Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Preparing for Lent: Words From Rowan Williams on Eucharist, Penitence, Forgiveness, and the Church

From pages 51-52 of the Archbishop's Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel:

We have noted already that the Eucharist is a reminder to the whole church of its liability to desert and betray: the eucharistic Church 'locates' itself in Gethsemane before it finds itself finally in and with the risen Jesus. Thus the memory of the martyrs (all the martyrs) can and should be for the Church a part of its eucharistic life, where it identifies itself as oppressor and traitor, yet also the penitent and restored kin of Christ. When the Church lives 'eucharistically' in this sense, we can once again speak of an eloquent proclaiming of the resurrection gospel to the world. A Church which is not only divided but cements its dividing walls with the blood of the martyrs cannot but be a stumbling-block for the faith of humanity at large: it fails to show forgiven-ness as a style of living. This should make very plain to us the indispensability within the Church not merely of a mentality of self-criticism and penitence, but of signs which continually impress on the Church that it is called to penitence. To say that the Eucharist is fundamental to the Church's life is not to say simply that it is 'very useful', nor to say that it is a quasi-physical fuel for the life of the soul. The extremes of internalization (the Eucharist as illustration of a doctrinal point) and depersonalization (the Eucharist as the confection of a life-giving substance) are equally inadequate. Rather, when the Church performs the eucharistic action it is what it is called to be: the Easter community, guilty and restored, the gathering of those whose identity is defined by their new relation to Jesus crucified and raised, who identify themselves as forgiven. What happens in the Eucharist is, among much else, that the Church assembles simply to make this identification in praise and gratitude, and to show in concrete form its dependence on Christ. It is an action which announces what the community's life means, where the roots of its understanding and its possibilities are; and as such it is a transforming, a recreative act -- a human activity radically open to the creative activity of God in Jesus.

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