Thinking allowed

A community of forgiveness and reconciliation

bread and cup

Read­ing the gos­pel accounts it is clear that Jesus spent a fair amount of his min­istry eat­ing. Wheth­er he’s hav­ing private meals with his dis­ciples, pic­nick­ing on a hill­side with a few thou­sand listen­ers, invit­ing him­self or get­ting him­self invited to din­ner, or bar­be­cuing fish on a beach, the gos­pels record a sub­stan­tial num­ber of meal­time occa­sions. Clearly there must have been many, many more meals which are not spe­cific­ally recor­ded, but which are part of the same pattern.

For Jesus some of these meals were teach­ing oppor­tun­it­ies, occa­sions to share with his fel­low diners a story or par­able or some oth­er teach­ing. But they were more than just this. Quite a few of the meals are in the houses of out­casts – tax col­lect­ors, col­lab­or­at­ors, the ritu­ally unclean, adulter­ers, and oth­er sin­ners. Jesus preached the good news of joy, peace, social justice, free­dom from our slav­er­ies; that in God’s king­dom our sins can be for­giv­en, are forgiven.

Jesus taught his dis­ciples to pray: ‘for­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us’ (Mat­thew 6.12, Luke 11.4); and he also taught them: ‘if you for­give any­one’s sins, they are for­giv­en; if you do not for­give them, they are not for­giv­en’ (John 20.23). For­give­ness and recon­cili­ation hap­pen when people for­give each oth­er. When oth­er people for­give us for the wrongs we have done to them then we are for­giv­en; and when we for­give oth­ers for the wrongs they have done us, they are for­giv­en. Jesus, in his life and death, in his teach­ing and in his actions, lived a life of for­give­ness and recon­cili­ation, even at the last, and inspires us to try and emu­late that life: liv­ing in the king­dom, for­giv­ing and being for­giv­en. In this way we are recon­ciled to one anoth­er and are at one with God. In God’s king­dom such for­give­ness is freely avail­able: all cit­izens of the king­dom will will­ingly and freely for­give the people who have wronged them, and no one will bear grudges or hurts. And every­one will be for­giv­en. (Of course, in God’s king­dom every­one will strive not to do wrong or cause hurt, but that’s anoth­er part of the story.)

So when Jesus sat down and ate with out­casts he showed – to every­one who was pre­pared to see it – how near God’s king­dom was, how it was already here among us. He showed how it was pos­sible to live in God’s king­dom of social justice and recon­cili­ation. For­give­ness was actu­al­ized. In the social aspect of shar­ing a meal togeth­er and being pre­pared to accept one anoth­er, to give and to receive for­give­ness, to be recon­ciled to one anoth­er: in doing these things we can glimpse the king­dom, and indeed not just glimpse it but enjoy a fore­taste – the king­dom in action, right here and now.

And that brings us back to the liturgy. Jesus’s dis­ciples con­tin­ued to share their meals as an enact­ment of the justice and peace of the king­dom of God, and in doing so they recog­nized the con­tinu­ing pres­ence of Jesus as they broke bread togeth­er. This meal con­tin­ues to this day, whenev­er Chris­ti­ans gath­er togeth­er and share bread and wine in remem­brance of Christ: Christ is present, for­give­ness and recon­cili­ation are giv­en and received, the king­dom is brought into existence.

This then is our vis­ion of the Euchar­ist. It is a vis­ion that the Church some­times seems to under­stand only very dimly, per­haps because the Euchar­ist – and Chris­tian­ity in gen­er­al – has become over­laid with so many ideas and prac­tices that add ‘reli­gious’, ‘cere­mo­ni­al’ and ‘ideo­lo­gic­al’ com­plex­ity. Some of those lay­ers can be help­ful, and oth­ers may be less so. Here we are con­cerned primar­ily with liturgy, and how the king­dom of God is pro­claimed and lived through the liturgy. How does the Euchar­ist exem­pli­fy the king­dom? What kinds of prac­tice are use­ful? What do we need to recov­er, in our lan­guage and our cere­mo­ni­al? What do we need to pre­serve, or enhance, what do we need to lessen or jet­tis­on? How has the litur­gic­al revi­sion of the last hun­dred years helped or hindered? Quite likely we shall con­clude that there is no single answer, but dif­fer­ent emphases in dif­fer­ent con­texts, with some lim­its, and sug­ges­tions for a range of ‘nor­mal’ usage.

But this is our start­ing point: the pro­clam­a­tion of the good news and the recog­ni­tion of the pres­ence of Christ in the shared meal where all are wel­come, where the hungry are fed, and where sins are forgiven.

‘Your king­dom come on earth, as in heav­en: give us this day our daily bread and for­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us.’

illus­tra­tion by Leigh Hur­lock, from Gath­er­ing for Wor­ship, Can­ter­bury Press, 2005, 2007; used with permission.


  • Maybe, instead of mak­ing the Euchar­ist an insiders’ reli­gious ser­vice, it might bene­fit from being the cel­eb­ra­tion of out­reach, held in turn at hos­tels for the home­less, com­munity centres for refugees, on the street with ali­en­ated youth, or with the eld­erly and friend­less, on pris­on wings with sex offend­ers, and oth­er places where the mar­gin­al­ised might be involved. All done in a cycle of com­mit­ment to selec­ted groups, in the con­text of a shared meal, with the shar­ing of the Euchar­ist: an acknow­ledg­ment of the pres­ence of Jesus and the King­dom, a meet­ing and encounter, an expres­sion of inclusion.

    We used to have the Euchar­ist cel­eb­rated as part of a mid-week bring and share sup­per in a large house owned by one of the church mem­bers. And their wel­come was warm and gen­er­ous-hearted. But that was middle-class people meet­ing with their own. It was sort of insiders.

    The asso­ci­ation of meals and out­siders in this art­icle is thought-pro­vok­ing. Thank you.

    What sort of Church are we? A group of reli­gious people who enjoy meet­ing up with oth­er reli­gious people of their own cul­ture and life­style? Or a Church that reaches out with a mes­sage of inclu­sion for the out­sider, actu­ally enacted, and enacted espe­cially in the con­text and words and cel­eb­ra­tion of the Eucharist?

  • Rod Gillis says:

    Missa Sol­it­ar­ia

    “How does the Euchar­ist exem­pli­fy the king­dom? What kinds of prac­tice are use­ful? What do we need to recov­er, in our lan­guage and our ceremonial?”

    Good ques­tions. I’ve been doing some inform­al research around the cel­eb­ra­tion of the Euchar­ist where the con­greg­a­tion is small to tiny–like the mid week cel­eb­ra­tions often found at the par­ish level or even some cathed­rals. In doing so, I came across an issue I’d not thought about for dec­ades, and that is the arcane and con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of the “missa sol­it­ar­ia”. I recall from uni­ver­sity days that Roman Cath­ol­ic priests often cel­eb­rated a private mass daily, i.e. a mass in which there is only the priest and a single serv­er. The missa sol­it­ar­ia is some­thing else again, no one but the priest with liturgy adjus­ted accord­ingly. I gath­er there is a debate among Roman Cath­ol­ics about wheth­er or not this prac­tice is allow­able for suf­fi­cient cause. I gath­er some Anglo-Cath­ol­ics think the prac­tice can be jus­ti­fied on devo­tion­al grounds. If so, would­n’t that be a lot like eat­ing alone? 

    Per­haps Think­ing Liturgy might do a post on this sometime? 

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