The Story and Meanings of The Eucharist

A series of four sermons

Historical background and study material
1: The Gathering of the People of God
2: The Liturgy of the Word
3: The Liturgy of the Supper: the Eucharistic Prayer
4: The Liturgy of the Supper: Communion and departure

1: The Gathering of the People of God: approach and preparation

Sermon preached on Sunday 9th March 2003
(Page numbers refer to our Service Booklet)

This Lent we are thinking about the Eucharist, the staple fare of our worship.

For the next four weeks we shall hear four sermons, going through each section or dimension of the Eucharist: our 'gathering' and preparation; the liturgy of the word; the Eucharistic prayer and receiving of Communion; and our going out into daily life.

These sermons are going to be rather different in feel from usual sermons - with an element of just commenting on what we say and do.

We have deliberately used only one reading and excluded the creed and intercessions to allow an opportunity for questions at the end of the sermon. To encourage this process, we have prepared some questions relating to each section of the Eucharist.

Throughout this service there is a combination and emphasis on both word and action. As Christians we believe that this central act of worship relates to the activity of our world and lives. We are not passive receivers but participants in the common act of God's people.

1. Welcome and Introduction (page 1)
Our purpose is to gather as God's Church; our task is to embody God's love in our locality. It is important to welcome people into our gathering, especially if they are unsure about where to sit or what to do. This can be done informally before the formal entrance of the servers. 'The Lord be with you' - this form of greeting has been in the service of Western Churches since the year 200 (except that it was dropped in The Book of Common Prayer). The meaning may originally have been 'The Lord is with you'; so it would then have affirmed God's presence among his people - a solemn thought for us to share. Some Sundays have a theme and so the host (or President) introduces the theme, welcomes people and draws them together in worship. Then the words and the actions begin.

2. The Prayer of Preparation
This is a prayer to the Spirit for honesty and truthfulness. In both in our lives and our worship. There is a wonderful beauty about these words and feelings of awe and adoration of the mystery of God come to mind and heart. The Prayer speaks of the power of God and of our growing close to God 'from whom no secrets are hid'. The prayer asks that we may be re-shaped and changed in the image of God - for transformation. We approach as friends, coming to the living mystery of wisdom and love.

3. The Summary of the Law (page 2)
These words represent Jesus' response to a question about the essence of the Jewish Law of Moses. He summed it up in these two commands (taken from Deuteronomy in the first case and Leviticus in the second). They show us the two-fold thrust of all morality, and urge us to see that while we have lots of detailed decisions to make or issues to think about, these are the principles never to forget. Love of God and of neighbour over-ride everything else and must be our guide in all that we do.

Love of God most obviously expresses itself in our prayer life, both in our own hearts and in the regular company of our fellow-Christians in the public worship of the Liturgy. Love of neighbour comes out in inner attitudes and opinions, with the quelling of prejudice and dismissal of those groups and individuals we disapprove of, and also in word and deed as opportunity offers or need arises. Both kinds of love can often be costly, and the two belong together.

4. Prayers of Penitence (page 2 & 3)
When we are really open to ourselves and God we find that we are facing more than we bargain for! The reality of sin is part of the truth of our human story. We are warped by illusion and lie - and we have the ability to harm both ourselves and others. We are wounded by our failures both to love others and to receive love. To use a physical analogy - we need open-heart surgery to clear the hardness that impedes the flow of love's life-blood.

The Prayer of Penitence and the Absolution are about inward realities - our contrition, our desire to turn back to God. They are also about social realities - our need to be put right with others. But at root they are about God's love and forgiveness, which is why they belong so centrally in the Eucharist as part of our preparation.

Of course these thoughts represent the framework we live in as Christians at all times but we bring them out at this point because they set the scheme for us to be ready to worship our holy & loving God.

Perhaps this is why it is important for us to bring into the Prayers of Penitence our own needs and the reality of the things for which we need God's healing forgiveness.

5. The Gloria
The Gloria rounds off this section with an opening song of praise: it goes back to the 4th century and is partly based on the angels' song in the Christmas story. It completes the forming of our minds and hearts for what follows.

It is good to feel this spirit in our gathering at a more infinite level.

The Reverend Dr James Woodward

A poem by George Herbert:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Historical background and study material
1: The Gathering of the People of God
2: The Liturgy of the Word
3: The Liturgy of the Supper: the Eucharistic Prayer
4: The Liturgy of the Supper: Communion and departure

Arms of Lady Katherine Leveson

The Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson
Registered Charity no. 213618
Temple Balsall, Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands B93 0AN

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