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Prevailing presence

by
17 May 2013

Peter Groves concludes his series on grace

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 his.

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 living out.

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 Son.

The Victorian theologian and hymn-writer William Bright put it beautifully:

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, Oxford.

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).

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