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The Eucharistic Life

The Substance of Addresses Given by Two Members of the Oxford Mission Brotherhood of the Epiphany, at the Students Conference of the Syrian Christian Church, Held at Kottayam, May 1st--5th, 1916

London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras: Longmans, Green and Co., 1918.

Chapter VI. Why Christ Gives the Eucharistic Gift

WE, members of a fallen race which is far gone in selfishness, are apt to make a great mistake about this, so that it becomes necessary for us to consider carefully what our Lord's main purpose is when He invites us to the Holy Communion. We are tempted, and are naturally inclined to think, that His invitations and gifts are mainly, if not solely, for our own sakes; that He wishes to save us out of the general wreck of humanity, and to prepare us for high places in heaven; that He wishes us to be chiefly concerned about our own salvation. Christians in all ages, even good ones, have made this mistake. Many of the greatest mystics, who have arrived at a life of continual prayer, have done the same for many years till God at last was able to show them their error. We must not therefore be surprised if we are tempted to make the same mistake, even though the Christian Church as a whole in our age is, God be thanked, understanding Christ's purpose and mind as to this more clearly than the Church of former ages did.

The main reason why our Lord invites us to receive His life in Holy Communion is that we may reproduce His life in our lives and so help to manifest Him. The message that He gave to His first disciples is the message which He gives through His Church to the disciples of all ages: "Ye shall be My witnesses . . . unto the uttermost part of the earth"; for this, He [57/58] said: "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you" (Acts i. 8). In other words, Christ gives His own life to His disciples that He may live in them: so that they may live the life that He lives, and so that the people of all countries into which they go, when they see their lives, may see Christ's life in all its attractive beauty.

Christ is God and God is love, and therefore His heart can never be satisfied by the saving of a certain number of people out of the general wreck of humanity. He must work on. His whole being must be concentrated on saving all! Therefore, when He gives to us His life, He cannot do it merely or chiefly that we may be saved; He must do it mainly that we may become saviours, fellow-workers with Him in His work for the salvation of the whole world.

In order that we may understand what is meant by the reproduction of our Lord's life in our lives, let us consider what His life was like as a whole, when it was manifested on earth. It was a life which was wholly spent (i) in doing His Father's will. (e.g.> St. John iv. 34; v. 30; vi. 38; and St. Matthew xii. 50); (2) in working for the salvation of men. The whole Gospel story shows this from beginning to end. But these two are really one, for the Father's will which Christ came to accomplish is the salvation of all men (e.g., i Timothy ii. 3, 4). When He prayed on the night of His betrayal in the garden, He was able to say: "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do" (St. John xvii. 4). He had done this by making the salvation of all men possible. His service of men was His service of God His Father. It was not that a part of His life was spent in the one service and a part in the other, but that His life was wholly spent in both. His love for His Father and His love for men is one love, and to do His Father's will (i. e. to accomplish man's salvation), He spent Himself wholly: [59/60] "He emptied Himself" by becoming Man, and having become Man, He poured out His whole life to the uttermost for man's sake (see Philippians ii. 6-8). "He went about doing good." He thought not of Himself, but gave His life for the sheep (St. John x. 11-16). As we said before, in fulfilling His Father's will in our nature, He made that nature wholly obedient, i. e. He conquered and kept out all human selfishness and made His human life a perfect life of love the life, that is, of One who never seeks His own will but lives only for others (see I Corinthians xiii. 4-7).

