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Saturday, July 11, 2015

An Effort to Preserve Unity: Practicing Eucharist



The following is the second in a series of guest posts for
Sacramental Saturday.
This post was written by my friend, Rich Shockey,
whom I met through the GTOE program at NNU,
while he was finishing work for his M.Div. in Spiritual Formation.
Over the past several years,
Rich has offered many insights into the Eucharist,
both in class situations and social media groups.
I am thankful to him for agreeing to post here
while I am at Nazarene Youth Conference!


I play the bassoon. OK, so I used to play the bassoon. I suppose when one hasn’t really played for 15 years, one can no longer be called a master of an instrument. I had quite the love/hate relationship with that bassoon, though. I was pretty good “back in the day.” I might have had some natural ability, but the real reason I was good was because I practiced. A lot. We’ll come back to this.

It seems there has been quite a bit of contentious debate lately, from the SCOTUS ruling to Confederate and Christian flags to ruckus at Nazarene Universities over academic freedom and censure. For a church that is called to be unified, we don’t always appear to be that unified at all. It seems that we are out of practice.

Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.” I wonder exactly what kind of effort we must make.

Consider a musician. If one has not ever practiced playing an instrument, it is highly unlikely that mere effort in that moment will conjure up enough skill and talent to make it sound anything like music. The same might be said for an athlete. Natural ability is helpful, but it will not win championships without practice. In practicing, we rehearse and prepare for the task ahead.

So why all the fuss about practice? Because I think the same can be applied to Paul’s instructions in Ephesians. The effort we exert to achieve or preserve unity is not something that comes spontaneously. We do not just conjure it up and whip ourselves into unity. Instead, this “effort” is something accomplished through spiritual discipline. This is preparation and this is rehearsal. The effort we make to preserve unity is in the rehearsal of that act.

And this is where the Eucharist comes in.

There are plenty of posts and articles defending the need for evangelicals to reconsider the weekly practice of the Eucharist. Rightly so, they often focus on the historical four-fold pattern of worship (ditching Eucharistic practice is a fairly modern practice, by the way) or even on Jesus’ institution of the practice.

But I submit to you that we need the Eucharist to help us in the effort to preserve our unity. In the Spirit. With the peace that ties. We belong to each other, after all, and it takes the regular coming-to-the-table to rehearse that belonging. Every once in a while will simply not do. We need this practice to help us stand face-to-face with one another, to enter into one another’s lives and to practice radical hospitality to each other in table service. At the table, others come first. We make sure all are fed and that everyone gets a taste of those special things reserved for special guests.

And not only are we practicing for the here and now, but we are also entering into the eschatological character of the meal, proclaiming that one day there will be a greater banquet, where all the hungry are fed, all divisions cease, and all suffering ends. That is my kind of meal.

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