Eucharist Reloaded: Meditation Before Receiving Holy Communion

Luke 22: 14-23
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
Message
As a person who celebrates the communion, I retrospect to look at how casually I celebrate the Holy Communion or Eucharist or how casually people receive the Eucharist. We have become numb to the great privilege it is to be invited to the Lord’s table and to be partakers of his meal. We live in a world that highlights the absence in our lives which becomes our voice. We say “I do not have this…, I lack— quality,…Only if I had this job…., Only if my partner had—-quality,…..I do not have —Model Car,…. Wish I had better friends who understood me.” In the matrix of the “Absence” of our lives, Holy Communion reminds us the Presence of Christ. Let us see through this text the few dimensions of Holy Communion so that we participate meaningfully and prayerfully.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. “ (Vs 15) Christ eagerly waits to have this fellowship with you and me. It is his desire where he has invited you to the table. That is the call that brings us to the table where Christ extends his hospitality and love. Christ calls us very passionately. He has taken the initiative. In the time of Jesus, to invite a person to your table means you find him worthy. Therefore it was a scandal when Jesus dined with Lepers, tax-colectors, prostitutes and the rejects. While Jesus calls us to the table, let us remember we are a community that is there not because of fulfilling some criteria of righteousness or qualification, but that in his invitation he qualifies us as his Sons and Daughters, a community around the table. He is the host.
Now while saying this that Jesus is the host, there is a paradoxical part in it. He is also the guest. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3: 20) While Christ invites us to the table, he also waits to be invited to your house (lives). In the story of Zacchaeus, when he was far and distant on a Sycamore tree, satisfied with a glimpse of Jesus, time freezes. It is not that He sees Jesus. He is shocked to know that Jesus is seeing him. Archbishop Rowan Williams says that Jesus looks at him and says “Zacchaeus are you not inviting me to your home?” And we know what a dramatic effect it had on Zacchaeus once Jesus came to His home. When I was studying in the seminary, final year, I had a habit of keeping my room in a mess. With assignments piling, my room just had madness written all over. And at the height of the piling of mess, without any notice my parents arrive at the Seminary. Normally there is a guest room where we entertain our relatives, so I did not bother to set my room in order. While talking to my parents in the guest room, my mother said “ I want to see your room.” I had an earthquake in my heart and shuddered. I gave her a reason that no one is allowed in the rooms and my mother had to comply by rules. My mother went straight to the Hostel Secretary, who was my friend, Brijith. My mom asked “I want to see Merin’s room”. I prayed to Triune God that he says no. But this Brutus said “Parents are allowed to go to rooms” I did not know where to hide or what to do. So like a lamb about to be slaughtered I was led to my room and my meticulous parents had a heart attack seeing the room. My mother in her characteristic way said “Seminary vannitum nee nanaayi illelo da (You did not improve coming to seminary)”. My poor mother in her enthusiasm set the room straight in a matter of 10 minutes. Jesus also asks us “Are you not inviting me into your lives?” We are afraid to expose the mess we have got ourselves in. But Eucharist reminds us that he is eager to come and set straight the mess that only he can get us out of. Jesus is knocking… Will you open up?
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (Luke 22: 21-23)
Jesus said that betrayer is with him at the table. Interestingly disciples question which of them it would be. It is not important who would betray. The point is that all of them had the potential to betray. At the table let us remind ourselves that “I too have the potential to be the ‘One who betrays’” Instead of asking who will it be, Richard Rohr says that Jesus makes us realize that I have potential for evil rather than pointing fingers at the other and making a scapegoat. So it is a time of repentance saying “Lord, I am capable of betraying you. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As once the famous Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen was giving invitation to the congregation people were expecting him to say “Only Catholics are allowed to receive the communion.” But he shocked the people by saying “Only sinners are allowed to receive the communion.” Dear friends “Only sinners are allowed…”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22: 19-20)
Here Jesus is looking towards the experience of cross by connecting it to the broken bread and wine poured out as his body and blood which are about to be broken. He is saying “This is the definitive sign of God’s welcome and God’s mercy.” Instead of this being the ultimate tragedy, it is an open door into the glorious welcome of the father. It is the commemoration of the death of Christ in affirmation of his resurrection. Eucharist points us forward to the mystery of both the cross and resurrection. Jesus looking most clearly and vividly to his death on the cross, He gives thanks. Jesus giving thanks at the moment before breaking and spilling, before the wounds and blood, it is as if he is connecting the darkest places of human experience with God the Giver. He is saying that even in these dark places God continues to give. The disciples later on made the connection as the earliest name for Holy Communion is Eucharist which comes from the Greek word “Eucharistia” which means thanksgiving. So Holy Communion is a time when we meet to give thanks, even in the heart of the darkest experience. When we make the connection of all gifts to God the Giver, we are filled with thanksgiving, and the absence in our heart recedes to the over powering presence of Christ and we realize that He is enough. Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A very large proportion of the prisoners were Christians, whose only offense was their Christian faith. One of the Finnish believers received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. The first thing he thought of was that it would be possible now to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti. The pastor thought it impossible. “The guards would certainly interfere.” “But it is all arranged,” said Kajada. “I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians if they see us will think we are drinking tea.” “I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.
For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Vs 16-18)
Jesus is saying to his disciples here that he will not  eat and drink again until the kingdom of God comes. Jesus when he is inviting to this fellowship of the table also is pointing us to a beyond. The Great Banquet of eternity and kingdom of God. While Holy Communion is an exercise in giving meaning to our lives in the world, but Jesus also points us to a beyond that his resurrection brings us. It is the hope that only He can give. In my 8th standard, I had the dreaded Jaundice. My parents took the Ayurveda route for my treatment. The diet was very strict with no salt and no non-veg food. One day, I became very adamant and said I want to have chicken and fish. My mother in tears in her eyes said “Once you are well, I will prepare a grand meal, where you can have what you want. But till then Papa and I will not have any non-veg food. We will have it only with you once all the effects of Jaundice is over.” Christ is eagerly waiting for us in the rooms that he has gone to prepare, waiting to have a grand banquet. We live in that hope.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal
Eucharist