And before He left the earth He made it plain to His apostles that He wished them to live on earth the same life that He had lived. You remember that when He breathed on them at Easter, thus imparting His own life to them, He said, "As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you" (St. John xx. 21, 22); that is, He sent them to live the same life and to accomplish the same purpose for which He Himself had been sent into the world. They too were to spend their whole lives in the service of God and men--to fulfil God's will by working for the salvation of all men. The history in the Acts of the Apostles makes it abundantly clear that the Apostles never thought of themselves as having been saved by God's goodness out of a general wreck: they thought of themselves as Apostles, i. e. men who had been sent to manifest Christ's life and to bring men to Him. Consider how wonderfully the life of Christ was manifested in their lives. Before Pentecost they had thought of themselves chiefly; had desired to get the chief places for themselves in Christ's kingdom; had run away and deserted their Lord in His time of need, through fear. After Pentecost they lived for themselves no longer; they were willing to face any amount of insults or dangers--imprisonment, scourging, death--for the sake of Christ and His work (e.g., Acts v. 17-42). St. Stephen, when he was being [60/61] stoned to death, could forget himself and pray for his murderers just as our Lord did on the cross (Acts vii. 54-60). St. Paul spent his whole life in the service of Christ in trying to win people for Him. "To me to live is Christ," he said. He who had a difficult nature to contend with and was constantly beset by fierce temptations, nevertheless reproduced Christ's life of love wonderfully.

So it has been in all the Christian ages since then. In every one of them our Lord has had faithful disciples who, through the reception of His own life--because they have "eaten" Him and "lived by" Him--have been able to reproduce and manifest His life; have been able, that is, to disregard themselves and their own comfort, happiness, or gain, and to spend themselves in the service of Christ and of their fellow men. It is, of course, in the best men and women--the Saints, the people who best fulfil Christ's purpose--that we can see what His purpose for all His disciples is.

There is, indeed, no room at all for doubt as to why He gives us His life in Holy Communion. He does it that we, who are by nature selfish and habitually inclined to seek chiefly our own gain--temporal or spiritual--may be able to lead lives of love, e. g., of self-oblation for the sake of God and our fellow men.

What this may mean for different individuals among you, what different kinds of vocation our Lord may be expected to give to some of you, we will consider in the last address. But let us consider now in general terms what our Lord expects of us who receive the Holy Communion frequently. We can think of it in two ways:--(I) as it affects our life of prayer; (2) as it affects our other activities:--

(I) They who prepare themselves by careful self-examination and confession, who truly [61/62] desire to live for Christ and to do only His will, and who receive Holy Communion frequently, increase greatly in the power of prayer. They are able to ascend in heart and mind and to dwell with Christ in heaven far more frequently than of old. And such spiritual intercourse with Him brings to most of them, at times at any rate, very great joy. Sometimes the joy is almost more than their bodies can bear. Nothing that they have ever experienced can be compared with it. They feel they want nothing else while it lasts. To gain even a brief experience of it seems to them to be worth years of struggle. They say in their hearts as St. Peter said of old when he saw Christ's glory at His Transfiguration: "It is good for us to be here"--good above all else to be in this condition. And they perhaps go on to say as St. Peter did: "Oh! that we could remain thus, Lord; let us remain thus here with Thee, filled with this most joyous consciousness of Thy presence and love." They are perhaps tempted, as holy people have been tempted in all ages, to desire chiefly this joy for themselves; to labour for it; to consider this as the end of all their struggles in prayer. If such temptation comes to you, remember that Christ desires you to reproduce His life--to live as He did, not for self, but for mankind in general. No one who lives on earth as Christ did, can consider his own joy to be the chief end of his prayer. To effect the salvation of man Christ "emptied Himself." He did not consider the joy of perfect communion with God a thing to be grasped at merely for Himself, but chose a life in which all His faithfulness and struggles ended in the utter [62/63] loss of all that joy, in such entire and awful desolation that He seemed to have been forsaken not merely by His disciples and friends, but even by God Himself. When we reflect on this, we cannot think that we are meant to grasp at the joy of conscious communion with God as the main object of our prayer and struggles. If God gives it to us, some times or often, we can thank Him for it with all our hearts; then it will make us more devoted to Him and to His service. But we must not strive for it, for that is striving for self-gratification. The object of all our efforts in prayer is to be, not our own joy, not even merely our own salvation, but the glory of God and the salvation of our fellow men. We are to pray not to get what we want, but what God wants. Prayer includes many different acts. But our Lord has taught us in the model of prayer that He gave, that our first aim should be that God's Name should be hallowed, i. e. that His character should be known and reverenced, and that He should be praised and worshipped by His creatures as He ought to be; that His kingdom may come, i. e. that Christ may reign in the hearts of more and more men and women till He has won the whole race; that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven--His will for the salvation and perfection of all men. And with these objects in view always, Christ teaches us to proceed to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread," i. e. that we may have strength, spiritual and physical, to do God's will and serve Him rightly: "Forgive us our trespasses," i.e. that our souls may not be so weakened by the disease of sin that we are unfit for His service: "Lead us not into [63/64] temptation, but deliver us from the evil one," i.e. that we may all walk with Him and work with Him for the fulfilling of His holy will, and not be led into other paths by any attractions either from the world or the flesh or the devil. Thus our whole prayer is to consist of the worship of God and intercession for our fellow men; and we are only to pray each for himself as for one member of the large body for whom we are to intercede. Nothing less than the gift of our Lord's own life and power to love, which we can receive in Holy Communion, can enable us to sustain a life of prayer at that heroic level. But Christ's power can enable us to do this, and so cause the prayer of each one of us to produce results which are wonderful beyond all our present imaginings.

