Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Tag: Eucharist

Liturgy for the Eucharist

Shelton Chapel—Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
22 November 2016

(This liturgy was used in response to the proclamation from the pulpit of Psalm 137, the lament that begins “By the waters of Babylon….”)

Invitation to the Table

This is the joyful feast of the people of God. People shall come here from exile, from the four points of the compass, and be seated at this table. This table is not a table we have earned or deserved, but one to which we are invited by the Lord Jesus Christ, who makes this feast. All who trust in him, however far away or deep in darkness, are welcome here.

The Great Prayer
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the LORD.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Holy God, Holy One, Holy Three: You
our comfort and our covenant;
guiding hand along the paths of wandering;
haven, hope, and healer:
Lord, to whom shall we go?

In the dark before creation’s dawn, You
drew breath to speak the first command
that made a path between the day and night
and brought to being all that moves and breathes;

In the darkness east of Eden, You
drew the flaming sword to bar the way
even as you showed us yet another,
a promised path of labor and labor’s love;

In the moonless midnight, beneath Egyptian stars, You
drew the boundary between life and death,
and marked the line on lintel and on doorpost,
and promised us a way to freedom, through the sea;

In the dark night of Babylon, when all we could smell
was the stench of our burned-out dreams, You
drew for us a new vision in the dirt of exile,
and promised us a return across the sands;

In the long night of tyranny, with Herod’s hobnailed bootprint on our necks, You
drew diviners bearing gifts across the desert
by the light of the single eastern star
and promised us a kingdom we are waiting yet to see:

There is no other; in the darkness we draw near to You:
Can you hear our song of hope and yearning,
as though the promises are true even when we don’t believe them,
as though we could see the trailings of your glory
with hooded eyes still accustomed to the dark?
Can you hear the song of angels, prophets, martyrs
the song of forebears and of fellow travelers,
the song we sing in foreign lands, even as we hold our breath?

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
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 are you, O God, and blessed is Jesus Christ,
the One we wait to see, even though we shut our eyes;
the One who bears our hope at the instant we stop hoping;
the One who heals us when we knew not we were ill;
the One who is God with us, though we think we are alone.
In him Love decides to be unloved, so we
who are unlovely might learn to love.
In him Life decides to die, so we
who know only how to die can learn to live.
You are in him, Lord, in the darkness on the cross.
You are with him, Lord, at this table where he gathers us
and makes of us his fellowship born of bread and wine.

Words of Institution
For it is as the Scriptures say,
That on the night of his betrayal, he took bread,
and after giving thanks, he broke and gave it
to those who followed him and said,
“This is my body, broken for you;
do this remembering me,”
and after supper, took the cup, and said,
“This cup is covenant poured anew for many,
forgiving sin; all of you, drink from it.”
So it is that, when we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we show forth his death until he comes again.

What has been and what will be
are bound together with what is
in this moment, in these people, in this place.
Great is the mystery of faith:

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

So then, Spirit, come and breathe:
Breathe the eternal “Let there be,”
so the world is filled with light.
Breathe into the mortal dust,
so lungs are filled with breath and life.
Breathe in valleys full of bones
with a wind from the corners of creation.
Breathe into silent, fearful rooms,
so timid followers might find their voice.
Breathe into us, and on the earth,
until the boughs of streamside willows
vibrate with the music of the lyres,
and the songs of Zion burst forth again
from lips too long silenced
and hearts too long afraid.
Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ
in the unity of the Spirit,
all glory and honor are yours, O God,
now and forever. Amen.

Now with the confidence of the children of God, let us make bold to pray as Jesus taught:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sin,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.

Breaking the Bread and Pouring the Cup
The gifts of God for the people of God.
Come, for all things are ready.

Communion of the People

Prayer after Communion
Let there be no more weeping, let there be no more fear.
Let there be only keeping of the love that draws us here.
Teach us to hear the music in the branches of the trees
and sing again the songs of Zion wafting in the breeze.
Send us forth to tell the news who at this board are fed:
That Christ the Lord is present in the breaking of the bread.

Gods of Small Things

Let us be gods of small things,
lords of mice and roaches,
bastard sons and daughters
of happy, smiling gods
who bless their acolytes
with touchdowns and close-in parking.

