When we offer the elements at the Eucharist, in the person of the priest, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and shares out his Body. At the same time Jesus accepts and sanctifies our sacrifice of thanks and praise. He takes each of us and blesses us. We are broken, too, as we share his suffering for the sake of the world.
And we are shared out as well. Some of us get caught up in lively debates with people who are vehemently opposed to living a life of faith, sometimes with very good reason after a bad experience of the Church. A person said to me that the Church was full of hypocrites, so I told him there was always room for one more. He came back for more and said, “Do you think you’re Jesus or something”? I told him, “In a sense, yes”. I believe it was Austen Farrar who wrote that as Jesus knew his death was drawing near and that he would be taken out of this world, he took not only bread and wine to be his body and blood; he also took those disciples to embody the continuing power of his Incarnation in the world. For if we, the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, are not living out what Jesus made us at the Last Supper, the expression of his Incarnation in the world today, who else is it going to be? The world has a desperate need for his presence, in the Gospel, in the Eucharist, and in each of us. Somewhere in the complexity of their lives people are invited to discover the living God in the quality of the hospitality which we both offer and receive. If you will, it is the kind of foot washing to which we are all called. Someone has to embody God alongside everyone so that everyone can open up to the God within and around them. It takes the poor in spirit to touch and heal the poverty of the world’s fear and hopelessness. This is a job for us.
So the Eucharist which Christ instituted on the night he was betrayed is not just a memorial of the Last Supper celebrated once a year. It is not just the particular sacramental moment of our regular worship. It is the whole of our life lived in thanksgiving to God. And before we start to back out of the deal because we are unworthy, let us remember that Jesus included Judas in the foot washing and the breaking of bread. No one is left out who does not choose to absent themselves. Give thanks to the God who takes us, who loves us now, and who loves us into becoming that beautiful and holy people whom God already sees. Living as the Body of Christ, the Mass of the Last Supper reminds us, is always about being a guest before ever we are the host. That’s an important lesson about how we engage in God’s mission in God’s world.
Stephen Conway is the Bishop of Ely.