In the Eucharist we come into the presence of the Lord and all his redeemed creatures.
In the Eucharist God comes to us, to mankind. Heaven comes down to earth, and the two are joined. This reveals us that the world is God’s good place for us and that is it is being redeemed, and that it is not a mistake and will not be abandoned. The limits of our material world now open to reveal the beginning of a creation, in which earth is in permanent relationship with heaven, and always being renewed from it. Our prayers rise up to reach heaven, and the servants of God come down to us, bringing all the good gifts of the Spirit to make us holy.
In Christ’s presence we are free. Our confinement is over and there is no one telling us to be quiet. We can be thankful and joyful and we can sing, and do so with people who share the same joy and who sing with us, ‘with one accord’. We sing ‘Thou only, O Christ, art most high in the glory of God the Father…’ In other words, there is only one Lord. Though there are many masters and authorities, they are all pretenders. In worshipping Christ we reject the claims of all the power-mongers and ‘gods’ of the present. This worship tells the truth, liberates us from falsehood, and this is a huge relief.
In the Holy Spirit we are in God’s presence. Each Eucharist is an epiphany. In faith, and through the scriptures, we get a glimpse of the Lord with all his redeemed creatures around him. At its simplest we see Jesus before us as in the transfiguration (Mark 9) with Moses on one side and Elijah on the other. Perhaps this view is clearer for worshippers when the priest is accompanied by a server on his left and right. As the bible is opened and worship proceeds we may see Jesus with the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament on one side, and with Mary, the disciples and all the people of the New Testament on the other. Our view can become clearer still when the figures of apostles and saints on walls and windows are pointed out to us as they appear in the lessons.
Christ comes to us, and then we are there with him. Each of us is directly before him, in his company. In the Eucharist we are no longer alone, so our isolation is over. Nothing is required from us that Christ does not provide for us. We no longer have to struggle against other people in order to get what we want or to establish our identity. Christ knows who we are, and has a much higher view of us than we do ourselves, and he is making us part of his own holy people.
All week long we are out being soaked in the drizzle of modern English unhappiness. Coming in to where Christ is, is like coming in out of the rain. When we come in we receive his comfort and encouragement and he gives his servants to minister to us. We are covered with bruises and sores, and we need to put down the burdens of our own sins and of all the sins of other people that we also carry.
In the week and in secular life all of us are in the grip of forces that pound away, individualising and atomising us. We are broken up into ever smaller pieces, becoming strangers to one another and to own (younger) selves. But in the Eucharist all those pieces are re-assembled and we are put back together. And all week long we are homogenised, the individuality drained out of us, but in the Eucharist our unique identity is restored to us.
And we are brought together. Our Lord sets many other people before us. We are brought face to face with those who are not like us and who cannot be made subject to our will. They may be bafflingly unlike us, but we have to receive some element of Christ from each of them. We have to look for Christ in them, and receive him by receiving whatever they have to give us, which may be hard as much as it is comforting.
We are being brought into relationship with those who are presently living and with those who are, to us, dead. Though they are dead to us and to each other, they are not so to Christ. They are alive because he does not end the relationship he has with us. Though we are presently hidden from one another in different pockets of time, no one is beyond his reach. I am contained by the years 1961-2015, and have no first-hand experience beyond these 54 years and so cannot communicate with anyone who does not share some of these dates. But every Sunday in the Eucharist the lid of my container lifts and I can see straight out towards all other space-time containers, I can breathe the air and hear the voices of all sorts of other times and places. I can hear the saints, and join their prayers which they return thanks to God from and on behalf of these other times and places
So like Jacob sending his flocks ahead to Esau, Christ sends us many people ahead of him. We have to receive him by receiving them, and we may not refuse any. Through discipleship, each of us is purified of our fear and consequent aggression, and turned outwards towards others; so we are transformed from one degree of Christ-likeness to another, from partial to whole and perfect, to become catholic persons in unconfined relationship. So in the Orthodox world when people go to Church they go straight up to the icons of the saints and greet them with a kiss. This communion is a living relationship with generations of the saints. They passed on the gospel to us, they suffered and came through and that is why we have the gospel today.
Now we are in the upper room, at supper with the Lord before he goes into action against the powers of Death. His passion and cross are the cup that has drunk down on our behalf (Mark 10.39), and the Passover by which he leads us through the sea of violence and out into life on the other side. He will take us through the gap that will open where we presently see only the altar and East wall.
The Lord draws us and all the other broken pieces of creation together and bakes them into one loaf. All the creatures that were at war with one another are reconciled and all parts are transformed into one single creation, made visible by this one loaf. When the loaf is raised (host elevated) we see that united and transformed creation, in which we will be members of his body.
At the end of the service, we are sent out back on our journey through the world, but the service and the worship continues. Each one of us carries the Eucharist within us through the events and circumstances of the week. The holiness of God is burning away inside us, so each of us is the lamp that brings light to whatever we see and the truth of this salvation to whoever we meet.