The Divine Liturgy, more commonly referred to as Eucharist or Holy Communion, defines the Church, but I think that we must recognize the definition of the Church through the Eucharist not simply as an act of worship but also as that which shapes how I am called to live my life out in the world. The Holy Eucharist is what calls the Church towards a new way of living, towards a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, towards a life of giving and receiving. In his book The Eucharist, Fr. Alexander Schmemann outlines every aspect of how the Eucharist enables the Church to become the Body of Christ in a way that is lived in the world – not simply behind the walls of the Church.
Through his exhaustive explanation of each part of the Holy Eucharist, Fr. Schmemann expertly illustrates how each part of the Divine Liturgy builds upon that which it follows. From the gathering of the members of the Body of Christ through the closing prayers, The Great Thanksgiving is precisely that – a great thanksgiving to the Father for sending his Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we gather each week to participate in communion with each other and with God, we are called to shape our lives accordingly – as a great thanksgiving to God.
The impact that reading this particular book had on me is that I now have a deeper understanding of how I am shaped by The Divine Liturgy and how I am called to live out a different kind of life – a life that is no longer shaped according to the desires of the world but by my experience as a member of the body of Christ. To borrow an image from Rom Coles, the experience of partaking Holy Communion should become a pressure against our feet; the pressure we should feel is the pressure of Christ’s hands washing our feet, preparing them for another week’s journey out into the world to be the visible body of Christ that is living and breathing and moving and touching lives in a way that embodies the relations found within the Trinity. While I know that I will never have the ability to reflect the love shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I can begin to go out into the world and share the thanksgiving that I give to God. I can begin to share the love that I find in God as I worship on a Sunday morning, as I write another paper, read another book, meet a new person, rekindle an old friendship, or simply go about the mundane tasks that cannot be avoided. As Fr. Schmemann says,
The purpose of the eucharist lies not in the change of the bread and wine, but in our partaking of Christ, who has become our food, our life, the manifestation of the Church as the body of Christ.*
As one member of the body of Christ, the eucharist becomes the pressure of Christ’s hand upon my feet – cleansing them in order to go out again to minister to the world, and through that ministry, to receive from creation the grace that God granted in the beginning. The pressure is that which pushes me out into the world to give and, importantly, to receive. Just as the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the sharing of the most ultimate love imaginable (and even then I doubt I would be anywhere close to the love that is shared in the Trinity), I go out into the world to give the love of God that is given to me; however, I must also remember that God’s love is also to be received. I must remember to maintain a mind open enough to recognize God’s grace in creation and beyond the walls of the church buildings. When I am able to recognize that love and to receive that love in the most unexpected of places, I am becoming a faithful disciple of Christ because I accept the love that is offered, and I turn and give thanks to God for opening my eyes, ears, and mind enough to recognize another of God’s gifts in creation.
*Shmemann, Alexander. The Eucharist–sacrament of the Kingdom. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. p. 226