Eucharist (the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper) is central to Christian identity, Christian evangelism, and Christian mission, the Rev. Thomas E. Smith told the recent Moderator’s Colloquium on Ecclesiology here.
The colloquium was organized by General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa and Vice-Moderator Tom Trinidad, and was hosted by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It was co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Foundation.
The conference was shaped around Christians’ shared identity as “being both liturgical and missional communities.
In his address, entitled “The Centrality of the Eucharist,” Smith insisted, “Eucharist involves more than just what is done in worship… If Eucharist does not engender in its celebrants a whole new way of life, then it truly has become an empty and barren sign.”
The congregation he has served for 27 years ― Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes in Angola, Ind. ― includes people from many different religious and denominational backgrounds, Smith said. As a result of so many parishioners asking if they were permitted to receive communion, he developed a new “invitation to the table:
“Friends, this is the Lord’s Table. This is not a Presbyterian table. If this was a Presbyterian table you could all go home now because this would be meaningless. But this is the Lord’s Table. Jesus Christ presides as Host at this table. He invites all to come to His table. All are welcome at His table. Sinners are especially welcome at the Lord’s table!”
As he continued to reiterate Christ’s hospitality, Smith said many were startled by his candidness.
“What right do we have to refuse to eat with Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, or other believers in Jesus?’ he said. “I think the scandal of Christian worship to this day is the divisiveness we display in our Eucharist celebrations.”
Cindy Rigby, professor of theology at Austin Seminary, agreed in her response to Smith’s address. “It is scandalous that people have to ask who can come to the table and remarkable they have the freedom to ask.”
Smith also emphasized the practical aspects for ministry of a wide-open communion table.
“When Christians go forth in love to fulfill their calling as Christians, their love becomes an expression of and a witness to what they have celebrated in worship, namely, ‘God is love. Jesus Christ is Lord.’” he said. “And what makes the Christian incarnation of Christ’s love distinctive in the world is the fact that it is drawn from Eucharistic worship.”
Throughout history, Smith continued, Christians have been recognized by their love for one another, the sick, and the poor. “The union with Christ celebrated and hallowed in the church’s Eucharistic liturgy in worship cannot be abstracted from but is instead intrinsically joined to the Church’s missional witness in the world,” he said.
Lee Carroll, a second year student at Austin Seminary, responded to Smith’s presentation by saying, “The Eucharist is a broad vision of the faith journey. It is communal, not solitary… [Eucharist] is how the unity of Christ takes place.”
Smith concluded that the Eucharist offers a transformational ― not transitional ― experience. “The debt [we owe] makes any reciprocity impossible. Our only response is thanksgiving for mystical union of our lives with Christ.”
A second Moderator’s Colloquium on Ecclesiology will be held at Princeton Theological Seminary in December of this year.
Meg Flannagan is coordinator for hymnal advocacy and relations for the new Presbyterian hymnal, “Glory to God.” She is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.