Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Eucharistic Table: Classical Anglican Thoughts

For as God descended and came into the tabernacle invested with a cloud, so Christ comes to meet us clothed with a mystery. He hath a house below as well as above; here is his dwelling and here are his provisions; here is his fire and here his meat; hither God sends his Son, and here his Son manifests himself. The church and the holy table of the Lord, the assemblies of saints and devotions of his people, the word and the sacrament, the oblation of bread and wine and the offering of ourselves, the consecration and the communion, are the things of God and of Jesus Christ; and he that is employed in these is there where God loves to be, and where Christ is to be found; in the employments in which God delights, in the ministries of his own choice, in the work of the Gospel and the methods of grace, in the economy of heaven and the dispensations of eternal happiness.

And now, that we may know where to find him, we must be sure to look after him. He hath told us where he would be, behind what pillar, and under what cloud, and covered with what veil, and conveyed by what ministry, and present in what sacrament. And we must not look for him in the highways of ambition and pride, of wealth or sensual pleasures; these things are not found in the house of his Father, neither may they come near his dwelling. But if we seek for Christ, we shall find him in the methods of virtue and the paths of God’s commandments, in the houses of prayer and the offices of religion, in the persons of the poor and the retirements of an afflicted soul; we shall find him in holy reading and pious meditation, in our penitential sorrows and in the time of trouble, in pulpits and upon altars, in the word and the sacraments: if we come hither as we ought, we are sure to find our Beloved, him whom our soul longeth after.

Jeremy Taylor, in “Worthy Communicant,” (1660)

This extract from Taylor’s profound reflections on the Eucharist and our participation in it tells us much about the Classical Anglican understanding of this sacrament. Taylor is not embarrassed by the Eucharistic Liturgy. Unlike many today, who have been schooled on a diet of secular utilitarianism, Taylor knows that the Eucharistic liturgy is a direct experiencing of the Kingdom of God. The liturgy is not a means to an end; it is the sharing in the "end" itself. It deserves to be offered with care and "the beauty of holiness" because it communicates the presence, power, and purposes of God to a lost humanity. It is in this “economy of heaven,” as Taylor so beautifully puts it, that we desire to be: first in the liturgy and then in the rest of our lives.

And it is this fusion of the liturgy with the rest of our life that marks the second paragraph--and marks the Classical Anglican approach to sacramentality in general. The participation in the Divine Life that marks authentic liturgy leads to the rest of our existence sharing in this call to holiness and wholeness—both in what we must not and what we must do. In the Eucharist we see Christ in word of scripture and in bread and wine. Through this encounter, we see Christ in the poor and the afflicted, in times of struggle and in times of peaceful contemplation, in activity and in rest. The Eucharist, far from being an escape from life, is the very place where, for the Christian, life is transformed and revealed to be the holy thing it truly is and must be.

The Eucharist is the centerpiece of the Church's life until the Last Day. Anglicans of whatever stripe must both cherish it and offer it with great intentionality. This is why the Eucharist can never be taken for granted, nor may it be "tossed off" by careless clergy, laity, or parishes. To do so it to betray the very gift of transformative encounter God has given us.

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