Isn’t liturgy Meaningless Mate?

(Let me start by saying that this question has always baffled and confused me. I have struggled very hard to understand to know why we need this. I have a history that I am not necessarily proud of. I have read novels and books in the church using the order of worship as a shield. So here I am trying to put some light on our liturgy and I will try my best to keep it as interesting and simple as possible. I don’t think anyone will be with me if I elaborately expound it, so I will highlight certain key points of the worship. I Prayerfully hope this will help you in helping you participate in worship meaningfully.)Image

 

We have Jacob, popularly called Jack(why ?) who is a 2nd year student at the theological seminary, and along with him are Minjo(how symbolic a name. Mother’s name is Mini and dad’s name is John, so guess who we have. Malayalis I say, they are genius with names) and Dan who are members of the Epiphany Mar Thoma Church, where cool dude Jack is assigned for Sunday assignment. Jack, took these two youths for a coffee at “Kaapi Kada: Coffee is Just an Excuse(why do I feel I have heard that somewhere)”. Now can you imagine he took them out to talk about worship? These two dudes are here so as not to offend him and to be nice(and who doesn’t like free coffee?). They truly believe that the “Worship order is meaningless”. So after the initial talks about cars and of course girls, Matt dares the two to ask questions pertaining to the structure of Worship. Here, let us hear it.

Minjo- Do we have a structure in here?

Jack- Yes is the answer and it is called the a)Preperatory service or the thooyaba b) Ante-Communion or Pre- Communion, c) Communion.

Thuyaba is where the priest prepares himself for the service. This can be both public and private. There is an order that is followed. But I would not as of now elaborate more upon it.

