Formed by Liturgy and Sacrament – The Eucharist – Reflection for 28 JUL 2019
In a few weeks, we will explore more deeply the encounter with Christ that occurs in the Eucharist, but this week we will look at the way we are formed by the liturgy as we celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Formation of any kind occurs through repetition. Repetition changes the structure of the brain such that groups of neurons are activated as a single unit. Musicians are formed by repetition of scales and etudes until the note printed on a page becomes an action of hand and mouth, breath and ear. Music theory becomes a matter of nature that can later be explained and understood. We are formed in liturgy by repetition such that prayer becomes reflexive and theology becomes a matter of our nature that can later be explained or explored.
As a spiritual practice, the liturgy encompasses a special type of formation by repetition. The liturgy of the Eucharist does not begin at the church with words or with music. The liturgy begins as the Holy Spirit stirs in us a desire to gather for prayer, worship, and encounter. As we gather in community to celebrate the Eucharist, we are also formed and shaped not only individually but communally into the likeness of Christ.
This is a radically counter-cultural formation. Against a culture that seeks to form us in pride and competition, the liturgy calls us to humility and cooperation. Against a culture that fears scarcity, the liturgy calls us into the Kingdom of enough. Against a culture broken by sin which still hides in shame as God calls, the liturgy invites to dine at the Table in the intimate presence of the Risen Christ. Against a culture that shouts “My body, my choice,” in the liturgy we hear, “This is my Body given for you.”
The liturgy of the Eucharist also forms us as a people of atonement. If we look at the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus as the example of atonement, we see that the high priest enters into the presence of God on behalf of the people after being cleansed from the pollution of death in the form of sin and impurity. However, being “not dead” is not enough and the priest must also bring life represented by the blood of the sacrifice in order to be present with the Living God. We can find this interpreted in the work of Christ in the book of Hebrews. We can also find this pattern of cleansing (becoming not dead), filled with life through Christ, and welcomed into the presence of the Living God in the patterns of the liturgy. The liturgy subtly forms and shapes us to be a people who are cleansed, given life, and present before God for the sake of the world.
However, our formation is not an end in itself. We are formed by the Eucharist into the eucharist pattern. Just as Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying “This is my Body.” We are formed as His Body to be taken from our daily cares and occupations as we are gathered in worship. We are blessed by ministry of Word and Table. Like Jesus feeding the thousands by breaking bread, what seems like division becomes multiplication as our gathering is broken as we depart from one another. Just as the liturgy begins long before we come to church, the liturgy also continues as we are given by the Holy Spirit as the Body of Christ to the world.