Eucharist and Discipleship

Two recent posts on Eucharist and discipleship, one enthusiastic and one more cautious.

At Seedbed, Steven Bruns writes:

For these early Christians, the Eucharist was the main form of discipleship as well. It was the climax of every service they celebrated. For the entire portion of the service leading up to the Eucharist, the people were being raised up to the throne of God in heaven. Their prayers focused them on God, petitioning God to create the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The reading of Scripture and expounding upon it showed how God had been acting throughout history to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, and how Christ was still present in the world through the Church, his Body. Finally in the Eucharist, as the people have been ascending to heaven, heaven comes down to earth as the Holy Spirit eucharizes the bread and wine so that the people in Christ actually receive Christ. In Holy Communion, heaven and earth meet.

What this did for the Christians was to give an objective reality to the Christian experience. Not every worship service was an ecstatic journey into the third heaven. Not every presider was skilled at preaching, or even praying on behalf of the people. Not every Christian felt like they were in the presence of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe every week. But in the sacrament, the Christians knew, whether or not they felt it, that Christ was present. They knew they were standing in the presence of the God of all who gave all for them. And they knew that by receiving the sacrament, they were receiving more of that God within them for their transformation and empowerment to be the faithful disciples they were called to be.

On the other hand, Kevin at Many Horizons recently asked, “will liturgy save us?”

One could look, for example, at the ideas of James K.A. Smith, who has talked about how our world has “liturgies” that form us (such as the liturgy of the mall), and so how we need rich liturgies to counter these destructive narratives. Other thinkers have similarly argued that liturgy is necessary to save us from secularism and the practical atheism it entails.

This kind of thinking has also led many people I know, including myself at times, to have a sense of spiritual growth in having moved from “non-liturgical” backgrounds into Anglicanism or other “high church” denominations.

Yet, there is a problem with all of this theory—the facts don’t match it. One needs look no further than England or Quebec, two deeply secular societies who were not all that long ago dominated by strongly liturgical churches. If liturgy is supposed to form us into better Christians—how did this happen?