When recently engaged in conversation with my mother about the Eucharist, I was reminded of Zizioulas’, Being and Communion. The event of celebrating Communion, while a distinctive element in most all churches that name Jesus as the Christ, is the source of too many divisions when the question of its essence emerges. Zizioulas offers some clarity (as far as we are capable of understanding such mystery!) He begins in the beginning: “The celebration of the eucharist by the primitive Church was, above all, the gathering of the people of God…that is, both the manifestation and the realization of the Church. Its celebration on Sunday—the day of the eschata—as well as all its liturgical content testified that during the eucharist, the Church did not live only by the memory of the historical fact—the Last Supper and the earthly life of Christ, including the cross and the resurrection—but it accomplished an eschatological act. It was in the eucharist that the Church would contemplate her eschatological nature, would taste the very life of the Holy Trinity; in other words she would realize [humankind’s] true being as image of God’s own being.”
It was “an event constitutive of the being of the Church, enabling the Church to be.” So, to participate in eating the bread and drinking the wine has implications far surpassing the question of what constitutes the bread when certain words are uttered. That is, it is not merely ingesting food and drink blessed and transformed (the degree to which this occurs is a gamut to great to negotiate here). The rite profoundly evokes the very nature of Christ’s Body and transports to a single moment all of time, beginning to end. It “manifests the historical form…[i.e., “tradition”] through the life, the death and the resurrection of the Lord, as well as through the ‘form’ of bread and wine and a ‘structure’ practically unchanged since the night of the Last Supper…. [It] realizes…the continuity that links each Church to the first apostolic communities and to the historical Christ….” But, to only consider Communion in the context of history and as expressed as institution, is not “the true eucharist.” The action of the Holy Spirit during the invitation to the meal, “is not founded simply on its historical and institutional base, [rather] it dilates history and time to the infinite dimensions of the eschata, and it is that which forms the specific work of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharistic community makes the Church eschatological.” Isn’t that beautiful?! “It dilates history and time” infinitely, yet, now. It is the entire work, yet, present. It is the Kingdom—on earth.
When we gather together to participate in Communion, it is important to ponder why we continue to make the effort. We are not just performing a ritual our Book of Discipline outlines: “it manifests the Church not simply as something instituted, that is, historically given, but also as something con-stituted, that is constantly realized as an event of free communion, prefiguring the divine life and the Kingdom to come.” It eliminates the institution-event dichotomy when “Christ and history give to the Church her being, which becomes true being each time that the Spirit con-stitutes the Eucharistic community as Church…. It is not the sacrament completing the word, but rather the word becoming flesh, the risen Body of the Logos.”
One further implication I am compelled to note. The Eucharistic community, by being Church when participating in this meal, affirms the power that Christ’s life, death and resurrection unleashed—far above all powers and dominion—and makes null the structures that creates the chasm between poor and rich, male and female, Jew and Greek. When we enter and participate in the Eucharistic community, we detonate a power beyond comprehension—of course, the term applied to it is Love. So, I am a bit bewildered by how little impact this event has on our churches—on me. The Eucharist was given and con-stituted to prove the work of Christ in that none would be hungry or have excess. Yet, do we not most often partake in extraordinarily homogenous communities? How might our honest and earnest consideration of this inform our ritual?
Zizioulas, John D. Being as Communion. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985.
John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). 21.