 

Dan- This Ante-Communion, Communion sounds very funny. I thought the entire service is called Holy Communion. I don’t get it.

J . Frankly even I was unaware of this division. Actually in the ante-communion comes the preparatory service. But I here to make it more pronounced divided it. So the Ante communion is also called the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ as the Epistles and Gospel is read in this section.

‘Shobha Niranja Aleyathil….’ Is the call to the community to participate in this Worship. It affirms the holiness of God and confesses our sinful state and asks God to intervene.

 

M . Dude whats Mary doing in the opening prayer of the priest? Why do we have John in there too? We don’t worship the saints, do we? ( In reference to “Mariyamil nin Shariram Dharikyugeyum…” O Lord Jesus Christ, born of Mary, Baptised by John, have mercy on us)

J . Ok to answer that I will call upon your attention to the fact that the curtain is drawn open in between “Shobha Niranja”. Now why do we need that curtain? It is a symbol. This symbolizes the full revelation of God in Christ. It is here that we remember Mary and John. This prayer calls us to the attention of the incarnation of Christ. So it is Mary’s willing response to God that made the incarnation of Jesus or to put in easier terms, the possibility GOD becoming human in Jesus became possible. John prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus and baptized him. So this prayer remembers the incarnation and the public ministry of Jesus which is significant for our salvation. So, they are remembered as facilitators in the process. Does that make sense?

 

D. Yeah. Kind of. Getting the hang of it. I think this would be my last question for the day as I am just gettin started, it would be an overdose. The HOLY ART THOU part is said three times. What is that all about?

J. yeah, that’s a neat question. Let us remember that ‘Holy Art Thou O God’ in our liturgy signifies Jesus. Here we affirm Christ’s Holiness, Immortality and his Crucifixion. The crucifixion was to save us. “O Thou that was crucified for us have mercy on us” means he was crucified on our behalf. For our salvation. It is said three times for affirmation, so it is called Trisagion. Some claim that this is how you affirm as we see in John 21:15-17, Jesus before reinstating Peter asked him thrice ‘Do you love me’. It is an affirmation on our behalf.

 

M. Ok. Seriously what do you mean by salvation? What is the fuss all about?

A . I will answer you what I learnt from my Principal Rev Dr Abraham Kuruvilla and my friend and guide, Rev Sam Koshy. We have to understand Salvation in the continuation of Creation. God created the world and He saw it was good. God had a purpose in creation. He made man ‘In his Own image’. But man sinned and defeated the purpose of creation. We distorted the ‘Image of God’. As Paul says ‘Image of God’ was completely revealed in Jesus. His crucifixion and resurrection defeated the chaotic forces of death. He showed what God’s image is and showed creation its purpose. Salvation is return of the fallen creation to become the Creation that God saw ‘It was good’. It is also the journey from the distorted image that we have in sin to Grow to the “image of God”, seen in the life, Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I guess what Athanasius, the church father said sums it all. “God became man, so that man can become divine.”

 

D . Honestly I dint wanna hear all this. But it kinda sounds interestin. But not anymore today. How about meetin in the weekend. Guess you should call Arpit. But nothing more than half an hour. I seriously don have patience. Bye.

J. Thanks guys for comin over.

M. Dude anythin for free coffee. (Jacob reminded him that he had seen Dil Chahta hai.)

 

 

*Ok guys coming up shortly are answers to questions like “what is the Gospel reading doing in between the service, n so the epistle. Why on earth, the “Kiss of Peace”, “what are the 4 blessings all about”. “Why Bread and wine?” and anything you ask and I can try to answer. Your feedback, no matter what the texture is solicited, as there are 2 more series to come. Also comment on the casual structure adopted, is there anything more to be simplified. I have kept it short as a long article can put us off. Haha. And if you think I am smart since I know all the answers, I would love that you believe so. I am majorly depending on the works of Rev Dr. George Mathew, who is a liturgy specialist.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati