Eucharist is a Greek word that means thanksgiving. It’s the sacrament that was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper, when he took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave them to his friends. He said to those disciples, “This is my body . . . given for you. . . . This is my blood . . . shed for you.” The holy meal at which Christians remember those words is also known as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.
At Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, the celebration of the Eucharist is especially beautiful on Sunday mornings. Parts of the prayer in which the words of Jesus are spoken over bread and wine are chanted. One of our worship services each week uses incense. It engages the senses and, more importantly, symbolizes the prayers of the faithful, as described in Psalm 141: “Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense . . .” When I’m watching someone else preside at that liturgy, and the incense rises slowly through shafts of light that are radiating down on the altar, other words come to mind from Psalm 96: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness . . .” The outstanding voices of the choir and sound of the organ add to that beauty, lifting up our hearts to contemplate the divine presence in our midst.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina and Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, talks about the Eucharist in this short video. The story that he shares at the beginning of it points to the power of the Eucharist to create a community of love in a broken world. Although set in the 1940s, his story, sadly, appears just as relevant today as we reflect on the nine martyrs of “Mother Emanuel” AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, debates over flags and other symbols of the Confederacy and of the legacy of chattel slavery in America, and rising tensions between police departments and African American communities across the nation. Most of the time, the daily news reports that burden our hearts seem too distant from the beauty of the Eucharist that I described above. That’s because the Eucharist invites us into something “more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare,” to borrow a favorite phrase of Presiding Bishop-elect Curry. All of us need beauty in our lives, especially when there seems to be precious little of it in the world around us or in the world around our neighbors. So here’s some: