So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
From the earliest times
From before we were called Church, we the people of the Way of Jesus were breaking bread as Jesus commanded us to do on the night he was betrayed. In some ways it is indeed true that the Eucharist gives birth to the Church, for these people of the Way, nurtured in this Sacramental reality come to be known as Church, the Greek word Ecclesia - meaning called out.
A new expression of history
Bread an wine have an important place int he history of the Jewish Nation. In Genesis 14:18 we read that the enigmatic Melchizedek brings out bread and wine and blesses Abraham following his victory over the Amorites. In the account of the Exodus we read of the meal eaten in great haste on the night of the Passover (Exodus 12), and we know that Jesus and his disciples were honouring this great celebration of the liberating of Israel at the time of the Institution of the Eucharist.
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
The Shape of the Liturgy
The liturgy of the Holy Eucharist it can seem a bit daunting, however the shape is very simple.
The Liturgy of the Word
Confession and Absolution
Greeting of Peace
The Liturgy of the Holy Sacrament
The Great Thanksgiving
The Words of Institution
Invocation of the Holy Spirit
The Breaking of the Bread
Communion of the People
In This World and the Next
The Orthodox speak of a table set in Heaven and Earth, and the central doors in the iconostasis as the doors of heaven. Whilst Anglicans are more restrained liturgically and in decorating our buildings, the idea of the Eucharist as a meeting place between earth and heaven is entirely consistent with our faith and understanding going right back to the days before Augustine.
The continental reformers waged war on sacramental theology, Anglicanism avoided much of the debate and the notion of a real presence was all we needed to say. Some have seen a middle ground, or an each way bet, however it is a more profound understanding, focusing on Christ present in our life together, profoundly real and spiritual and not simply temporal and physical.
Elizabeth 1 uttered words that have marked the Anglican position, though the words may have come from Matthew Parker.
Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
That I believe and take it.
There is a sense of the high points here in the liturgy, and these are places where the people are speaking clearly, in the dialogue and the acclamations. This reminds us that one of the words used to describe the Eucharist is 'the liturgy', which is a composite of two Greek words Laos and ergon and it means 'The people's work'.
The Institution Narrative, The Epiclesis, and the Thanksgiving and offering are all important and indeed central to the action, but so also are those parts when the people make it their prayer. This is underlined absolutely when we join the great amen and the end of the great thanksgiving.
Blessing and honour and glory and power
are yours for ever and ever. Amen.
The Greek word Anamnesis has been problematic in translation. Most of our modern English translations render this something like 'do this in memory of me' or 'do this as my memorial'.
The use of the word however is strongly aligned with the understanding of the Jewish Passover Meal. Towards the end of the meal the youngest present asks the oldest 'why is it we eat this meal standing up, with our hats on ...' and in reply the elder responds 'a long time ago when our fathers were slaves in Egypt ...' and what follows is a recounting of the Exodus story of the liberation of the people of Israel. He concludes the narrative with the words 'Tonight we have come out of Egypt'. This is the historic act in the present tense. History is not simply remembered, it is called into the present lived experience.
From the Cyprus Statement agreed by the International Commission for Anglican - Orthodox Theological Dialogue 2006