Lenten Meditations- Day 8 (for 14th March 2019)
[The Pastoral Concerns Department of the Church of South India brings out devotions for the 40 Lenten Days in 2019 beginning from the Ash Wednesday. A group of CSI Presbyters from the five states of South India prepared these devotions and published on this official website of the CSI Synod, Official Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/csisynodcommunication/ and the official WhatsApp Broadcast from the number +91 9840577404. You can read/download the English version of the devotion here. The writer of the devotion presents the same in a video on the day. Watch here Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, the Director of the Communication Department of the Church of South India Synod, gives a meditation on "The institution of the Lord’s Supper: Leading to the Alternative Community".]
The institution of the Lord’s Supper: Leading to the Alternative Community
The Church receives the Eucharist as a gift from the Saviour Lord. While we meditate on the theme, "The institution of the Lord’s Supper: Leading to the Alternative community', It is important to see that this gift of Eucharist is pointing towards the most essential life supporters; food and drink. The concern of Jesus towards the lives of human beings is glaringly reflected in his concern to those who are hungry and thirsty. The importance of Jesus feeding the multitude who were hungry is reiterated in the Bible because it is reported by all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14). Jesus was so concerned about the physical hunger and thirst of human beings. Before he started his open ministry in the world, he prepared himself by facing hunger and thirst in the wilderness. He was a leader, unlike most of the world leaders, who knew the severity of hunger and thirst. That is why he exhorted, as seen in Matthew 10:42, that “I tell all of you with certainty, whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple will never lose his reward”. John 7:37 tells us that for those who are thirsty, he offered himself saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink”. When Jesus spoke on the spiritual life and its fulfilment, he uses the imagery of water and thirst; "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14).
When Jesus instituted a sacrament in remembrance or anamnesis of him, he did not choose a tasteless, colourless, meaningless, tricky, peripheral act that is similar to magic (as similar to the stunts used by many of the present-day human gods or the tele-evangelists who vehemently advocate the prosperity gospel). Rather he chose the basic needs of human beings: food and drink. It was the symbol of a new covenant, which was alien to human beings till date, a covenant of body and blood of Jesus Christ offered as the sacrifice for the remission of the sins of the human beings. He ordered us to “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (Please refer I Cor. 11:23–25; cf. Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:14–20).
Christians see the Eucharist prefigured in the Passover memorial of Israel’s deliverance from the land of bondage and in the meal of the Covenant on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24). It is the new paschal meal of the Church, the meal of the New Covenant as the anticipation of the Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). Hence, the Eucharistic meal is something which denotes the freedom of humankind from all the bondages. The intrinsic element here is that those who join in the Eucharist are expected to be part of the process of seeking freedom from all the bondage of human communities.
The Eucharist is essentially the sacrament of the gift which God makes to us in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We receive this gift of salvation through communion in the body and blood of Christ. In the eucharistic meal, Christ grants communion with himself. This communion, which is as intimate as the body of Jesus Christ and his blood is becoming part of our body and blood, calls us to have communion with our fellow beings in its ‘fullness’. In the present world, which is broken, bruised, disturbed because of the divisions such as communalism, false- nationalism, racism, classism and, gender divisions including the prejudices against women and sexual minorities, and casteism, the communion with Jesus Christ should be translated as a communion of creations without discriminations and bonded in love. The table of Eucharist is the table of communion with Christ as well as our fellow beings. In India, casteism is so rooted and have a negative influence on people to such extent that the so-called upper caste people even refuse to share the table of food with the people from the so-called lower caste. In order to counter this, the social reformers brought together the progressive thinking people and the people from the lower strata to dine together in the 19th century. There is no doubt that this was one of the revolutionary moves against caste-based discrimination. But we forgot the fact that even decades before these common dining were organised, protestant missionaries like Ringeltaube brought people together from different caste background around the Holy Communion table and made the Eucharistic table as a place of an alternative narrative of unity, fellowship, and equality.
For the world which God has reconciled is pre-sent at every Eucharist: in the bread and wine, in the persons of the faithful, and in the prayers, they offer for themselves and for all people. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ, with him and in him. The bread and wine, fruits of the earth and of human labour, are presented to the Father in faith and thanksgiving. The struggles of people are incorporated in and their pain is addressed by the act of Eucharist. The Eucharist thus signifies what the world is to become: an offering and hymn of praise to the Creator, a universal communion in the body of Christ, a kingdom of justice, love and peace in the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is a call for seeing the world from a new viewfinder. It is about giving space for the other in the table and sharing the wine from the same cup and eating the same bread. It is a new world order envisaged by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who during his earthly life surpassed the human-made boundaries and was willing to embrace everybody.
This meditation draws many insights from the Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry text, popularly known as BEM Text, prepared by the World Council of Churches. BEM text reminds us that “The whole action of the Eucharist has an “epikletic” character because it depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit”. This invocation of the Holy Spirit should help us to focus on an alternative community of togetherness and inclusivity which stands against any division or discrimination. The Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost acted as the Spirit of unity amidst diversity by helping people from various language backgrounds to understand what the disciples of Jesus Christ were speaking. The language of love and unity inspired by the Holy Spirit should be experienced in the Eucharist. The Church, as the community of the new covenant, confidently invokes the Spirit, in order that it may be sanctified and renewed, led into all justice, truth and unity, and empowered to fulfil its mission in the world.
The Eucharist, Holy Communion, is a two-fold communion: it unites Christ and the Church, it unites Christians to one another. these two aspects are indissoluble, the latter being determined and also implied by the former. Communion with Christ assumes and demands that those who, because of their union with Christ, are of one spirit with Him should form one body among themselves. spreading the horizon of this communion to bring everybody into the fold is the integral process a Christian should consider as the pivotal part of his or her Christian faith and life. This willingness to embrace others, understanding that the Eucharist is a wider embrace of the body and blood of Jesus Christ with humanity, makes this sacrament as a threshold to an alternate community rooted in Christ.
"This is the body
This is the blood
Broken and poured out
For all of us
In this communion
We share in His love
This is the body
This is the blood"
Oh, Lord our God, who is present amidst us and in us as the body and blood of the Saviour Jesus Christ, help us to realise that the Eucharist is a gift that brings all of into communion. Make us understand that we are called to be in this communion, which is holy, and responsible to bring others to the communion table. God, help us to see a better alternative world around the table of communion.
Rev. Sunil Raj Philip,
CSI Synod Communications.