At the end of my previous post, I referred the Eucharist as a “sign and pledge” of God’s love. So what I wanted to share now were some thoughts on how God shows us His love with us in the course of Eucharistic worship, as well as how we offer Him our love in return.
There are a ton of ways to talk about love and how it’s communicated. One way of approaching this subject is by making use of Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” scheme. Under this popular (and actually useful, in my experience) scheme, there are five major ways in which people like to give & receive love in their relationships with others: 1) physical touch or presence, 2) quality time or conversation, 3) words of affirmation & encouragement, 4) acts of service, and 5) gift-giving. These are all pretty self-explanatory, but if you care to explore more precisely what these mean, you can check them out on Gary’s website.
Physical Touch & Presence
In some ways this is the most obvious, and perhaps less obvious in other ways. “When two or three are gathered” in the name of Christ, there Christ is in the midst of them. Simply gathering to worship is an invocation of the presence of God in a special way, and in the course of Eucharistic worship we acknowledge and respond to that presence accordingly. We begin with acknowledging God’s holiness through both praise (Glory be to God on high…) and confession (Lord, have mercy upon us…). We continue to acknowledge God’s presence in His written word by responding to the scripture readings in praise (Psalms) and in encouragement (sermon) and in prayer (Prayers of the People). We continue to acknowledge God’s presence in His sacramental word by celebrating and receiving Holy Communion itself. In particular, the Words of Institution (this is my body…) and the Epiclesis (asking the Holy Spirit to descend upon the bread & wine) point us to the special presence of Christ in the elements. There are other prayers that the congregation says aloud which also highlight the working presence of Christ.
Meanwhile, how are we showing love to God in our presence? In a way, everything I just described is also our returning act of love and worship to God in response to his love: we come into his presence, we come forward and receive him in bread and wine, actually consuming Christ within our very bodies. Additionally, though, there are physical acts of worship that many of us undertake to express our love for God: making the sign of the cross, lifting up our hands, standing up, kneeling down, and so on.
Quality Time & Conversation
Beyond physical touch and presence there’s another route of showing love: being engaged together in a common activity or conversation. Because worshiping God is itself a Holy Spirit-inspired activity, literally all worship counts as “quality time” between God and man.
Leaving it at that might be a bit of a cop-out, so here’s an excellent example of this love language at work: praying the Psalms. Why? Because they’re simultaneous expressions of human worship and the written word of God. They are prayers and songs that God’s people pray and sing to Him from ancient times until eternity, and yet are also prayers and songs that our Lord Jesus himself also said. They are the ultimate example of synergy – human and divine working together at the same thing for the same purpose. Now that’s quality time!
Words of Affirmation & Encouragement
God speaks to us during a worship service. His love for us is often communicated through the sermon. His love for us is stated in the absolution (and the “comfortable words,” if you follow an historic Anglican order). His love for us is also stated through various prayers around the Eucharist, including prayers that the congregation prays before and after receiving the bread and wine, though not as directly as the ones I mentioned first.
Our love for God is directly expressed through words also in the Gloria, in many of the Psalms, as well as through the various hymns and songs that adorn our worship of God.
Acts of Service
Acts of Service… does God do things for us in worship? Absolutely! In confession and absolution he removes our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. In the body and blood he washes out our sin and refills us with himself. We don’t just remember “the completed word of Christ” (as Protestant theology & spiritually would say); we actually receive the effects of Christ’s work in our very lives.
And indeed we offer God our own acts of service in loving response. When we bring the bread and wine to God, symbolic of the work that we as the human race undertake to steward God’s creation, there is a multi-layered offering of mutual service. First, God provides us wheat and grapes, then we transform them into bread and wine for our physical sustenance, and then God transforms them again into the body and blood of Christ for our spiritual sustenance. It’s a beautiful picture of God and man not just working together (as I mentioned earlier) but also serving each other in love!
Finally there’s the question of how God loves us through gift-giving. Once again the Eucharistic worship of the Church does not disappoint. At the end of the Eucharistic prayers, just before everyone receives the bread and wine, the priest announces “the gifts of God for the people of God…” For in addition to the sacrificial remembrance and the mutual service and all the other layers of meaning and significance in Holy Communion, it’s also a Sacrament – a means of grace – a gift from God for his people.
And gift-giving goes both ways. Although “we are unworthy to offer to God any sacrifice,” nevertheless we offer ourselves to him anew every time we come before his throne and the table of the Eucharistic feast. We physically do this in the Offertory, giving back to God a portion of what he has already provided us. The tithe, as in the Old Covenant, remains a helpful starting-point that shows us how to give sacrificially back to God, though the various other sorts of biblical offerings (not to mention the many other assorted teachings on generosity) also teach us to give more widely and extensively beyond the tithe. Of course, the Offertory is more than about money, through our physical giving we offer God our very selves. Just as Christ offered himself for us on the Cross, and offers himself to us through the Eucharistic food, so too do we offer ourselves to him.