This is a continuing series providing answers to the question posed here.
For the past three days (Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) we have been looking at the Daily Offices of the church as a means to shaping Christ-likeness in our lives. Today, I want to look at the other main office of the church, the Eucharist. My intent is not to discuss how to participate in the Eucharist, but why and to focus on how regular participation brings us closer to Jesus.
Morning and Evening Prayer focus us on God the Father, reminding us, among other things, that He is the Lord Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, to whom all things are subject. The Eucharist focuses us on the incarnate Jesus Christ as the priest once again breaks the bread, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice of himself on our behalf in humble obedience to the Father.
The Eucharistic service provides us with corporate worship through prayer, confession, and song. It provides us with nourishment in the word and the bread and wine. It focuses us as an instance of the visible church in a particular time and place. It is both a break from our week and the high point of our week as we come together to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, and to renounce our sins and their author.
We are reminded that we are not alone, but are surrounded by others, whether it be a few or a few hundred, who also are seeking to let God be their God, as he makes us his people. At times, the celebration of the divine mysteries and fellowship of others may be almost euphoric as the Spirit of God touches our spirit. Most of the time, it is a little more pedestrian, but we should not let that discourage us.
Again, we come back to the “d-word”—discipline. With very few exceptions, only those things in which we are disciplined shape us and set the course of our lives. Even those moments in our lives where the world seems to change, are really just dramatic starts to a new pattern of discipline. Weddings, births, and funerals are all examples of this. Our lives change on those days because the pattern of our life changes as we adapt to the addition or subtraction of a person in our lives.
The best discipline to have concerning the Eucharistic service of the church (other than showing up) is to come with expectation. If we come looking to bless and be blessed by God, we are much more likely to find what we seek. I learned this long ago in a class I was not wholly enthusiastic about. When I came to class with my pen and notebook open, even if I had a chip on my shoulder that said, “I dare you to teach me something,” I learned more than when I merely showed up.
This has to do not only with the sermon, though that is certainly part of it, but also with the scriptures being read, the prayers, and the confessions. Look at the altar, the Eucharistic elements, the cross, and any other symbols present. Contemplate the bread and the wine as you receive them as symbols of our Lord’s sacrifice. Join your voice with those assembled in song and prayer. Smell the incense if your church uses it.
After all this, if it seems there isn’t much effect, remember that practicing these disciplines is akin to setting the course of a large ship, not a sci-fi teleportation device. As you re-order your life on the Daily Offices and the weekly Eucharist, change will start to come. As you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you will be forced to either listen and follow, or reject his call.