Christians have never enjoyed a happy relationship with the material world. Influenced by Greek views that matter was negative, sexuality and the physical world, including daily life, were viewed in a negative light. The world of ideas and the mind were elevated and valued above the materiality of this world. As Westerners, we live with the residual influence of this position. Yet we are people who use everyday material things, bread, wine and water, in worship to convey something of God himself to the person receiving it. Jesus himself says: ‘I am the bread of life . . .’
Anglicans have tended to make two responses to Holy Communion. (I run the risk of oversimplifying this view, but hear me out.) The first, by the Anglo-Catholic, tends to elevate the liturgy and sacrament, above the simple encounter with the risen Christ given in the bread and wine. Evangelicals, in contrast, seem uncomfortable with Holy Communion, not wanting too much fuss made and tending to consider it of less importance than the ministry of the word. Both views engage with the question of how does our faith relate to what is symbolised in the materiality of bread and wine? For the Evangelical, it is faith in God’s Word and faith in Christ particularly, without the prop of other things, which is important. That’s good Reformational teaching, I agree. But something is lost and not necessarily reclaimed with a simple view that Christ’s life, presence and love are given in the sacrament. And how does this occur? Merely saying it is a metaphor or sign leaves much unsaid and leaves us poorer for entering into this profound gift by Christ to his Church, his body.