9th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 20
August 14, 2011
The Dance of the Liturgy: The Eucharistic Prayer
Elie Wiesel, the noted Jewish author says that God made humans because God loves stories. Well, just think about it. What we know of God comes to us in stories. The story of creation tells us that God made us the crown of creation and gave us a perfect world to live in, but our ancestors failed to trust God and ruined their lives and the world. But rather than destroying them, God protected them and their children and continued to love them.
The stories of our ancestors tell us that they were as imperfect and self-centered as anyone, but that God always loved and forgave them, even when they turned against him. We read of greed and war and exile, and then return and rebuilding. We hear of prophets excoriating God’s people for failing to live as God expects, and then hear their promises that God is always a God of steadfast love and abounding mercy.
Finally we hear the story of Jesus: of the miraculous birth celebrated by angels and outcasts and foreigners. He is the promised Messiah, God with us. We hear of his teaching and healing. We hear that the presence of God that he presented to the religious authorities of his day offended and angered them so much that they schemed to kill him. We hear that he went willingly to his excruciating death, knowing it would end one age and begin the new one, in which all of God’s promises are fulfilled. We hear of his resurrection, the triumph over death itself, putting the seal on life forever with God for all who trust in him.
We hear the promise of Jesus’ Spirit coming to be with his followers to comfort, to teach, to inspire them as Jesus had done in his physical presence with them. And we hear the story of the Spirit of God opening the doors of God’s Kingdom to all who would hear. God’s love and faithfulness never failed, although God’s chosen failed time after time. God came so powerfully into our world that the world has never been the same. And God still calls those who are weary, who are frightened, who carry guilt and self-loathing, and offers them lavish love and community with other believers.
It is an amazing story, and it is this story that we tell every time we gather around the meal Jesus left to his disciples and friends on the last night they were together. Sometimes we just tell the story of that gathering, drawing on the Apostle Paul’s description from 1st Corinthians: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Other times, we tell the whole story, starting with God’s creation and faithfulness and our human sin. We tell the Hebrew Bible’s salvation story of God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, with a mighty hand. We recall that in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to be with us to die for us and brought him back from death itself to bring us to new life in him. And we ask that God’s Spirit would bless us, and the gifts of bread and wine that we bring. That bread and that wine will become for us Jesus’ own self, given to us to make us into his Body in the world. Then we praise God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the life we are about to receive.
It is a miracle and a mystery, but we know it is real because we live it even as we taste it. The structure of the prayer is always the same. Eucharistic prayers may be long, but they contain some of the most beautiful language of the liturgy. They bring together the whole story; from the beginning of time to the presence of Christ which we are about to receive, to the coming of Christ at the end of time. They invite us to a place where we know we are loved beyond measure, and to a feast of joy and reconciliation.
Luther said that the most important words in the communion liturgy are “for you.” In the same way that the dance of the liturgy is between public and private when we come together, so is that “for you.” In the singular, it is your assurance that you are invited to God’s table, forgiven, strengthened, and sent into the world as God’s beloved. But it is also in the plural, “for y’all,” if you will. In the plural, it is our assurance that we are shaped by Jesus’ presence in this meal, bound to each other in love, meant to be God’s light and love for all to see as we serve our community and the world.
The Lord be with you. And also with you
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed. Amen.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.