Thursday, March 09, 2006

Is a Church a Banquet Hall or a House of God?

The Eucharist was first celebrated at a Seder, in a “large upper room furnished and prepared.” For many, the Eucharist is primarily a meal. For others, the Eucharist is part of a series of events, including Calvary, Easter, and extending infinitely beyond both backwards and forwards. I say that the first Eucharist was celebrated, but a better word would be instituted (“this do in remembrance of me”), for the meal preceded Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and its description in the Gospels is more solemn than festive.

Let us not say glibly that Communion is both a banquet and a sacrifice, unless we are willing to say that a church is both a banquet hall and a temple (a special place reserved for God). Communion is a sacrificial meal in which the victim, who is the Son, is offered to the Father, and then shared among the Son’s brothers and sisters who are now reconciled to the Father. In this mystery, the Father is greater than the Son, who is greater than the “many” for whom the Son’s blood is shed. This being so, the meal shared by the congregation is secondary to the sacrifice to God. The apostles who share the first Eucharist run away and hide; the Lamb of God is nailed to a cross and cries the 22nd psalm.

When thinking of the upper room, one must not forget the Temple, the official place of sacrifice. The Temple was not a banquet hall, but God’s house, a house of prayer. In its most sacred place it was not a synagogue, where people assembled, but a Holy of Holies where the priest went inside while “the people prayed without.”

We Christians who assemble in churches might ask, Whose place is this? Is it ours, the “body of Christ”, or is it Christ’s, present in bread and wine, or is it what Christ said, His Father’s house? The response, “It is all of these” is true, but an unrepenter’s truth. Are we more like the younger son, who sinned and went to his Father and asked to be taken back as a hired servant, or like the elder son, for whom “all that I have is thine”? For whom did the Father kill the fatted calf, and make merry, and be glad?


Two etymologies from Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English (New York 1988):

church [[ ME chirche, kirke < OE cirice (&ON kirkja < OE) < Gmc *kirika < LGr(Ec) *kyrikē < Gr kyriakē (oikia), Lord’s (house) < kyriakos, belonging to the Lord < kyrios, ruler < kyros, supreme power < IE base *keu-, a swelling, to be strong, hero < CAVE]]|a [[L, assembly, in LL(Ec), assembly of Christians < Gr ekklēsia, assembly (in N.T. the church as a body of Christians) < ekklētos, summoned < ekkalaein, to summon < ek- out (see EX-2) + kalein, to call (see CLAMOR)]]


Blogger the bloke said...

Interesting take on the Temple, the body of Christ and the "house of prayer". I wrote along similar themes recently in a few posts, where I relate the cursing of the fig tree, with the clearing of the temple and with Pentecost. Along the way, I see the "house of prayer" as more spiritual (the Church as the Body of Christ) then temporal (the building or the Temple).

9:35 PM  

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