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Knowledge & News
Thought provoking topics and series, necessary news and information.
In Part 1, we reviewed the connection between presence and community as a core piece of the Christian narrative. Here we will explore the facets of presence in our core community practices: Eucharist/Communion/Last Supper/Love Feast.
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” -J.R.R. TolkienThe origin of Eucharist is found in the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before execution. It was meant to be a moment of light, arguably, the last spec of day before the darkness of betrayal, pain, hopelessness, and death followed Jesus to the cross. Traditionally, Christian traditions have treated the time of last supper as a somber moment to honor the sacredness of Immanuel’s love, death, and resurrection. The earliest days of the Christian tradition lacked the formality of what many of us imagine when someone uses the word “Eucharist.” Gatherings of early Christians focused the meeting around “agape” or love feasts. A group in someone’s house enjoyed an entire meal and connected around a table. Food was shared as the early Church suffered similar economic injustices and disparity we see today in our own culture.
The gatherings, if nothing else, fed the group literally and bonded unlikely members of the community together. The meal was the centerpiece of the community’s genuine companionship.
Genuine companionship, or presence, is not confined to a place as technology presents us the opportunity engage in meaningful relationships across a digital landscape. To discuss “genuine presence” purely in the abstract can be unclear. Let’s take a moment to review a real life case: You work for an international company with clients in time zones all over the world. To offer the same outstanding service to all your clients, you provide 24/7 customer service via technology in your Hometown, USA. Thus, you hire employees to work off shifts to cover the daytime hours of your international clients. Those employees essentially work and live the time zone they are hired to cover. How do you and your clients judge the service you provide? Is the person on the other end of the phone, video chat, or text chat not really building a relationship with your international clients? As a business owner, hopefully, your answer is “yes”. You hired and pay these employees to be the face of your service to keep your international clients satisfied like your local clients.
Technology allows you to be present across geographic boundaries.
This business case is not theoretical and is increasingly common in our globalized marketplace. I worked for over a year as a business consultant for the Australian region of our company’s business. My sleeping, eating, and social interactions were rooted in my “Aussie” time. Local USA time held very little meaning except for a couple weekend days where I suffered jet lag in order to do things during USA business hours. Would you say I spent of year not present with my clients? Sure, I missed out on the benefits of living in Australia (I still have dreams to surf and dive those magnificent waters), but if you talked to any of my local family/friends, they would refer to my work shift as “moving to Australia.” My clients and I learned, laughed, and discussed many topics and our relationships are still real. I felt truly embedded in the Australian culture and smile at the memories of our video conferences. We weren’t together in the same physical space, but in our digital space, we were present and truly engaging each other in a meaningful way. We were all changed a little (or a lot!) in each encounter. Those changes have shaped me into this very moment.
Our presence was genuine.
Now, we come back to a sticky point when considering “genuine presence” and the Eucharist. We highlighted earlier the early practice of Eucharist as “agape feasts” focused on companionship and community bonding over a literal meal. There is another well known and well misunderstood aspect of Eucharist: the presence of Jesus in the Communion elements. When the bread and wine are taken, the elements mysteriously become the body and blood of Christ. Outsiders often look in with a raised eyebrow at the apparently cannibalistic practice, but this is a spiritual matter of sharing the body and blood of Christ. This act has a cleansing effect on the individual who ingests the elements. Preparation for the elements is critical because you want the right attitude of your spirit to take in a piece of holiness. The preparation of the elements is also important to separate the bread and wine in dedication to God in the act. In short, the physical presence of the elements is important and creates a tense question among the Church when we wonder about “online communion.”
So, how does the online congregation respond to the Eucharist invitation?
Christians who partake in Eucharist believe Jesus is the Christ who lived, died, and resurrected from the grave. Jesus continues to live and shares his presence with humanity through the Holy Spirit. Because of a unique view of God as Trinity: Parent, Son, and Spirit, the Spirit is the Son who is also the Parent. We can still say today, “immanuel” or “God is with us.” God is with us and moves through Creation.
Read this prayer: “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.”
This invocation asks for the real presence of the Spirit/Jesus to bless the bread and wine into the cleansing body and blood of Jesus. Some believe this prayer should only be uttered by an ordained member of the clergy--a minister of the Church who has been called to be a voice of God on earth. However, we are faced with the question of the “priesthood of all believers” that sparked the split of the Catholic and Protestant churches during the Protestant Reformation.
As a tried and true Protestant, my position is firmly in the faith that all can approach God without fear. While some are called to the life of leading Christian communities and serving those communities as a vocation, each follower of Jesus shares the challenge of breathing the Holy Spirit into our diverse places in the larger “outside” community. The minister and the “layperson” are equal in the call from Jesus to be a light of the Divine in Creation. We all, therefore, have the right to call on God to bless our elements as we see the minister similarly blessing the elements of the physical service we view from our remote locations. God is with us and God hears our words.
If we accept the invitation to join the Communion table, we share in the agape feast and presence of the Spirit as we prepare for the Spirit to move within us.
When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now." - Mother Teresa of Calcutta
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We value highly the metaphor of journey. We’re different people from different places and backgrounds, representing an intergenerational community, and we’ve traveled different paths. So, we agree not to make assumptions about the person across from us, next to us, or in conversation with us. We challenge ourselves to be sensitive, knowing this community includes a diverse group of people from life-long followers of Jesus, to people who are just now open to the idea that God might exist. We strive to avoid offense, ask good questions, articulate and explain our responses. We don’t assume fluency in bible, spirituality, or Church language, because we believe the message of Jesus is not for Christianity, but for humanity. So, we do everything in the spirit of love and grace.
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