For much of Christianity it has always been clear what the “main event” is. Within a vast array of worship practices and preferences, of ways of doing the church thing, of competing theologies and cultural expressions all historically-mined Christians, those whose expressions are rooted in the larger Tradition of Christianity have all agreed that the central worship act of the Body of Christ is the Eucharist, Holy Communion. Now, to those for whom preaching or (in the case of many nowadays) singing is central, this may come as a surprise. In fact, throughout history there have been times and places where many Christians did not or could not attend the Table for weeks or months at a time. The record is clear though about the Eucharist’s importance. The Reformers, the Wesleys, and countless revival leaders have pushed for more frequent Communion seeing in it the pinnacle of Christian devotion and expression of worship. But why? What is it about the Eucharist that gives it prominence as the Christian “main event”? Here, in no careful order, are some brief considerations in light of this question.
1. The Eucharist proclaims “Christ crucified” in the manner Jesus requested.
It is at the Table of the Lord that we most dramatically and mystically “show forth” Jesus’ death for the sake of the world. Framed carefully within the story of redemption, quoting conscientiously the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, we remember and live out the experience of him who was taken, blessed, broken, and given “for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins”. This, in picture, word, and spiritual reality, is the Gospel made spectacle by the Church.
2. The Eucharist allows us to receive Jesus.
The “remembrance” in which we share Communion is not a “bringing to mind”, but a “bringing to the present”. In the presence of those gathered (all it takes is two or three) in his name, the Spirit sanctifies a meal and those who partake in it partake in Jesus. He said his body was true food and his blood true drink. We don’t let the arguments get out of hand about how exactly this is the case. The witness of Scripture, the testimony of Tradition, and the reasoned experience of God’s people bear witness that, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, the cup we drink is a sharing in the blood of Jesus. We see bread and wine. We “feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving”, as the liturgy instructs us.
3. The Eucharist calls the world to Jesus.
Jesus’ blood was shed “for many”. We come to the Table sharing, with all the saints of history, a longing for the whole world to join us there. I remember “altar calls” to the tune of “There’s Room at the Cross for You”. Eucharist is the ultimate Altar call. It makes present in the breaking of bread the Passover sacrifice of Jesus. The Table becomes for us the Cross. It is not that Christ is being sacrificed again but that we are present again at his sacrifice. All of the world is called to come to the Cross, to Jesus. We are not, in setting the Table and receiving there, staging an object lesson to illustrate the gift of Christ for us all; rather, we are mystically present in, sharing, and offering to the world, the reality of Calvary as it is present for us. This is “worship evangelism” for the ages.
4. The Eucharist anticipates the renewal of everything.
In drinking the Cup we look for the day when, as Jesus promised, we shares it with him in his Kingdom. Eucharist brings us to the heavenly table of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Just as Eucharist brings present to us spiritually what in terms of time is history, the crucifixion of Jesus, it brings present to us as well that which in terms of time remains future hope, the coming again of Christ and the defeat of death and the renewal of the created order. For a moment as we receive Eucharist, we envision ourselves as the pure Bride receiving her Husband at the Last Day. The dead have risen, sin is no more, and Jesus is King and Lord. This is the present reality of Holy Communion. It is at Eucharist that we proclaim the mystery of faith: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Alleluia!