“I love God but I hate religion” is a common phrase today. But religion can have connection if one can find it in its purest from. If there is a pure form to connect with Jesus, one would hope he knew about it and said something about it . Otherwise he would not be a rightful founder of the Christian faith which includes in its elemental teaching “the resurrection of the dead” (Hebrews 6:2).
First, in moving from our individual experience of Christ in the power of his resurrection, there is a context to corporate worship being a worship in spirit and truth. To illuminate this, Christ in his resurrected body took initiative on the day of his resurrection. He came walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples who somehow could not recognize him. He led them through a Bible study about their crucified leader they mentioned and how the Old Testament needed to be fulfilled. As it got to the end of the day they badly wanted to keep his company though not knowing it was their Lord. This is what he did.
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-34).
First what we can notice is the structure of it. It is preceded by an overview of the scriptures with an explanation of their meaning. In my church we call that the Liturgy of the Word. Then Jesus is at “table with them”. This can be a setting for a meal but “table” is often interchangeable in the Old Testament with the word for altar. So it is allowable for it to be a sacrificial setting. “He took the bread” possibly could be the todah sacrifice of thanksgiving which in Greek is eucharistia. Then with “and broke it” is reminiscent of Jesus saying several days ago “this is my body, broken for you” when he proclaimed a new covenant. The main pattern is consistent with the mass or Divine Liturgy in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Properly understood, to partake of the Eucharist is a not like partaking of Christ: it is partaking of Christ.
[H]e become a grain of wheat that dies; thus in the Eucharist he makes a gift of himself to all, gives himself to us and is held in out hands as the true Bread of Life. Thereby the Eucharist becomes seeing, as happened in an exemplary manner to the disciples at Emmaus. In the breaking of bread we recognize him, and it is as though the scales fall from our eyes. In the Eucharist we behold him whom they have pierced, the bleeding head now wounded (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, On the Way To Jesus Christ, 1994).
The Greek word used here for “known” is ginōskō again which denotes an enhanced level of intimacy. This is what Jesus was getting at a year before calling people to eat his flesh and doubling down with “gnaw” (trogen). It continues as a central experience for the early church as we see in Acts how they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
This comes up again with “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). The author did not repeat anything about apostles teaching, fellowship and prayer but mentions breaking bread. This is central to a gospel of the kingdom with baptism as the default, material and spiritual entrance and continues with the Eucharist.
So last, we return to Paul. He told the Corinthians that their disorder in communion offends the Lord’s body but does not say they offend the symbol. And shortly after his comment to the Philippians about knowing Jesus in the power of the resurrection he says this for the environment of this Christian life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).
One should keep in mind that it was customary for the letters of Paul to be read in front of a congregation. If the highlight of their meeting was “the breaking of the bread”, then much is taught here.
The Lord is at hand– – If the early Christians believed in what is called the Real Presence in how the bread was Christ’s flesh (John 6), then the highlight of Christ coming in communion was substantially at hand.
with thanksgiving– – The word here is eucharistia. This is where we get Eucharist. The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses eucharistia for the thanksgiving sacrifice. This could be just saying thanks, but the other words imply the more likely eucharistic interpretation.
let your requests be made known to God– – This is connected with the ancient practice of the “prayers of the faithful” which occurs after the Eucharist and has the recurring refrain of “Lord, hear our prayer”.
the peace of God, which passes all understanding– – This points to the mystery and transcendence of God. In context of this passage and others, I would suggested the context of this peace was in an early but developing context of the mass.
This is further suggested to be the case in the early church writings. Among themes expressed by Ignatius are the Eucharist as a holy, substantial, eternal and a reference point for the on true faith. .
I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life (Ignatius Letter to the Romans 110).
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes (Ignatius, Letter to Smyrnaeans, 110).
And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.
This is also reinforced as a holy work by Justin Martyr.
For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh- – (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66, 154 AD).
And finally with Ireneus we see Eucharist as the summit of faith that brings together the Cross, The Resurrection and the judgment to come.
And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God (Ireneus of Lyon, Against All Heresies, Book V, Chapter 2, 180 AD).
This work of the salvation begins and ends with God. It is on the terms of Jesus and not religion that man makes up on the fly. The articulation of it is intimate but also is always in development. Therein lies the patience of faith.