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)