Sunday, April 22, 2012

Invitation to Transcendence

If you thought we were finished with Easter, think again. The Season rolls on.

 It’s not just that there is a seven-week-plus period of time we label “Easter”. More than that, we’re starting to catch on that the Easter experience infects the whole life of the church. Rehearsing the different facets of the narrative helps us absorb a story that changes hearts and minds, and renews lives, including ours.

 In a very real way, Easter lingers on in the life of the church and becomes the dynamic theme of the Christian faith. This is true in our liturgy as well. Easter keeps popping up, on any Sunday, at any time. Again and again the Easter message finds expression in our praise and prayers.

For example, when we gather around the Table for the Lord’s Supper, the invitation often used includes a paraphrase of part of the account of one of the appearances of the risen Christ (Luke 24:30-32*):
According to Luke,
when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples,
 he took the bread, and blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened
 and they recognized him.

The next lines transfer that biblical experience of awareness and awe from the two disciples to all of us gathered at the Lord’s Table:
This is the Lord’s table.
Our Savior invites those who trust him
to share the feast which he has prepared.

This is not a casual connection. The words of the liturgy were crafted intentionally to make sure we realize that our ritual acts at the table are related to what happened at another table so long ago.

Now the temptation is to squeeze time and push the two events, the Emmaus meal and our Lord’s Supper, together. By so doing, we might imagine that we are going back in time to be with Jesus just as the disciples were.

Yet if we do that, the Lord’s Supper becomes nostalgia, a fond, and often foolish, remembering of things gone and lost forever. Quickly the experience is filed away like faded photographs, and while it may have been nice in the moment, is has no continuing impact.

Yet the two events at two different tables, one set nearly twenty centuries ago, and the other where we are today, are, in fact, brought together now. The experience of the disciples then, becomes our experience now: our eyes are opened and we recognize the Risen Lord in the common acts of breaking bread and pouring wine.

Clearly this is not a ritual to plow through quickly. It calls for reflection, for pondering, for wondering, for looking inward as well as outward in the community of faith. We are to approach this table expecting something to happen, anticipating a promise to be kept.

The words of the liturgy introduce more than an act of serving bits of bread and sips of wine to a crowd—they are an introduction of a Person, Christ himself really present in our midst. The liturgy invites us to transcendence. What was beyond our grasp before is now in our hands. What has been ethereal and wispy is now tangible and true. What may have been abstract is comprehensible. What seemed otherworldly is real. In short, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the transcendent becomes immanent.

This is a repeated mystery. Again and again God’s people find themselves around a table they thought was theirs to meet the Living Lord as their Host. The words of the liturgy make the introduction.

Is there a sense of awe and mystery when Communion is celebrated at your church? Do people expect anything wonderful to happen?
*When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" (NRSV)

1 comment:

  1. Transcendence is lost upon many today, the Word of God Incarnate, who substituted Himself for us, being substituted for our first principles and decisions. In this way we remain enemies of His Grace and Truth for us in our times. Yet He calls, He calls all to His Transcendence, His Holy Love, His Divine Will.

    Jack McKenna


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