But in gathering around that altar, we’re remembering the core story of our faith. We reenact it, a time-travelling imagination that connects bread and wine across centuries in remembrance of shed blood and a broken body and their restoration, because the only reason this imaginative leap is possible and necessary is because of the Resurrection.
There’s a danger in divorcing the story from the ritual. It’s easy to receive communion and take it for granted, a moment in a service that becomes no more important than than the coffee served afterwards. On maybe it’s become magic, a ritual that we hope will change the world in our favour, a metaphysical transaction, the power lying in the elements and an incantation rather than in the one being remember.
There’s debate over whether the Last Super was a formal Passover meal, but either way, stories would have been on the minds of everyone as they celebrated the liberation of their people from slavery. So when Jesus breaks bread and pours wine and asks his followers to remember all that is to happen, he’s tying in to a tradition of remembrance and of storytelling that build and unites communities around their meals together. It’s a story of pain and brutality, betrayal and politics, hope and love, grace and redemption. It’s at the heart of Christianity and forms a bridge from history and from heaven into our lives and souls here and now.
So it’s a heartbreak if the Eucharist becomes reduced to an empty ritual. The bread and the wine carry with them a story that has the power to change us, and that’s something glorious, something to celebrate. In her book on the Eucharist, the writer Sara Miles says:
I understood why Christians imagined the kingdom of heaven as a feast: a banquet where nobody was excluded, where the weakest and most broken, the worst sinners and outcasts, were honored guests who welcomed one another in peace and shared their food.
Whenever we’re close to turning Holy Communion into a vain repetition, we need to think of this and find a way to rediscover this memory of hope and grace. This might need us to reframe and retell the story, to bring our imaginations and our artistry into the fray to remind us of why we walk forward and take the bread and wine. After all, there are days on which we need to re-enchant our rituals.
There are other days, of course, when we need to re-enchant the world itself.
To be continued…