Maundy Thursday service in the round earlier this year and I felt a sense of ‘coming home’. I’ve been asking myself why I, and others I know, find it difficult to participate fully in services where the altar table sits at the front and, we, the people face forward responding in set ways and forms which, frankly leave me, bored and somewhat deadened.
As far as I understand it, the Eucharistic liturgy is a meal re-membering the last supper, and so a meal in which we ingest the life of Christ: the bread and wine, the rich symbolism, the recognition that our ordinary human lives are part of the divine mystery of transformation. I value the form which spans the ages, through the Old and New Tes-taments and the ongoing word and action of God which is continuously revealing itself.
We come into the liturgy as vulnerable human beings with all our joys and struggles. We bring the particularities of our own personal lives and place ourselves in the wider context of our neighbourhood and of the world. We sit around the table and share this meal, this life. What happens is not done to us but with us and the celebrant guides the way, enabling and encouraging our participation.
Sitting round the table we may feel more of our vulnerability as we come into the present moment of our worship together. We can be seen more easily by others; we are less anonymous. This is not just a place of private prayer; it is a shared meal, a shared experience. Some may prefer to sit on a second or back row of the circle. We can em-brace our human differences and needs, as in life itself.
Another consideration is the kind of power structure that is set up in the ways we create spaces and structures. A central table says more clearly that we are here together equally, sharing this meal. Perhaps we can speak too, sharing reflections and intercessions. We can learn to trust this process, we can hear ourselves speak and listen in ways that are reflective, even contemplative, not always discursive. As we offer each other the bread and wine, as we did on Maundy Thursday, we have a sense of our own priesthood and Christian commitment. In this way we share and bring the Eucharist alive for ourselves and the community. The form of liturgy – the Welcome, the Word, the Offering, Consecration and Communion are more understandable, not simply a sequence of prayers and ritu-als, often totally meaningless to newcomers.
I have experienced the liturgy in these ways in various settings – in a Roman Catholic university chaplaincy, in a city centre Church of England parish where the small congregation sat in a circle on the altar, sharing reflections and prayers during the Eucharist; in a small damp bedroom during a residential course many years ago and more re-cently in a small contemplative gathering in Bristol at ‘Space for Soul’, affiliated to the Progressive Christian Net-work. In every case I believe that I and others have grown in trust, confidence and understanding of The Eucharist – the transformative life of Christ in our ordinary everyday lives.