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Be present now dear risen Lord

The Eucharistic presence from Emmaus to us and to the end of time

They had not recognized him as he walked with them on the road to Emmaus, but when they had invited him to stay with them and they were sitting at the table they recognized him as he broke the bread.

This appearance of the risen Lord on the day of his resurrection established the strongest possible link between his personal presence and the celebration of the supper in which the bread is broken and shared as he commanded. It was scarcely three days since he had set the pattern which he commanded to be continued, when

They must have shared many common meals with him and the familiar sign of giving thanks and breaking the bread might well have brought back earlier memories of him presiding at their fellowship meals; but here was more than a memory. He had indeed given them the sign precisely for that purpose, to remember him. Yet, it was commanded of them more because he had promised to be present himself whenever they would share this meal. They would share in the life of his resurrection as they shared the "living bread":

From the day of his resurrection onward his disciples met on the first day of the week to break bread with thanksgiving in remembrance of him and there to experience his living presence. So to this day Christians all over the world pray for his presence and expect to share his life in the communion of the bread and wine. (Communion means sharing and fellowship.) With such hope and faith believers have sung prayerful hymns like Be present at our table Lord and Jesus stand among us, in thy risen power, and specifically with reference to the Emmaus experience as a model for the Lord's Supper Be known to us in breaking bread. It was with the same intention and with a desire to say more of what the presence of the risen Lord means to me, in the fellowship of believers at the Lord's table, in service in the world and the hope of sharing in the heavenly banquet, that I wrote a new hymn: Be present now dear risen Lord.

Let me use the words of this hymn to say a little more about the relationship between the resurrection of Jesus and the celebration of the Eucharist or holy communion, beginning with the experience of the two who walked with him on the road to Emmaus. This will serve also as a way of teaching some of the basic principles in the way the church understands this sacrament.

First, the relationship between the scriptures and the sacramental presence of the Lord is important. Did you see this in Luke's account? After he vanished from their sight,

On the road, they had told of their distress at the death of Jesus of Nazareth,

So the Word of God literally came alive for them as he made a link between himself and the Jewish scriptures. We still study the Old Testament; and a gospel reading is normally required at any celebration of the Lord's Supper. The scriptures witness to the Word who is Christ himself. We pray for knowledge of the living Word in the first verse of the hymn:

Be present now dear risen Lord,
help us to know the living Word;
teach us your true Emmaus way;
reveal yourself to us today.

We begin with an expression of devotion dear ... Lord. We come in love of the Lord and believing in his resurrection -- dear risen Lord -- which is the fundamental belief that qualifies any person to be a member of his fellowship. Confident in the fulfilment of his promise to be present when people gather in his name, we pray for his presence now. Then we seek his teaching in a way which makes himself known as he did on the Emmaus way. This knowledge is a relationship with the living Word, the Word that was with God at the beginning, and was God [John 1:1], and was made known most fully when the Word was made flesh [John 1:14]. The same Jesus said that he was the bread that had come down from heaven [John 6:35-38] and he would give us this bread to eat [John 6:51]. So we affirm our believe in the Word made flesh and pray for that same presence in our fellowship of bread and wine, just as he was known in breaking bread with the Emmaus disciples:

The Word made flesh; our only head,
be known to us in breaking bread
here in the holy fellowship:
bread in our hands, cup to the lip.

We say he is our only head because the fellowship in which we meet is a body of which he is the head:

He is the head of the body, the leader of the group, the host at the head of the table. The sense of being bound together in the one body through our relationship with him as the head is carried through into the next verse:

We meet you at the supper, Lord,
and feel with friends the binding cord.

The binding cord of love between those who meet at the Lord's table "speaking the truth in love" is essential. That is why we provide for reconciliation, with confession and forgiveness, before coming to the Lord's table, and why we share the peace together before the great thanksgiving and the breaking of the bread. Paul had to warn the Corinthians, for example, that it was not really the Lord's supper that they ate if there were divisions among them [1 Corinthians 11:18-20]. The Supper enables us to know him and share his life in both the bread, "this is my body", and the fellowship which is also his body, as he said

Holy communion is the sacrament of unity. It is the specially given earthly place where Christians meet and know each other as members of the one body. The unity for which Jesus prayed [John 17] must finally be realized at his table. Yet, the unity among his followers, which is Christ's prayer and his gift, is not intended only for the benefit of those within the Church. It models healing, wholeness and reconciliation in the world at large. Christ died for all, even those who do not know him; and our meeting with the risen Lord is only possible because of his sacrificial death on behalf of others, even for those who neither know nor love God:

This reminds us to discern the presence of Christ in places where he might not be expected. He is not to be found only in the fellowship, among people who call on his name. Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats:

Traditionally, an offering for the poor was collected at the Lord's Supper and we commonly offer prayer for people in need. So we extend our obligations of fellowship and sing that we would serve others in a ministry to which he calls us.

Knowing your sacrifice for all,
we would serve others as you call.

In thankfulness we look for you,
alive to us in all we do.
We members of your body share
in service, sacrament and prayer.

In thankfulness we look for Christ alive to us in all we do, knowing he may be found in the suffering face of humanity as well as in the Eucharist. It is in thanksgiving for his sacrifice and for God raising him from the dead that we seek to share the blessings we have received in service, sacrament and prayer. The central prayer of the Lord's Supper is the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and the whole is the "Eucharist", which means "thanksgiving".

But that is not the end of it. The feast we celebrate here and now is a foretaste of the great banquet at the end of time, when all is completed and perfected. Every Eucharist is a celebration of both the past and the future. When he shared the cup at the Last Supper, Jesus looked forward to another feast day when he would celebrate the Kingdom of God:

We believe that in the end Christ will be revealed as the Lord of all, and then he will be united with those who love him as the bridegroom is united with the bride. The great celebration of his Kingdom will also be his wedding feast:

Our knowing the risen Lord here through the word of scripture, in service to others, in prayer and above all in the holy communion leads us to anticipate a greater celebration of the same fellowship at the end, so we conclude:

Our risen friend, our glorious king,
there at the end we hope to sing
on that great day, your wedding feast,
knowing your love has never ceased.

© David Beswick 1996

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