Theology Matters: What Anglicans Believe About Holy Communion
What Anglicans Believe About Holy Communion
I did not grow up Episcopalian, and it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I took the Eucharist for the first time. I remember not going forward for the first few visits I made to St. Mark’s in Troy, Alabama, then finally daring to kneel in front of the altar to take the bread and cup. I walked back to my pew and, following what everyone else was doing, knelt in silence to pray. I could still feel the warmth of the wine in my chest, and taste it on my tongue.
Holy Eucharist is like that, in that even when we have left the altar, it remains with us. It follows us, stuck on our tongues, and in our hearts. When we take the Eucharist, we believe we are mysteriously receiving the presence of God. We know through Holy Scripture that God has showed God’s faithfulness to us in countless ways—the deliverance of the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the creation of the Church, and in even more ways, happening now. One of the many ways God shows God’s faithfulness to us is through nourishing us with the bread of life that will give us what we need to navigate the challenging life of faith.
In our catechism, the Eucharist is described as having the benefits of “forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.” The Book of Common Prayer also says that it is “required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people” in order to come to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is, simply put, a gathering of community. As anyone in a community knows, the life of community is not an easy calling. Being together means recognizing that we have sinned against both God and one another, and asking God for forgiveness. Being together means being reminded of our need for union with Christ and one another. Being together means that we strive to create peace where there is discord as best we can now, in our flawed world, knowing that God has created a place for us in the heavens that has no division within it.
Eucharist is a reminder that we cannot live this Christian faith and life alone. In order to live in community, we are required to examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people, all of which is wrapped up in the thinnest wafer and smallest sip of wine. The Eucharist requires us to dare to get over ourselves through the humble act of receiving the gift of bread and wine, so that we might be transformed by God into a people who treasure the presence of God over our own pride. I may not agree with you, but I will kneel beside you, and together we will taste and see that the Lord is good.
The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. Yes, if we are to have a conversation about what Eucharist means in our tradition, it cannot miss the fact that the Eucharist introduces us to the real presence of God, provides nourishment for the journey, and instructs us in how to be disciples. However, we also cannot miss the fact that for us, Eucharist conjures up within us the overwhelming sense of gratitude we feel for the love, grace, and truth given to us in the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is a mysterious act, and it is intended to be so. What is not mysterious to us when we receive the bread and drink of the cup is the abundant love that is shown to us in God, and our commandment to follow the way of Jesus.
Warde is Associate Rector for Christian Formation for Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas.