“E” is for Eucharist (February 28, 2012)

…Opening To…

Now let us all with one accord, in company with ages past, keep vigil with our heavenly Lord in his temptation and his fast. (Gregory the Great, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. (John 6:10-11; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “E” is for Eucharist. This word is used in several church contexts and can be a real barrier to entry for newcomers because it doesn’t really look like any other word they might recognize. We use it as a synonym for “Communion,” which is a word that has “union” in it and sort of looks like “common,” so newbies to the faith could get an inkling of what it means. But Eucharist? Yikes! The word just looks tricky.

So if you or someone you know has been wondering about this one, let me break it down to two simple English words: Eucharist means to “give thanks.” It is an ancient Greek word that was essentially ported into English unharmed by the ravages of time and language (which is why it looks a bit funny). When Jesus gives thanks before breaking and sharing the loaves and fishes with five thousand of his closest friends, he is Eucharist-ing.

With this simple meaning under our belts, we can look at how we use this word in church. First, we use it as a name for the service: the “Holy Eucharist,” which encompasses the parts of the service that surround both the Word and the table. We use it as the name of the sacrament of Holy Communion and for the prayers we pray when we consecrate the bread and wine. And we use it to name these two elements after the prayer when they have become for us Christ’s Body and Blood.

Because we use the word “Eucharist” in these several contexts, the definition of the word can get lost. But if we remember that the word means to “give thanks” then those contexts blossom with new meaning. The service as a whole becomes one we enter into with an attitude of thanksgiving. The prayer and the communion become our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The elements of bread and wine become nourishment of God’s abundance, for which we give thanks.

Eucharist is not just an old word that is difficult to understand. It is the entry point to a new outlook on the world – one in which abundance trumps scarcity, generosity defeats greed, and thanksgiving wins the day.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the source of every good gift. Help me to nurture within myself a generous heart that is always on the lookout for blessing, for which I can give thanks. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by your Spirit and willing to open up a larger space within for you to dwell.

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