Every Friday, after the Litany of Reconciliation, those who wish process into Coventry Cathedral and gather in the Chapel of Unity to take part in the Eucharist. They gather not as Protestant or Catholics; Anglican or Methodist, but as Christian brothers and sisters stood around the alter facing each other. There is something very powerful about facing somebody, to see somebody over the alter. I am always reminded, as I come to preside at the Eucharist that we are all gathered as individuals who are, in those moments, united by our faith. We are all unique, diverse, created by God in God’s likeness but in communion we are reminded of our common body. The body of Christ gathered, facing each other, ready to receive Christ’s body afresh.
The Chapel of Unity is dedicated to this mission, to unite ‘the Anglican Church and the Free Church together for Christian service in Coventry.’ Born out of pain and suffering this mission was dreamt of in 1945 and eventually took shape in the chapel that is present today. It is a constant reminder of the unity which we seek and the risk it involves. The room is not perfect, in fact the floor slopes down to where to alter sits. But then the work of reconciliation isn’t perfect either; it is always messy, always difficult and never fully complete. Yet, in the Eucharist we get a sense of its completion. We begin to glimpse what we, as Christians, are striving towards and we begin to hope for a better world.
The Eucharist is one of the most significant acts of worship in the Church; whether you call it Mass or the Lord’s Supper, what we are doing is remembering what Christ did for us and what Christ calls us to do. The word Eucharist, which is what most people call this shared meal means “thanksgiving” and you truly get a sense of giving thanks when you are gathered inside the new Cathedral having come in from the old.
This is the one of first things to take place in any Eucharist service. There should always be time for preparation for the Eucharist and in Coventry it is the Litany of Reconciliation which acts as the preparation. But, after the preparation comes the Gathering. The Gathering transforms the gathered individuals, however many are present, into a gathered community ready for worship. It reminds them why they are there and points them on their journey towards Christ.
The idea of journeying is very prominent in the work of reconciliation. It may not come as a surprise that those who want to achieve reconciliation are often journeying towards it. As pilgrims we gather together and begin our collective journey. But journey’s are no good without a destination, you can wander aimlessly for hours, getting lost, unsure of where you are going if you don’t have a destination to speak of. In the Eucharist the destination is Christ, at the very heart of the Eucharist is Christ. It is the same for the journey of reconciliation, as Christians, at the heart of reconciliation is Christ. We are being called to be reconciled to God through Christ.
Next comes the liturgy of the word. However short this is, it is an important part of the Eucharist and therefore shouldn’t be rushed or skipped over. It reminds us of our story, of where we have come from and of who we are. By reading and interpreting the word of God we are constantly reminded of the journey that faith involves. Whether it be through the eyes of Israel, or the disciples, or the Early Church we are told stories that remind us of our past.
Stories hold a key role in reconciliation. Time and again I have been surprised by people’s stories. As people tell you their story they open up and connect to you. Stories connect people, they help people to begin to understand the journey and they turn acquaintances into friends. Dare I suggest that stories can even turn enemies into friends. At the heart of the ministry of Coventry Cathedral is a story, it is a story full of pain and loss, but it is also a story which united people. It united people around a common cause. It turned enemies into friends and it helped them to discern what their story was.
At the heart of the Eucharist is the story of a God who loves us and wants to be reconciled to us. We should put this story at the heart of any reconciliation work we do, for without it we are simply speaking empty words. It is only through Christ that we can truly be reconciled to ourselves, to our neighbours and to God.
It is in the liturgy of the sacrament that reconciliation truly begins to take shape. This liturgy usually begins with the peace, although there is option to include it elsewhere in the service, it acts as the bridge between the liturgy of the word and that of the sacrament. The peace is a glimpse of reconciliation within itself. Although announced by the priest, the priest is not the one who brings peace. In fact, we are all ministers of Christ’s peace. Just as we are all in need of it as well. It is this peace, sometimes given reluctantly, other times with hesitation, that is perfected within community. This peace will roll on, it will continue as we gather and talk after communion, it will continue as the priest begins to prepare the elements. But more than this, it is a gift from Christ which is perfected as we strive to become more Christ like in our day to day lives.
Once the elements have been taken and blessed, two of the most important aspects of the Eucharist, they are then broken. These words, see below, can be used as a priest fractures the host, which for me, signify the brokenness that unites us all:
We break this bread
To share in the body of Christ
Though we are many, we are one body,
Because we all share in one bread.
Although this is not something that scholars have agreed upon, it has been a prominent idea since the second century. The idea of the broken bread reflecting the broken body of Christ on the cross is a powerful tool for reconciliation and peace. We, as reconciler’s, bring our brokenness to the table and offer it to God. Just as Christ offers us his brokenness. From this broken state wonderful things can come to light. From broken bread and wine outpoured can come abundant blessings and promises of hope.
The final part of the Eucharist is the sending out. This is a crucial part of the service as it reminds us that just as we have been drawn into the mystery of God’s divine love, so are we sent out as messengers of God’s divine love. The Deacon’s proclamation: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” is a strong command. It shapes who we should be as Christ’s followers. We may be pilgrims gathered around the Lord’s table, but we are pilgrims who are sent out with an urgent and important task. As those gathered together in the Chapel of Unity you are reminded of the practicalities of such a task. You are reminded as you exit the Cathedral and see the Old Cathedral ruins, you are reminded when you think of those words “Father, Forgive.” But, we are not sent out alone but as part of a new community. A new community shaped by Christ. We are sent out as part of the body of Christ, challenged to live in love and peace with all.
Reconciliation and The Eucharist
At the heart of the Eucharist is the telling of the story of God’s love for creation. It is a story which reflects not just the nature of reconciliation but God’s heart to be reconciled to us. It reminds us of the gift which God has already offered us and challenges us to shape our lives in response to that gift.
In the Eucharist we are gathered; gently collected by God so that we can be prompted on a journey. We are reminded; we hear of God’s love for us and desire to be reconciled to us. We are reconciled; we are told of God’s love and reconciled to each other, made into a fragile community which is shaped by God. We are broken; we are reminded of God’s brokenness and see it in our broken lives. We are sent; we are challenged to “Go” to be reconcilers in the world, to tell people of God’s love and to bring them to the table at which reconciliation can truly begin.
This is not meant to be a detailed explanation of the Eucharist, it never intended to create a detailed theology of reconciliation in light of the Eucharist. But, I hope it offers pause for thought. For those who are privileged to preside of the Eucharist, I hope it challenges you to rethink how you preside over this sacred meal and what message you are giving to the people gathered. For those whose faith is sustained by the Eucharist I hope it offers a moment of reflection. And, for those who do not know, or are not close to it, I hope this reflection prompts you to see the Eucharist as one of the key tenants for reconciling your relationship with God.
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England
Castle, B, Reconciliation: The journey of a lifetime
Gordon-Taylor, B and Jones, S, Celebrating The Eucharist: A Practical Guide
Davidson, A and Milbank, C, For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions
Dix, G, The Shape of the Liturgy
Schuegraf, O, The Cross of Nails: Joining in God’s Mission of Reconciliation