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JosephN

What Does Eucharist Mean To You?

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I have considered myself an atheist for a number of years now, but recently began attending a local Episcopal church. The experience has been very enjoyable overall. The liturgy and music have been uplifting and the openness to different perspectives and interpretations of Christianity within the congregation have made me comfortable with seeking god on my own terms. Though I have been attending services for a few months, I still refrain from reciting the Nicean Creed and partaking the Eucharist. I feel that by accepting the Eucharist I am assenting theological propositions about atonement and the nature of god that still make no sense to me. So I am wondering what others here who don't necessarily accept a literal interpretation of the Jesus story but still attend services think about the Eucharist and what it means when you partake.

 

Thanks in advance for your insights.

 

Joseph

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Hi Joseph,

 

When I was a practicing Catholic, I always made it a point to partake of the Eucharist. I never actually stopped to think if I was assenting to anything theological or not. I did it for the pure experience of it, if there is such a thing as "pure" experience. But, everyone has to decide for themselves why they do or don't do something.

 

Steve

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If I remember correctly Paul and Mark go with the atonement understanding for the meaning of the death of Jesus, while Matthew, Luke and John give other reasons - so in a sense, one might have a choice as to the meaning when they partake of the Eucharist and still be biblically based. Like Steve, as a Catholic, I never thought of atonement or any other explanation when receiving.

 

Catholics believe it is the Real body and blood but there is also an inherent understanding of symbolism in sacramental theology. Transubstantiation was the original explanation of what was happening: literally the accidents remain but the 'underlying' substance is changed. Always a bit of a brain twister.

 

There was a new understanding in Catholicism introduced by a priest theologian years ago (I learned in when I was getting my Masters in a Catholic seminary as a lay person). It was later rejected by the Catholic Church but is similar to the Anglican (Episcopal) understanding. Always interesting how something can be in and then out of favor! I still think the author was on target: much better explanation that resonates with modern experience.

Edited by thormas

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Hello, JosephN. Nice to have you join us here!

 

Many Episcopalian priests are happy to give a blessing in lieu of the bread and chalice. This is how I handle the Eucharist when I'm in an Episcopal church. There's plenty of theological room in the Episcopal church for those who choose not to partake of the Eucharist.

 

Jesus called us to a thinking faith rather than a blind faith, so I think it's quite all right for you to have doubts about some aspects of the Episcopal service.

 

For myself, I think of the Eucharist in purely symbolic terms, as a way to help us open our hearts to the generous gifts of a loving God. Having said that, I'm not in any way dismissing the importance or relevance of faith symbols. I think certain symbols can really help us on our journey. It's how you use those symbols that determines whether the symbols lift you up or shove you down. Part of the journey of faith and relationship with God is learning how to see God's cup as half full (filling you up!) instead of half empty (emptying you of all joy).

 

I wish you much joy!

 

Jen

Edited by Realspiritik

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I like Peter Abelard's thought that the Lord's Supper reflects the transformation of true God and true man found in Jesus. God creates the grain, but raw grains are not digestible. It requires humanity to transform the nutrition in God's grain into something useful by making bread. This is the gospel.

 

God creates grapes, but they rot. Humanity must transform the grapes into wine or they will perish. This is the gospel.

 

In sum, the Lord's Supper is a profound metaphor for the integration of God and mankind into a new creation. God provides the raw materials, and mankind provides the labor. This is the gospel.

 

Humanity and divinity are bought together and transformed into a new creation - Jesus. This new creation cannot be reversed or seperated into the original purely human or purely divine elements. This is the gospel.

 

I reject the RC notion that somehow there is 'more God' or 'purer God' present in the Eucharist. Instead, I think it is more accurate to see the Lord's Supper as the pinnacle of the entire liturgy which is designed to help purify the worshippers by helping them temporarily shed their secularity. The elevation of the host is an ensconsement of God and a unification of the congregation. Not an invocation or new creation, but rather a tight focusing and intense concentration of what was diffusely present all along coupled with a deep spiritual cleanliness.

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I like the comments by Jen and Burl. I had not known Abelard's thought but I like it and will have to read it: the idea that bread and wine are transformed by man into something more.

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Thanks everyone, these are some really great thoughts and a lot to ponder during the next liturgy. Burl, I think I have reread your thoughts a half-dozen times already. It is interesting how even years after leaving my childhood religion, the modes of thinking I learned there still have so much influence over me. I had always been taught that taking the sacrament (our word for Eucharist) was a renewal of baptismal covenants. You had to be worthy to do so, and a big part of worthiness was acceptance of the church's doctrines. Now it seems difficult to abandon that mindset.

 

The Episcopal church I have been attending has been very welcoming and not pushed me in one direction or another, explicitly allowing me to find my own path. I have been happily accepting a blessing in lieu of the bread and wine since I started attending.

 

One other interpretation I recently read that I liked simply referred to the taking of the bread and wine as a commonly shared experience, unifying all Christians, of many different backgrounds, beliefs and modes of thinking dating back to the last supper. I remember when living abroad, I watched a live television program, knowing that my family back home was watching the exact same program at the exact same time. This did help me to feel more connected to them, even halfway across the world.

 

Regards,

 

Joseph

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When I used to take 'communion' as we called it in our denomination, I regarded it as an act of loyalty carried out to remind oneself and focus on the bodily sacrifice Jesus made for man. Often quoted was Luke 22:19......"Do this in remembrance of me". Whilst theological assent wasn't a direct thought, I guess when you belong to a particular denomination you generally do adhere to their view of looking at Jesus & Christianity, so in a sense I would have been aligned to their theology (until I wasn't and then I stopped going to Church).

 

I think like Jen says, this act is just a symbol, so if it's a symbol that offers you something, partake. Just because you participate doesn't mean you are assenting to everything that church believes or says.

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