Yesterday, I posted a couple of thoughts on Rob Bell’s newest book and his thoughts on the church as Eucharist in particular. I think this part of the book struck me because I realize that for most of my life, starting as a child, I thought I pretty much understood what was happening once a month when my church(es) would celebrate communion. It was a time where we remembered our own sin and the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
I think this is an important aspect of what it means to celebrate the Eucharist, although issues arise any time you talk about what it means for Christ’s death to be ‘atoning.’
After a few years of reflection about the Eucharist in a historical and theological sense, I think I’ve come to see it in a new light – probably a deeper and more mysterious light than I have in the past (although I fully admit that I probably have only a glimpse of what this whole thing is about). This is probably partly to do with class discussions, lectures, and readings that talk about varying perspectives on the sacraments/ordinances of the church, and also partly to do with being part of a church community that celebrates the Eucharist each week, which has made it a more centralized aspect of my understanding of the Christian faith.
So, I like it when I hear Bell give more depth and meaning to the Eucharist. It is a time of remembrance, absolutely. But it is a memory that should spur us into action. It is a time where we recognize that through the breaking of Christ’s body and the shedding of Christ’s blood, we were exposed to an incredible, life-changing, world-shattering event that we cannot help but be shaped and molded by. I have begun to look upon our celebration of the Eucharist not just as a time to recognize my own sin, but also to recognize that God has called those who follow Christ to share the gospel with the world – a gospel which involves sacrifice for the sake of others.
The body was broken and the blood was shed not just for my sake, but for the sake of the world. And what does it mean to say that I follow someone who allowed his body to be broken and his blood to be shed? Doesn’t it follow that I, then, should be willing to have my body broken and my blood shed?
I recognize and fully affirm that something was accomplished through the death of Christ that cannot be replicated by human action, and one that need not be replicated again. So, in saying that the followers of Christ, individually and corporately as the church, are called to offer themselves for the sake of the world, I do not see that as an attempt to recreate in any way the atonement of Christ. Instead, our sacrifice should be a spotlight, pointing to the sacrifice of Christ.
But this is still a very heady and intellectual discussion. I haven’t quite figured out what it looks like to celebrate communion as one who is not only the recipient of the Eucharist, but is also called to live the Eucharist out in the world. Maybe I’ll figure that out in another few years.