On Holy Thursday, the Church celebrates two great events: the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of holy orders and ministry. At the Last Supper, Jesus instructs his disciples to “take, eat, drink, and do this” in memory of him. By extension, we too are invited to take bread and wine from the fruits of our labors and offer them back to God as an acceptable sacrifice. Through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the priest consecrates these elements transforming them into the Body and Blood of Christ. In turn, we consume the Eucharist and thereby are made one with Jesus Christ. In doing this action, we proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord.
In Greek, the word that is used to describe this action is anamnesis, which is loosely translated as “memorial.” But it is so much more than a simple remembering of what took place 2000 years ago. Anamnesis conveys the sense of making present the past while looking toward the future. So, in the action of the Eucharist, we make past events (the Last Supper, the crucifixion and death, and the resurrection) come alive today. The events are not merely memories, but they are real actions that make Jesus Christ present to us under the form of bread and wine. In turn, those actions have import for the future. In the Eucharist, we “remember our future.” We call to mind the past in order to recognize our destiny as children of God.
St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man could become like God.” Our calling, our raison d’être is to be one with God in His Kingdom. The Eucharist coalesces all of our beliefs into a moment when the divine touches the human on the altar of sacrifice allowing people to be transformed and giving them a foretaste of the promised paschal feast of heaven.
Not only do we encounter the risen Lord under the elements of bread and wine, we are given a mandate (or mandatum from which we get the word Maundy) to be Christ to others. Holy Thursday is a celebration of the Great Commission given to us by our baptism: to go forth and wash each other’s feet. In other words, we need to become servants for one another. The Eucharist calls us to action. We are given spiritual sustenance by consuming the Eucharist which enables us to proclaim the Word through our activity in the world.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Christians. Everything that we do as the people of God should flow from our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice and in turn should lead us back to the Table of the Eucharist. In other words, the Eucharist compels us to act as Christians, but equally important, the Eucharist encourages us to be in a continual state of conversion. The Eucharist challenges us to become better.
The Holy Thursday celebration also reminds us that Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders and its attendant lay ministries on the night before he died. All ministry—both of the ordained and of the baptized—flows from our participation in the Eucharist. The commissioning of the disciples is an invitation and a command to service. We are called to be Christ for one another.
In short, Eucharist and ministry go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other. The Eucharist leads us to minister to, with and for others, while our ministry leads us back to the Eucharist where we are renewed, refreshed, and rejuvenated for ministry. May our Holy Thursday celebration help us to reconnect both to the Eucharistic sacrifice which we celebrate as well as to our service of one another.