Why did Jesus ask his followers to break bread and drink wine and remember him?
Different Denominations have different answers:
- We remember, we celebrate, we receive, we affirm, we proclaim” (Baptist).
- “For a heightened sense of vigilance in our souls, for the remission of our sins, in order to enjoy fellowship and grace with the Holy Spirit, as a pre-cursor to inheriting the Kingdom of heaven, for confidence and encouragement and in order to avoid judgment and condemnation” (Orthodox).
- “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1391). “Also, Holy Communion separates us from sin, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from future mortal sins. Sometimes people feel a deep sense of peace when they receive the Eucharist. This is a gift from God, too. However, a lack of emotion when you receive the Eucharist does not mean that you are doing something wrong or that you are not receiving the fruits of Holy Communion.” (Roman Catholic).
- The Passover meal called people to look back, look in, look around and look forward (David Watson). The Eucharist, Mass, Breaking of Bread is an opportunity for us to get right with God, to affirm our unity with each other, and to proclaim what Jesus has done and will do. Hans Kung wrote: “Essentially, therefore, the Church must be a meal-fellowship, a koinonia or communio; it must be a fellowship with Christ and with Christians, or it is not the Church of Christ.” David Watson also suggests that when we really come together, we can expect Christ to move with power among us: “It is quite often at this service that I have seen unbelievers brought to faith in Christ; others are convicted of sin and drawn back to the Saviour; others are healed.”
Christians have differed for centuries, but there are some questions that need to be addressed by all of us in the 21st Century:
- Has I Corinthians 11 been interpreted wrongly over the centuries to justify a restrictive control of the Mass or Eucharist? If Paul is simply arguing for equality between rich and poor, then are some of the denominational church constraints on the Eucharist built on shaky foundations? Have the followers of Jesus been deprived down the centuries of something powerful for the pressures, failures and challenges of daily life?
- Can we accept that people go through different seasons in their lives and may find different things helpful at different time? Some people want stability in their relationship with Jesus, but others thrive on variety and constant challenges. Love means never despising the person who wants to follow Jesus but is called to do it differently from you. How can we concentrate on the things that unite us and park for another time the things that divide us?
- The work of the Holy Spirit was marginalized for centuries, as has been the ministry of women. We can see over the last 60 years the effects on church life of a new freedom for the Holy Spirit and for women in leadership. Have the institutional churches held power over lay people for centuries by controlling who can preside/celebrate/administer and the format of the Mass/Eucharist/Holy Communion? Has the desire to ensure the sacraments are properly managed limited the grace that comes from them? Might the time now be right for a release of the power of the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine after the study of the Bible?
- Do Fresh Expressions of Church require Fresh Expressions of the Sacraments? Might a new freedom bring a renewal of faith in Jesus and an attraction for new people?
It was a Roman Catholic friend who suggested that the story in Luke 24 of the two Followers of Jesus walking home to the village of Emmaus is a prototype of the Mass: they studied the Bible together, the Risen Jesus was revealed to them in the breaking of bread, their depression was lifted (“Didn’t we feel on fire?” they said) and they promptly went off and took action.
So we have been experimenting with an Emmaus Meal: an Agape Meal is about companionship, but an Emmaus Meal is about encountering the Risen Jesus
We are all short of time and under pressure: but our Emmaus Meal can be not only for busy people, but also serve as a a simple introduction to other ways of celebrating the Mass, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread
Next time you have a Home Group, a Bible Study, a Discussion Group, a Youth Group, a Student Group, a Workplace Christian Union, a Messy Church, a Café Church, then if it is appropriate, why not try an Emmaus Meal as you close and see what happens and how people feel? We would love to know: