the sign of love...
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I have to say that in just 87 pages (I love short books) Timothy Gorringe manages to pack a lot of material in! In six highly readable brief chapters he discusses the concept of 'sign', seeing the eucharist in that context; the historical development of eucharistic practice from the simple table fellowship of Jesus to the protected 'ritual' of church worship; the economic and political implications and demands of eucharistic observance; the eucharist as a fashioning of new community; and the centrality of the picture of the Trinity, explored through the lens of Rublyev's famous fifteenth-century icon (used as the image on the book's cover), which demands that eucharistic worship be earthed in relational reality.
Gorringe also addresses some of the great issues of our day - the environment, international debt and trade justice, and human sexuality; and finds keys to understanding these in the eucharist. Not bad for 87 pages!!
For me, though, the most exciting and illuminating insight Gorringe offers is in his sketch of how (what we today understand as) eucharistic worship was deeply rooted in Jesus' ongoing table fellowship. Gorringe reminds us that it was at table that Jesus showed grace and acceptance to 'tax-collectors and sinners', earning him criticism and accusations (Mark 2:16, Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:19), and argues that at the Last Supper Jesus simply continues in this vain of using table fellowship redemptively. As such, it should be a rite offered by 'the Church' to anyone who wishes to partake, as it becomes a means of connecting with God's grace and with the community of faith - a sign of the gospel being proclaimed. Rather than admission to communion following on from baptism, Gorringe argues that the eucharist should be offered unconditionally to all, and may itself become a significant part of a person's story leading them to baptism and identification with the community of faith.
For the record... I'm with Gorringe here! It seems to me that closing the doors to the eucharist runs counter to the grace with which we see Christ opening the doors of table-fellowship to (literally) all and sundry! We've taken a redemptive sign of the kingdom and turned it into an exclusive and solemn ritual, which can only damage our witness to a culture that is rediscovering the significance of symbol and participation. As Gorringe writes...
"If the eucharist is, then, rooted in Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, not exclusively, but as importantly as it is rooted in the Last Supper, what an irony it is that receiving communion was hedged about in the way it was with dire warnings to 'the wicked'. If we eat and drink unworthily, according to the homilies in the Book of Common Prayer, 'We eat and drink our own damnation ... we kindle God's wrath against us; we provoke him to plague us with divers diseases and sundry kinds of death.' This is a far cry from the meal with Zacchaeus indeed!" (p21)
We talk of 'celebrating the eucharist' - maybe we need to rediscover that celebration at the core and throw the party doors wide open.