has in our faith and worship.
The Collect for Easter:
Lord of all life and power
who through the might
resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin,
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory,
to whom with you, and the Holy Spirit,
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.