Almost everything that has been said about grace will, I hope,
be repeated in an account of the eucharist. This central Christian
action is the Church's living out of God's salvation. It is the
celebration of God's initiative in drawing our life into union with
The theology of grace is a theology of action, and the action of
God is not something located in the past. No reader of the Gospels
could easily conclude that those who wrote them did so to freeze
the ministry of Jesus: the gospel narratives come to us as the
actions of a drama, and it is a drama that each Christian is always
There are many Christian actions - the actions of worship and
prayer, the actions of love and generosity - to which Christians
are called. Nevertheless, the root of Christian action has to be
Christ himself: if Christ is not present in his Church, in the
midst of his people's drama, as director and as principal artist,
then the actions of Christian people - however charitable - will be
their actions, not Christ's.
So, at the centre of the Christian life, there should be - and
is - a focus on the presence of Christ among his people, and this
is nowhere clearer than in the drama of the eucharist, because the
eucharist is the whole Christian story, acted out in miniature.
The offering of the sinless Son of God for sinful women and men
is not a past event. The fact that the crucifixion is a historical
event, long past in the human scheme of things, is not something
that restricts our understanding of God's eternal act. The divine
is not restricted by change and time, as people are. The incarnate
humanity of Christ - offered, sacrificed, risen, and ascended - is
always part of the Godhead. It is real humanity drawn up into God,
and eternally representing humanity to God.
In the eucharist, bread and wine are brought and offered to God:
the simple stuff of life, offered to its author. God receives those
gifts, takes them, transforms them, and then offers them back to
the Church, whose offering he transforms.
That is the miracle of the eucharist: by grace, people offer,
and God transforms so as to unite human offering with the perfect
offering of the Son to the Father. Those who receive communion seem
only to receive what was first offered - the signs of bread and
wine - but in reality they receive the gift of God himself.
God gives himself in this sacrament, so that human beings are
drawn up into the worship of heaven. In this worship, it is the
humanity of Christ that plays our part, ensuring that when God
looks towards his human children, what he sees is Christ. Rather
than our selfishness, he sees the self-giving love of the perfect
The Victorian theologian and hymn-writer William Bright put it
Look, Father, look on his anointed face,
And only look on us as found in him.
Bright knew that, in Christ, humanity finds its perfect image.
This image is the gift of grace to those who are baptised into
Christ's body, and sustained by the presence of his risen life.
The Revd Dr Peter Groves is Vicar of St Mary Magdalen's,
This is the last of four edited extracts from Grace: The cruciform love of God
(Canterbury Press, £12.99 (CT Bookshop £11.70 - Use code
CT632 ); 978-1-84825-054-3).