Transformed and Renewed by the Eucharist
By Robert+ Balfour, Assistant Pastor at Grace Northridge Church
Growing up, my family bounced around from one mainline denominational church to another based on one thing: the preacher. The more entertaining and moving the sermons, the more likely that we would stay at that church for an extended period of time. It was the late ’90s, and the main dish of the evangelical worship service was the sermon, so I can’t blame them. However, when I was drawn to Anglicanism as a seminarian, I began to see the beauty of orienting a worship gathering around the high point of the Eucharist.
The first time I attended an Anglican worship service, I must admit that I found it odd. The vestments threw me off, and my ability to keep up with all of the call and response was clumsy at best. It was very different from the nondenominational churches that I had frequented during college and early adulthood. When it came time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, however, it felt like I had arrived home. I had never experienced such a thorough and participatory retelling of that fateful night when our Lord Jesus was betrayed.
I have often heard it said that the best way to be approachable as a church is to dispense with tradition and to become seeker-friendly. For a time, I agreed with this perspective and felt that this was necessary to contextualize the gospel. With time, however, I realized that removing things like the confession, the creeds, corporate prayer and the Eucharist is reductionism, not contextualization. As James K.A. Smith argues in Desiring the Kingdom, these practices do not just inform us, but form us.
Nowhere is this more true than in the practice of the Eucharist. As we prepare our hearts, remember the good news and receive the body and blood of Christ, we are nourished mind, body and soul. In this ancient practice, instituted by our Lord, we see the confluence of the three streams of Scripture, Sacrament and Spirit. The liturgy is dripping with biblical references and allusions, reminding us of the essential truths of the gospel. In our recitation of the Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts!” “We lift them up to the Lord!” ), for example, we join the historic Church going back to at least the third century in the practice of lifting up our hearts to the Lord.
Finally, as we receive the wine and bread, we don’t simply receive a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice, but a measure of the grace and new life that this sacrifice purchased for us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed and renewed each week to more fully reflect the hope and life of Christ to a hurting world.
Last month, the men of Grace Northridge Church finished our semester-long study of the book of Mark in an upper room of the church. Father Brit Carpenter led us through a study of the Last Supper from Mark 14:12-26, and then we celebrated the Eucharist. At the end of the night, a man who had joined our study from a neighboring church said, “I have never experienced communion like that. That was so deliberate and meaningful.” Preaching will always be a central part of worship, but the climax of our Anglican worship is the Eucharist. This is not because we are ritualistic or superstitious, but because it reminds us of the truth that has forever altered the world: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Rev. Robert Balfour has a Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary and is the Assistant Pastor at Grace Northridge Church in San Antonio, Texas. He and his wife, Lauren, have two sons, Theo (4) and Peter (2), and are foster parents to Ezra (1). When Robert is not writing sermons or overseeing a creative community center called Old School Makerspace, he enjoys running, roasting coffee and building furniture.