Below is a booklet I put together to teach a class on the Eucharist for some confirmation candidates. If you copy and paste it into Word, and print it using ‘booklet Printing’ option, it will print up into an A5 booklet ready to use. Just thought it might be of interest to some. (I used a picture of bread and wine under the title but for some reason it won’t load)
The word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’ in Greek, and is the name we use for the ritual or ceremony of remembering the Last Supper, via the bread and wine, and the life, death and resurrection of Christ and what that means for us as Christians.
For Anglicans, the bread and wine are known as a sacrament. This means that it has a dual purpose or meaning – it points to something greater than itself, to help us understand something bigger about God and his purposes. It gives us a glimpse into a world beyond the physical signs of bread and wine that we can see. It is important to us because Christ himself told us to do this. (The other Anglican sacrament is baptism, which Christ himself also undertook and told others to do.)
We will look at some of the scriptural references that help to explain what is going on in the Eucharist, and at the significance of our service for the wider world.
We will consider some of the context in which Jesus instituted this ceremony and some of the history surrounding it.
We will take a brief look at the different parts of the service and what is going on in terms of the meaning of each section.
What do you think is going on when we take communion? What sorts of things does it make you think about? What themes can you identify? What does the bread and wine mean?
Here are some scriptural accounts of Jesus eating and drinking:
Invite the poor Luke 14:12-14
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Jesus Changes Water Into Wine: John 2:1-10
A wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
The Parable of the Great Banquet Luke 14:15-24
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
The chief tax-collector is converted to faith in Jesus: Luke 19 1-5
Then he went into Jericho and was making his way through it. And here we find a wealthy man called Zacchaeus, a chief collector of taxes, wanting to see what sort of person Jesus was. But the crowd prevented him from doing so, for he was very short. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to get a view of Jesus as he was heading that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and saw the man and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down. I must be your guest today.”
The Woman at the Well John 4:4-30 (summarised)
4 Jesus had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” 15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!” 16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
“I have no husband,” she said. Jesus said to her “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband”…
She said “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”…
He said “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
28-30 The woman took the hint and left. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman Luke 7:36-48 (summarised)
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner”….
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
In pairs, pick a passage and read it. What do you think Jesus is up to? What themes emerge from the story? What would be surprising in it? Why do you think Jesus spent so much time eating and drinking with people?
Jewish culture, Inclusion in the Kingdom of heaven and the Character of God
- “For a first century Jew, having dinner with someone was making a statement about acceptance and about religious fellowship. Supper was not just sustenance; supper was spirituality. Doing lunch was doing theology. And Jesus was a guy who would chow down with just about anybody. He accepted dinner invitations from upstanding Pharisees… [and] he also swapped snacks with less savoury souls.” (Gempf, 2005, p132)
- “Gathering together is a prophetic act which reveals God and makes his presence known.” (Lebon, 1986, p45) Jesus did not coincidentally eat with people who were socially excluded from their Jewish community; in three and a half short years of ministry, his acts of eating, drinking, feeding and socialising with people usually considered socially or ritually unacceptable were so frequent as to cause a scandal among the Pharisees and at times his own followers. Then this gathering and eating is given by him to humans as a ritual to actively remember Jesus until he comes again. What was it he was trying to help us see?
- Jesus ate with people other than the ‘right’ people to show God’s character, which is not one of choosing favourites! These encounters form part of Jesus’ teaching around the Kingdom of Heaven, where the paradigms of culture and society are turned upside down by grace and radical inclusion is modelled to a divided society.
- Religious piety expressed by ‘ritual purity’ around food was a major issue of social hierarchy in Jewish culture and Jesus deliberately broke every one of these cultural rules. “His feeding miracles functioned as performative versions of his teaching…moving the boundary markers with regard to those whom his contemporaries deemed acceptable to God, challenging the divisions in society. “ (Bradshaw, 2012, p9)
- The good news is that we are all able to be included, gathered in by the love of the Father. Our invitation doesn’t depend on us being good, or right, or wealthy or members of the aristocracy. God’s grace includes and invites and reaches out in love and hospitality, which we participate in every time we share Communion.
What does this all tell us about what is important to God?
