“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”—Acts 2:42 (describing the first community of Christ-followers).
On Sunday evenings we at GraceUnlimited continue the practice of the earliest followers of Jesus, gathering to open ourselves to his living, God-filled, all-embracing presence in our singing, praying, interpreting scripture—and in sharing the thanksgiving meal he started. (Here’s the service leaflet. And if you’re a history nerd check a few more quotes below the *******.)
We call this way of worshipping “Eucharist,” which is a Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” St. Paul, the first Christ-follower to write anything down, said that when we do this, we are Christ’s broken body sharing Christ’s broken body:
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”—1 Corinthians 10:16-17.
We are Christ’s broken body sharing Christ’s broken body. I know, the imagery of eating flesh and blood sounds grotesque. But it was an ancient way of saying that we are “internalizing” the Jesus-like, embodied presence of the God who heals our brokenness by sharing it. We’re not just remembering Jesus, or God, or just thinking about them (as if they were somewhere else and not right here). We’re actually living Jesus’ God-filled, broken life in our own shared, embodied and broken lives.
Do note the emphasis on “broken.” We are not gathering to pretend that everything is “just fine.” Everything is not just fine. When we are most aware and most honest, we see brokenness all around us and even within us. And when we hold up the bread and break it, we are bringing that brokenness into the open, joining it to the God who with Jesus is no stranger to brokenness. That doesn’t take the brokenness away, but it takes away its power to define us.
We are Christ’s broken body sharing Christ’s broken body, “internalizing” the Jesus-like, embodied presence of the God who heals our brokenness by sharing it.
That’s an outrageous thing to say! Do you have to believe it? Frankly, I don’t know if anybody ever believed it 100%. Who ever believes anything 100%? Besides, at GraceUnlimited we don’t think of faith as signing up for a list of settled beliefs. We think of faith as opening ourselves to more than we can ever define. It’s living into an immeasurable happening that won’t let us go. We call that happening “mystery,” not the kind of mystery that gets solved, but the kind that deepens the more we explore it.
So no, nobody’s insisting that you have to believe all this. But you are invited to open yourself to what it might mean to be Christ’s broken body, gathering to share Christ’s broken body in broken bread and poured-out wine, and departing to keep being Christ’s broken body in the world around us. Mystery.
A few hundred years later St. Augustine commented on St. Paul in these words that we repeat every Sunday at Common Worship: “Your mystery is laid on the table of the Lord. Your mystery you receive. Be what you see, and receive what you are” (Sermon 272).
Be what you see. Receive what you are. Don’t just remember. Wonder. Live the God-filled, broken life of Jesus in your own life.
The Didache (probably written before 100): “On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks” (ch. 14).
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (around 107): “Take care, then, to keep one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the priests and my fellow servants, the deacons.” (Letter to the Philadelphians).
Justin Martyr (around 150): “And on the day named after the sun all, whether they live in the city or the countryside, are gathered together in unity. Then the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as there is time. When the reader has concluded, the presider in a discourse admonishes and invites us into the pattern of these good things. Then we all stand together and offer prayer (67). When we have ended the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss. Then the brothers and sisters set out before the presider bread and a cup of water and mixed wine, and, taking these, he offers praise and glory to the Father of all things through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and makes thanksgiving at length for being counted worthy of this gift from God. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people present sing out their assent, saying amen [“let it be so”]. … And when the presider has given thanks and all the people have sung out their assent, those called deacons by us give to each one of those present to partake from the bread and wine with water over which thanks have been said and they are carried away to those who are not present (65). Those who are prosperous and who desire to do so, give what they wish, according to each one’s own choice, and the collection is deposited with the presider. He aids orphans and widows, those who are in want through disease or through another cause, those who are in prison, and strangers who are sojourning here. In short, the presider takes care of all those who are in need (67)” (First Apology).