Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Desert Spirituality for the Emerging Church 3

Last post I discussed how the celebration of the Eucharist was essential for the desert fathers & mothers, despite their seeming individualism. But what about us? To answer that question I'll look at my own specific church community: Emmaus Way, a non-denominational emerging/missional church here in Durham, North Carolina. I won't make sweeping generalizations; certainly this proposal would not be appropriate in Catholic or Orthodox traditions. But for those from a more low-church background who are tired of downplaying the Lord's Supper, consider this one way back to a sacramental life in Christ.

Celebrating the Eucharist at Emmaus Way is very different than for Palamas, the hesychasts, and the other desert monastics in many ways. For one thing, we are free-church sacramentalists. For us, what makes Eucharist more than mere bread and wine is not the blessing of a specially qualified leader, but the involvement of the whole community in the act of Eucharist. We do not simply receive the bread and the cup, but all actively share it with those in line around us. When we break off a piece of bread for someone we say, "This is Christ's body, broken for you". When we pour wine or juice for one another, we say, "This is Christ's blood, shed for you." Additionally, we practice an open table at which all are invited to participate, which is a significantly different practice from traditions like Eastern Orthodoxy in which Communion is restricted to baptized and confirmed members of the Church.

But these not-insignificant distinctions aside, at Emmaus Way we share with the monastics the conviction that regular participation at the Table is essential for our life together as the people of God. With St. Mary of Egypt we look forward to it with "irrepressible love and longing". It is the focus and high point of our gathered worship, which is liturgical in structure though not always in content; we use everything from contemporary songs to ancient hymns, organized so that before Eucharist we have a song of confession and a song of absolution, or sometimes we celebrate the Great Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer.

We celebrate the Eucharist every week, which is somewhat unusual for people in the free-church tradition, but for us has become essential. Indeed our very name, Emmaus Way, reflects that focus. "Emmaus Way" comes from the story in Luke 24, in which two disciples are traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus. The resurrected Jesus appears to them as a stranger, and explains to them from the Scriptures the meaning of his death. When they arrive at their destination, the disciples invite Jesus in, and he breaks bread for them, finally revealing himself.

This story illustrates so many of our values: the importance of hospitality, a passion for the Scriptures, the missional, on-the-road nature of Christian life. But as important as those themes are, from this story we learn that it is truly in the breaking of bread together that Jesus is experienced for who he is.

What role does Communion play in your spiritual life and church community? Why is it important?

Up next: Community/Simplicity

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