Let us stand to the ends of things:
parting notes of postludes
in empty sanctuaries,
apologetic exits
whispered at the door,
the echo of the deadbolt.

Let us walk the hallways after
light and hope burn out,
read from silent liturgy
prayers addressed to no one,
hear from mislaid hymnals
music no one sings.

Let us raise the chain link fence,
last fence around the Table
that bars the way to all
lest any come unworthy
to take the meal, until
the meal is taken from us.

Let us be the wrecking-ball;
swung from moral heights
we bring down the house,
then hang condemned when done,
the evidence against us
stone not left on stone.

But let us be at last the rain
that falls on rack and ruin,
washes out the stain—
see, even now it falls—
and waters field and vine
and pools in broken fonts.


The future is not a result of the present. It is the present, rather, which is made pregnant by the future.

Rubem A. Alves
The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet, p. 81.

Every stalk of wheat contains the loaf
and every grape the wine.

Every stream runs to the font.
Every word bears unimagined truth.

Every meal is spread a banquet
and at every banquet he is host.

This night, gathered at this Table
makes meaning of that one in upstairs room

when he broke the bread, his broken body
poured his blood into the blooded cup;

‘twas our eyes he was looking into
and his words our ears were meant to hear.

Taste the ancient wheat, the long-pressed grape;
they are tomorrow’s loaf, the future’s vintage,

and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
are gathered at this Table on this night.

Absent Moons

Inside our bodies, there dwell the absent moons. And the word has the power to make them visible to the soul.

Rubem A. Alves,
The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet

A finger pointing to an absent moon
on a cloud-enshrouded night
bespeaks precisely nothing
but itself.

A voice says, “moon.” And thereby summons
the silver orb, night’s boon companion
illumining the darkness
in my mind.

Do I bear the moon inside me, wandering
the darkling paths, yearning for
the word it summons
into light?

Do I bear you inside me, wondering
down time’s corridors, if ever
I will have voice to say
your name?

I lose myself inside myself, speak a thousand
words of darkness, yet this phrase
summons light: This is
my body.

The moon, ex nihilo at creation—was it
absent ‘ere summoned by the word,
or is the word eternally alight
in the mind of God?





June 2014


The body and blood, he says, and holds aloft the bread and cup.

Broken for sin, poured out in forgiveness,

God’s gifts, he says, for God’s people.

Come, for all things are ready—

Broken for us.


We come as is our wont, a thousand in disciplined lines,

Hands prepared to receive the sacred sacrifice.

I join a line, far back, shuffling slowly,

In penitential pilgrimage toward

The elements of grace.


Ahead, a woman holds the paten, laden with the broken bread—

Not a loaf, whence I might wrench a ragged piece,

Tangible symbol of God’s own self-rending—

But careful cubes, as if to manage mystery

In respectable geometry.


Closer now, the crowd parts, and I see her face, smiling, nodding

To each one as we approach, receiving from her hand

Forgiveness expressed in grain and yeast.

Stunned, recognition dawns. She is

Mother of my former wife.


The line becomes a litany of ancient aches, shallow-buried grievance,

A quarter-century’s unspoken words, or words that ought

Not have been the burden of wounded tongue or pen.

Relationships broken, wrenched asunder,

Hard-restored, still uncertain.


How can I, who make my sad contribution to that liturgy,

Whose steps yet tread the perilous path, take from her

This packaged pardon, cut by other hands than ours,

We, who must forgive and be forgiven,

Yet have not words to say?


I am not ready. Too soon I stand before her, hands empty for the gift

I have no right to offer or receive. She looks aside, still

Speaking to one already gone. She turns,

And for the first time sees my face.

Her eyes ignite with joy.


She raises her free arm, unburdened by the paten, and wraps it

Round me, drawing me in, inhaling her delight, exhaling

Welcome in a ragged sigh. She releases me at last.

Forgiveness in her eyes, and tears in mine.

I cannot see


Congregation, penitent line, veined hand bearing the morsel—

All things become one thing, and the one thing is the bread.

She offers me a plateful of brokenness—hers, mine, ours

Christ’s body, she says, broken for you.

Broken for us.