Sundays in Easter with Henri Nouwen
On the Eucharistic Life
This is the final Sunday in Eastertide and next Sunday we mark Pentecost. During this season we are contemplating words from Henri Nouwen on the eucharistic life. Our main source is his book, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life.
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Today, we consider two ideas from Henri Nouwen on the next movements of the Eucharistic life. Thus far we have talked about Nouwen’s concern: to show how the movement of the Eucharist connects with our daily lives by following a similar pattern. With the Emmaus story as our text (Luke 24:13-35), we have looked at the first two steps in that pattern: (1) acknowledging our losses and our need for mercy, and (2) hearing the voice of the living Jesus through his word.
Today we meditate briefly upon the next two movements: (3) inviting the stranger to dwell with us, and (4) entering into communion with God and others through partaking of the fruits of creation together.
Here’s Nouwen on these activities:
Maybe we are not used to thinking about the Eucharist as an invitation to Jesus to stay with us. We are more inclined to think about Jesus inviting us to his house, his table, his meal. But Jesus wants to be invited. Without an invitation he will go on to other places. It is very important to realize that Jesus never forces himself on us. Unless we invite him, he will always remain a stranger, possibly a very attractive, intelligent stranger with whom we had an interesting conversation, but a stranger nevertheless.
Even after he has taken much of our sadness away and shown us that our lives are not as petty and small as we had assumed, he can still remain the one we met on the road, the remarkable person who crossed our path and spoke with us for a while, the unusual personality about whom we can speak to our family and friends.
…Jesus is a very interesting person; his words are full of wisdom. His presence is heart-warming. His gentleness and kindness are deeply moving. His message is very challenging. But do we invite him into our home? Do we want him to come to know us behind the walls of our most intimate life? Do we want to introduce him to all the people we live with? Do we want him to see us in our everyday lives? Do we want him to touch us where we are most vulnerable? Do we want him to enter into the back rooms of our homes, rooms that we ourselves prefer to keep safely locked? Do we truly want him to stay with us when it is nearly evening and the day is almost over? (pp. 55, 57)
Entering into Communion
Maybe we have forgotten that the Eucharist is a simple human gesture. The vestments, the candles, the altar servers, the large books, the outstretched arms, the large altar, the songs, the people — nothing seems very simple, very ordinary, very obvious. We often need a booklet to follow the ceremony and understand its meaning. Still, nothing is meant to be different from what happened in that little village among the three friends. There is bread on the table, there is wine on the table. The bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given. The wine is taken, blessed, and given. That is what happens around each table that wants to be a table of peace.
…The Eucharist is the most ordinary and the most divine gesture imaginable. That is the truth of Jesus. So human, yet so divine; so familiar, yet so mysterious; so close, yet so revealing! But that is the story of Jesus who “being in the form of God did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humble yet, eve to accepting death, death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). It is the story of God who wants to come close to us, so close that we can see him with our own eyes, hear him with our own ears, touch him with our own hands; so close that there is nothing between us and him, nothing that separates, nothing that divides, nothing that creates distance.
What I love most about the eucharistic way is its simplicity and accessibility.
The elements of creation set upon a table from which we are invited to partake, Christian worship is akin to “Sunday dinner” as I remember it. Then it was more of a habit in our family and culture. Together. Face to face. Enjoying food and conversation. Often with strangers or guests invited and seated in our midst. Unrushed. Nourishing. Satisfying. A regular, repeated encounter that silently, imperceptibly weaved strong bonds between us.
At its heart, this is Christian worship. This is the Jesus-shaped life.
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Photo by Tim Samek at Flickr. Creative Commons License