John Schofield is a former Chair of St Mark’s CRC, and past Principal of an Anglican Ministry Training Scheme. In this article he reflects on his experience of writing a eucharistic prayer and provides us with one that he has written himself.
Ever since I read John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology and Paul Tillich’s collection of sermons The Shaking of the Foundations in the 1960s I have understood God mainly through the category of Being popularised by existentialist philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, and adapted by theologians of whom Tillich and Macquarrie are foremost. But Being is not just a philosophical idea; for Christians, God - Being-in-itself - is the source and ground of all being, including ours. Being is therefore personal rather than abstract and is experienced by us as both creative and beneficent.
Recently I have rediscovered process theology. I cannot claim to understand all of Alfred North Whitehead’s intricate philosophical structures. However, I relish the concept of God as Presence; as a God of appeal and possibility, not of demand or control; as a God of purpose, who in each moment, as the influences of the past which have shaped us meet with the possibilities of the future, allures us with the pull, the aim of God. This aim or purpose is for me, for everyone and for everything. For humans it is about flourishing through the processes of life and discipleship, of becoming what God intends. These ideas have melded strongly with the more existentialist understanding of God as Being with which I began to give me a very rich sense of God.
But as someone also moulded in the more catholic tradition of Anglicanism, I found myself wanting to give expression to this in our sacramental practice. And so I started jotting down ideas for a Eucharistic Prayer which uses the language of Being and Process. The prayer which resulted, and which has been used at St Mark’s Broomhill, is the culmination of a long gestation in which a good friend of mine in America and Sue Hammersley and Sarah Colver at St Mark’s, have been the chief conversation partners.
The prayer follows the traditional shape for a Eucharistic prayer, starting (after the opening greeting between president and people) by giving thanks for and rehearsing God’s goodness in creation and salvation; this reaches its climax in the Sanctus and Benedictus. It continues with the recalling of the event in the Upper Room when Jesus told us to ‘do this in remembrance of me’; and moves on through the invocation of the Holy Spirit to make all this effectual and transformative in our lives, to a final ascription of praise to God.
For this prayer, I chose to use the narrative of the Last Supper which we find in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians; this is the first account we have in written form (see 1 Corinthians 11, 23-25). Otherwise I have tried to express the elements of the traditional form in language which is not only consonant with the ideas I have outlined above but is also as inclusive as possible, for instance ascribing no gender to God (who, as I have long held, is ‘genderful’).
Of course, writing any liturgy is fraught with linguistic difficulty. One has to move beyond the controlling ideas and the literal into the poetic and metaphorical, and there is plenty of that. So God is seen, as I have often sensed God in my life, as waiting, weeping, sorrowing, reaching out. The phrase ‘great I Am’ may be unfamiliar. But if we go back to the record in Exodus of the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush, we discover that God reveals God’s name as a verb, not a noun, as the verb to be: ‘I am who I am’ (appealing to my existentialist side) or ‘I will be who I will be’ (encompassing the idea of process). It is a phrase to which John’s Jesus comes back to again and again in the ‘I am’ sayings. Yet it is little used in most liturgies.
One never knows whether what looks good on paper works in practice. To me, having been present on Sunday mornings when this prayer has been used, it does ‘work’. I hope others feel the same, and I would welcome its use by anyone else, or any community occasion, with which it resonates.
The Eucharistic Prayer
May God be with you:
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts:
We lift them to God.
Let us give thanks to our gracious God:
It is right to give thanks and praise.
Ground of Being, great I Am,
your breath sweeps through the universe,
bringing life to life;
we praise you for your energy
and your intention for all creation.
In Jesus you displayed your love.
made known your wisdom,
and called us to yourself.
You wait and weep and sorrow
as we prefer self-interest to all that is good
for us, for others and for our world.
Yet reaching out with open arms
you draw us to yourself,
revealing the strength of love
where we see only weakness.
And so with all who,
through time, in our time and for all time
rejoice in your being,
we join our voices in a song of endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of truth and love.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is Jesus, the Bread of Life:
on the night when he was betrayed he took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying,
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
Blessed is Jesus, the Bread of Life:
Dying you destroyed death;
Rising you restored life;
Come to us, Lord Jesus.
Be with us now,
and breathe your Spirit into this bread and wine.
May we take them into our lives,
grow in Christ,
and be the breath of love
in our being and becoming.
Calling us to be like you in Christlike living,
fulfil in us all that you intend,
as in our lives,
and in community with Christ,
we worship you,
source and ground and purpose of our being,
now and to the ages of ages.