(2) The life of Christ, received in Holy Communion, enables us in all our other activities to be and remain in the same kind of relation ship to our fellow men as that of Christ Himself. This means--to take a few examples only--that we strive chiefly to help those who are in most need of help; that we give our selves with special zeal for the service of the poor, the sick, the sinful, the sorrowful and the outcasts. No one who studies the Gospels can doubt for a moment that our Lord devoted Himself specially to these, and that He trained His disciples with great diligence to do the same (see, e.g., St. Luke iv. 16-21; vii. 18-23). He was often reproached for consorting with sinners and outcasts, and His answer was: "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick" (see also St. Luke x. 25-37; xv.).

[65] You, therefore, who determine to accept Christ's loving invitation and to receive His life more frequently, must look about and see who need your help the most; on whom Christ specially wishes you to spend the life He gives you. The poor, the sick, the sinful, the sorrowful and the outcasts are always with you. In very many cases the people who serve you day by day--your own dependents--are obviously the very people who need your help the most. Of all the people in this world there are none which need the divine and human sympathy which Christ pours into your souls more than the outcasts who surround you, and who work for you. Your Church has lived in the midst of them for centuries, and yet they are in the same miserable condition, both physically and spiritually, to-day as they were centuries ago. Is this chiefly because the members of your Church have received the Holy Communion so rarely that they have ceased to consider it the centre, the mainspring of their life? It may, indeed, be so. But it must not be so any longer. This great reproach--the reproach of Dives in our Lord's Parable (St. Luke xvi. 19-31)--must be removed from your ancient Church. My visit to your Church has thrilled me. It seems to me that it is capable of doing unspeakable wonders for the conversion of India; and that it must have been preserved through all these centuries, in spite of the heathenism which has always surrounded it, for this very purpose. But the Church is the individuals who compose it, to each of whom Christ's life is flowing--each of whom is meant to be fed by that life regularly through the great Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is there for each one of you to make this Sacrament the centre of his life, to prepare himself by prayer and true confession, to receive Christ's life in it frequently, and then to spend that life in the service of others, [65/66] and especially in the service of those whom most men despise and neglect, just as Dives neglected Lazarus. It may be very difficult at first to see how to help such people as the outcasts who surround you. It is no doubt much more difficult than I can imagine. But Christ's life is given to all men--especially to those who need Him the most--and He has been able in all ages to raise men and women from the lowest depths of degradation to be holy and refined members of His Catholic Church. He can and will do the same in this age and in your country. Pray then often and very earnestly that He will show you how to help these degraded people; that He will give you both the power and the opportunity to take Him, in all the beauty of His love and sympathy, to them and to bring them to Him. Remember there is a stream of love, the power to love, flowing to you through the Eucharist which is absolutely unlimited. With it you can accomplish for others, even the lowest and most difficult, whatever God inspires you to aim at.

Who can imagine the joy in heaven, in the hearts of Christ and all His Saints, as they see you year by year living by Christ's life and pouring it out to others, so that your Church gradually embraces, exalts and transforms all who are living near you: and then goes out into other parts of India to witness for Christ, and to draw men and women to Him!

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