Being A Eucharistic Community, A Part of Christ’s Body
- The bread and wine also remind us of our equal need of bread for survival; none can outlive our human frailty and limitation, whatever our status and none can attain eternal life without the sacrifice of Christ made for us. This unites us with others.
- The idea of unity expressed in the Eucharist is strongly emphasised in the Orthodox tradition, in which the Eucharist is understood not as a means of grace primarily, but as “an act and representation of the catholicity of the Church.” (Zizioulas, 1985, p145) We are a family and the Eucharist is our family meal.
- Martelet challenges us, in taking the Eucharist, to assess what kind of a community we are? Are we a “community where the poor cannot possibly feel at home” (Martelet 1976, p182) “Can those who have more than enough happily retain what they do not need so long as a member of Christ.. is destitute, without breaking up the communion? This practical awareness of others is an exact measure of our belonging to the risen Christ.”
- We can’t pick and choose who we do church with, or who else is allowed at the altar to receive. United by taking one bread and wine from one cup, we must consider our care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we in good faith with one another? Have we gossiped about someone? Hurt another? Failed to share what we have with someone in need, when Christ and the Father gave all they have for our sake? Do we need to apologise or repent?
- For Martelet, there is significance in the elements of bread and wine as representing the joint work of God in creation and humankind in cultivation and culture: “bread and wine are…part of humanized nature…It is [hu]man in his [her] entirety…that is signified in our Eucharist’s. In his Incarnation and in his Eucharist God is strictly inseparable from love and bread…and the inestimable value of the human itself which bread and wine symbolize.” (Martelet, 1976, p35)
- This relates to the value Jesus showed when he restored humans who were excluded and suffered from sickness or mental illness, damaged further by their enforced separation from society imposed by the ritual purity laws. They were restored as much by their restoration to social and relational life as his direct healing, working with the grain of how humans are made physically and socially and relate to one another in community.
- In the Orthodox tradition the main focus of the Eucharist relates to the power of gathering and community; the very nature of a Eucharistic community is found “in its inclusiveness of all.” (Zizioulas, 1985, p154) It is a picture of the time when the first shall be last and the hungry will be filled.
- “By receiving the body of Christ, I become a little more a member of this body. The sacrament produces in me what it signifies and brings me into contact with a reality, essentially by acting on me and in me…the fact of receiving the consecrated bread brings into existence the reality of communion with Christ.” Lebon
What is happening in the different parts of the service?
Confession/repentance – we say sorry for our sins
Absolution & forgiveness – we are forgiven
Reading the Scripture – we recall all that Jesus did & the other saints
The Creed – we affirm & rehearse the things our faith are based upon
Prayers – we pray for the world and its needs & God hears us
Sharing the peace – we join together as family & welcome each other
Priest prepares the bread and wine & says a prayer
The gifts and offerings of the people are given & brought to the altar
The Eucharistic Prayer
The Sanctus – “holy holy holy” – we worship God like the angels do in heaven
Doxologies – the priest tells the story of some of God’s great acts and deeds
Words of institution – “on the night he was betrayed Jesus took the cup…”
The Lord’s Prayer – our family prayer as Jesus taught us
Breaking and distribution of the bread – “they recognised him in the breaking of the bread”. The metaphor reminds us Christ was broken for us, and that we, despite our own brokenness, belong to him and are welcomed at the table. We remember that “by his stripes you are healed.” We also remember that we are one, united by this act of sharing: “though we are many, we are one body because we all share in one bread.”
Prayers and blessing after Communion followed by dismissal.
C Gempf, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah, Zondervan 2005
Lebon, How to Understand the Liturgy, SCM 1986
Bradshaw, The Eucharistic Liturgies, SPCK 2012
J Zizioulas, Being as Communion, DLT 1985
G Martelet, The Risen Christ & The Eucharistic World, Seasalt, 1976
We wish you every blessing on your confirmation & first communion. Know yourself to be always welcomed at the table, to eat and keep company with Christ and all the saints, until we meet all together at the feast in the Kingdom.
No matter how hard your week or how many mistakes you’ve made, there is always welcome, hospitality and space for you at the table, a meal and some wine, comfort and belonging. Come, and be gathered in, receive His grace and kindness. You are the beloved of God. Amen