Introduction: Epiclesis around the Ordinary
Sally Ann McKinsey
The Eucharist reshapes the service, pulling itself to the center,” writes columnist Colleen Cook in her contribution to this issue. The last few years have brought much to consider about the practice of ministry amid a global pandemic, continued widespread hunger and racial injustice, and rapid change in the way the faithful worship. In the midst of these many challenges, the Eucharist pulls itself to the center as it reshapes us, becoming a lens through which we consider all of life.
The authors whose works make this issue invite readers to consider the increasingly permeable boundaries between home and sanctuary, conversations between pastoral theology and sacramental theology, and the relationship between ancient form and contemporary practice in the words and actions of the Eucharist. Among them, Alex Lee-Cornell considers particular questions of practice in the midst of congregational health concerns and pandemic experience, wondering about the intersection between sacramental form and theology in the nuanced concerns of today.
“The whole action of the eucharist has an ‘epikletic’ character because it depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit,” we read in the sixteenth point of the Eucharist section of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper no. 111, produced by the World Council of Churches forty years ago. In this issue, writing and artwork join in highlighting this epikletic character as a central component of both Reformed eucharistic theology and the ecumenical faith expressed in the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document. Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, holds a profound function in this contemporary moment to enliven our practice and deepen our incarnational faith. Indeed, the Eucharist pulls itself to the center, continually reshaping the way we worship. In their articles for this issue, Brant Copeland and Ronald Byars explore the process of worship renewal in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and eucharistic liturgy in the Book of Common Worship. Brant Copeland investigates the function of the epiclesis in the structure of spoken liturgy at table and asks what it means to live creatively into this structure as presiders here and now.
Alexandra Jacob reflects on an experience of receiving communion as a member of the body that taught her, one who usually presides, the gifts that celebrants bring in caring for the body. In what she calls the improvisatory hope of the liturgy, she invites others to leave room for the Holy Spirit in the practice of presiding at table.
Hannah Soldner explores the work of the Holy Spirit in the process of making liturgy in a profoundly beautiful piece about her experience of communion in her worshiping community. With wit, rhetorical wisdom, and poetic imagination, she explores what it means to make liturgy together, even through a Zoom interface. She wonders about the surprising relationship between the experience of sharing communion online and the experiences of the first disciples as they developed sacramental practice amid ordinary everyday life.
A Maundy Thursday sermon by Cecelia Armstrong and an Easter sermon by Christopher Vogado, both printed in this issue, also imagine the experience of the disciples who shared meals with Jesus before and after his death. What do Gospel texts about meals with Jesus teach us about what it means to follow the one who died and rose from the dead? These preachers also call us to reflect on the relationship between preaching and the celebration of Eucharist. They show some of the ways a sermon can live into the many functions of eucharistic liturgy—to proclaim the work of God, actively remember the death of Jesus, represent and anticipate the kin-dom, give thanks and intercede, and commune with the faithful.
Music and art, too, can embody some of these functions in visual and material language. Phillip Morgan writes about music around the table, calling us to consider what we sing with intention and recognizing music as a vital piece of the liturgy. Columnist Mary Margaret Flannagan writes about music at the dinner table and the function music can play in shaping our theology from an early age. Ann Laird Jones explores the liturgy at table as a “choreography of grace” through a discussion of works of art that illustrate and interpret the sacrament biblically and liturgically. How do visual artists proclaim the presence of God in the communion meal? In his column for this issue, David A. VanderMeer also shares visual art that illuminates and expresses eucharistic theology. Artist S. Beth Taylor shares her fiber work in the Work of Our Hands section, exploring intersections between prayer language, music, and quilting. She offers prayers of thanksgiving and intercession in color and texture as she shares her vocational story, revealing the importance of encouraging one another in artistic endeavors.
Though varied in expression, the articles, sermons, poetry, and artwork in this issue are all concerned with the holy material, the epiclesis around the ordinary. Paul Galbreath investigates the history of the sacrament with relation to feeding. How did our practice become so estranged from functional mealtime? And how does the sacrament call us to more responsibility toward feeding and solidarity with others as humans? Karen Ware Jackson writes about the relationship between Eucharist and meal sharing, as well, considering table friendship at home and the intersections between liturgy and faith formation outside the sanctuary walls.
Indeed, “the whole action of the eucharist has an ‘epikletic’ character.” Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry continues this way: “In the words of the liturgy, this aspect of the eucharist finds varied expression.” May the diverse liturgical expressions of epiclesis across the church reveal and proclaim what we hold vital in the midst of anxiety and change—the holy ordinary, the bread and wine that invite us into the presence of God-with-humanity through the Holy Spirit.
Sally Ann McKinsey, Managing Editor