Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Without the Eucharist, we cannot exist. . .

In A.D. 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered the destruction of Christian places of worship throughout his empire and forbade any kind of Christian assembly. In fact, Diocletian was convinced, after ruling the Empire for nineteen years, that an extermination of Christians was the only way to restore internal order and pagan religious rites. During this time churches in Abilinitina, North Africa, continued to gather for worship, which resulted in the arrest of the entire church. The Roman officials asked the Christians, “Why did you do this?” And the Christians responded: “Without the Sunday Eucharist we do not exist.” Consequently, the entire congregation was given to martyrdom.  The early Christians understood their relationship with their Lord Jesus Christ to be fulfilled at the Eucharistic Supper each week.

I picked up this from an Orthodox parish newsletter.   In it the priest was decrying the fact that too many of his parishioners moseyed on into the Divine Liturgy whenever they chose and often left early, seemingly oblivious to what was happening in that Divine Liturgy.  He also complained about the many who received the Body and Blood of the Lord only a couple of times a year.  He could certainly be speaking for the average Roman Catholic priest or Lutheran pastor. 

There are too many who come and go throughout the Divine Service as if they were somehow or other disconnected with what is happening there.  Nobody who paid good money to go to a concert would give into such distractions and yet the Lord gives us this treasure freely in Christ who paid for it with His suffering and death upon the cross and some of us act as if it were no big deal.  In other cases, the pastors and elders have to practically plead with inactive members (who claim to believe and who desire to remain on the membership roster) to actually come regularly and faithfully to receive the blessed Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood.  It is as if they were doing us a favor by gracing us with the gift of their presence when the focus is on Christ whose presence in Word and Meal bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation, to all believers who participate in the means of grace.

Without food our bodies die.  Without the food of Christ's Word and Supper, our spirits die and we become empty shells.  It does not matter how healthy our bodies are or how happy we think we are, we are the walking dead without the gracious presence and gifts of Christ.  We cannot exist without the sustenance of the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.  It is not a choice or even a preference.  It is our need.

At the same time, it is also our identity.  We are the body of Christ, the Church, gathered to receive the Body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  Here in the great mystery of the body that receives the Body, the Church is given her identity and the fullness of Christ's life and blessing.

In the same newsletter the priest closes with solemn words of warning -- words too often ignored or disregarded by those who claim to be of the faith and who insist they still desire to be part of the church:

The Holy Scriptures record the angel writing to the Church at Laodicea saying, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot ... So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15,16)  This judgement comes not from the church or the clergy or other Christians but from God Himself. 

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