Rowan Williams on the Eucharist (1)
Today we continue our series of reflections on Rowan Williams’s book, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, turning to the third big theme of the practice of being Christian — the sacrament celebrating how God welcomes us to his table: the Eucharist.
For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are always guests – that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is, perhaps, the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company. (p. 41)
I have become convinced that celebrating the Lord’s Table is essential to Christian worship. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that much which is called “worship” in churches is, in fact, sub-Christian because it is not adequately centered in the gospel.
The traditional liturgy of the Western Church revolves around two gospel poles: the word of the gospel preached, and the sacrament of the gospel partaken in the rite of communion. Both of these center the attention of the congregation upon Christ. Both are received, emphasizing that our life together comes to us by God’s grace. The two acts build upon one another:
- The word of the gospel proclaims God’s gracious welcome in Christ.
- Then, in communion we are invited to come to the table and be fed.
- The word of the gospel calls us to put our trust in Christ.
- Then, in communion we hold out our empty hands to receive Christ.
Therefore, as Rowan Williams emphasizes, the Eucharist is the practice that emphasizes hospitality. He points to the story of Zaccheus to show that this hospitality begins with God’s welcome, but then grows in ever-expanding circles.
In other words Jesus is not only someone who exercises hospitality; he draws out hospitality from others. By his welcome he makes other people capable of welcoming. And that wonderful alternation in the Gospels between Jesus giving hospitality and receiving hospitality shows us something absolutely essential about the Eucharist. We are the guests of Jesus. We are there because he asks us, and because he wants our company. At the same time we are set free to invite Jesus into our lives and literally to receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist. His welcome gives us the courage to open up to him. And so the flow of giving and receiving, of welcome and acceptance, moves backwards and forwards without a break. We are welcomed and we welcome; we welcome God and we welcome our unexpected neighbours. (pp. 42-43)
8 thoughts on “Rowan Williams on the Eucharist (1)”
Regarding the Eucharist, talk about a ‘holy moment’ experience:
my father’s hospice nurse was also a Catholic Eucharistic minister who carried the Host with her if her patients requested communion. So before my father’s passing, we all gathered around his bed and shared communion with him . . . . . strength for the ‘journey’ ahead.
That memory is very dear to me. Some things you can hold on to when sadness comes, and that memory gave me a lot of strength. It still helps sustain me.
Williams has two other excellent “Being” books: “Being Disciples” and “Being Human”.
–> “I have become convinced that celebrating the Lord’s Table is essential to Christian worship.”
Agreed. And I see the Table as one of the few actually unifying things among various Christian denominations.
+1! I remember the days of kneeling and the communion rail… agree that Holy is the word to describe, that it is more than a wafer, a meal, a sharing… it is the Real Presence.
The trick is to arrange to take communion next to some strapping youngster, who can help haul you up afterwards. I have performed this function many times. I am happy to report that I am not yet at the receiving end, but my day will come.
By happenstance, I wrote this last week, not knowing that it would be a topic today.
I share this with you because I trust you all that we have different opinions and are careful to treat each other gently even when we do not acknowledge the contributors standpoint.
Why I choose to kneel.
Two Sundays ago on leaving the Church Rev Ross very kindly suggested that as I found it difficult to kneel at the communion rail to receive Holy Communion, that it was not necessary for me to do so. I could stand instead.
I find standing difficult to receive, I wobble. Kneeling at the communion rails I have something to lean on and support me. I told Ross this and I also replied that kneeling is something that I have always done and will continue to do for as long as I am physically able.
There was no judgement or authoritative direction from Ross. Just a suggestion from him. We were not at odds with each other and he said it with kindness.
During the following few days I looked at why I feel I need to kneel.
My reasons sound rather dramatic but are the best I can come to.
During the Holy Communion Service, before offering each other the Greeting of Peace we affirm “His Spirit is with us”. This plants our hearts and minds firmly in whose Presence we gather. Therefore we can greet each other with “Peace be with you”. Christ’s Peace is with us as a community and individually.
However, I digress:-
Holy Communion is just that, HOLY. We are in the presence of God whose Son Jesus Christ, was betrayed, arrested, scourged, falsely tried and sentenced to death. The Son of Man, Jesus was crucified and died so my sins could be forgiven.
1James, 1, v9. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
Jesus promise is that to all who are sorry for their sins, believe in Him and confess Him as Lord, that they will have their sins forgiven and life everlasting in His presence in Heaven.
2 Corinthians 5, v17. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is passed away, behold all things are become new.’
So QED. How can I not show reverence in His presence as revealed each Sunday in His offering to me of Holy Communion with Him. Therefore I kneel.
All he suffered for me is a free gift.
2 Corinthians 9 v15 ‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.’
I love Rowan Williams’ writing. It seems to me that, for all that we over-formalise it, worship in the Eucharist is basically a dinner party – we meet to eat, drink, chat and remember, and in doing so incarnate Christ in ourselves and the action itself.