by Bruce Epperly
I believe that Church Ahead, the church out of sight but just around the bend, is Eucharistic, Evangelical, and Ecumenical. It celebrates incarnation and the embodiment of God in the world; it shares good news of healing of persons and the planet; and it embraces the whole earth, excluding no healthy spiritual pathway.
Church Ahead is profoundly Eucharistic and sacramental, but not in the narrow sense. Sacraments have often been used to exclude. Some proclaim “outside the church there is no salvation.” Others exclude those who have divergent views of what happens during Holy Communion. Others are banished because of theological heterodoxy, lifestyle, or past behavior. None of this ultimately defines the Eucharist either in church or the world.
The Eucharist in church celebrates the incarnation of God in the messy, flesh and blood, ambiguous world in which we live. The Eucharist affirms that Christ is present fully in memory and bread and wine; that simple elements, grape and grain (including gluten-free) reveal divinity. Eucharist conveys the spirit of Julian of Norwich’s meditation on the hazelnut: As she gazes upon a hazelnut God placed in her hand, she hears God describe it thusly: It is all that is created….It lasts, and lasts forever, because God loves it. Everything that is, has its being through the love of God. God creates, loves, and sustains hazelnuts and all creation, one microsecond at a time.
The fullness of God is present in bread and wine and in those who share in it. All are invited, all welcome, all cherished, not out of their perfection but our common humanity and creatureliness. Eucharist is grace embodied, without condition, without minimal requirement, simply the desire to open to God’s love right where you are. As the Baptist hymn of my childhood affirms, “Just as I am without one plea.” Just as we are, we are loved, we belong, we have a home, and only God can determine the boundaries of the Lord’s Supper, and God’s love embraces all creation.
Church Ahead proclaims a Eucharistic vision of life. Paul Tillich is reputed to have said: In sharing the Lord’s Supper, we make every meal the Lord’s Supper.” The elements are transformed and so are we. Our sharing in Holy Communion invites us to see the universe as incarnational and Eucharistic. God is present in every creature and situation. God’s love is revealed in great white sharks, harbor seals, hummingbirds, osprey and eagles, monarch butterflies, milkweed plants, and sea slugs. All things, as Meister Eckhardt the German mystic proclaimed, are words of God.
Only a Eucharistic vision can save us. Global Eucharist challenges us to world-loyalty. God’s love – indeed cruciform, suffering love – embraces all creation, especially creation defaced and at risk. Eucharist invites us to a new form of consumption – a responsible, grateful, simple life, motivated by reverence for life in its vast variety. God’s body and blood sustain and flow through all things.
Yes, Church Ahead, church in the making, invites incarnational living and loving. From the table at church, we celebrate every table as holy, and expand the circle to include the embodiment of God in the non-human world. As we leave the communion feast, we become God’s partners in healing and sustaining this good earth.
* For the first in this series of reflections by Bruce Epperly, click on the link to view Church Ahead: The Becoming of the Church in a Post-Christian America