The simple answer to this question is “To meet God and share in His Life”. But how does this happen?
Let us start by asking some fundamental questions. What is the Church here for? What is the distinctive and unique function of the Church, that which the Church does, and which nobody and nothing else can do? What task does the Church perform, which cannot be carried out equally well by a youth group, a musical society, an old people’s home, or an ethnic club? What role does the priest fulfil, which cannot be fulfilled by a social worker, a psychotherapist, or a marriage counselor? What holds the Church together and makes it one?
To questions such as these we may respond: the Church is here to preach salvation in Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Such an answer is true, but it is incomplete. For the Church is here not only to proclaim salvation in words, but also to render that salvation accessible to us through action. What then is the primary action of the church community? To answer that, let us remember what happened immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when three thousand converts were baptized. ‘They devoted themselves’, St Luke tells us, ‘to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers’ (Acts 2:42). Here, then, is the distinctive and unique function of the Church: to ‘break bread’, to offer the mystical Sacrifice (the Divine Liturgy) that is without shedding of blood, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper ‘until He comes again’ (1 Cor. 11:2). It is this that the Church alone can do, that distinguishes the Church from every other kind of social unit. Of course, the Church does many other things as well as celebrate the Divine Liturgy, (Eucharist). But it is the Eucharist that forms the life-giving source from which all these other things proceed.
This, then, should be our ‘icon’ of the Church: a table; on the table, a plate with bread and a cup with wine; and round the table, the bishop and the priests, the deacons, the subdeacons, the readers and the acolytes, along with the holy people, the laos or laity: all of them together celebrating the Eucharistic mystery. The Church’s very name in Greek, ecclesia has a Eucharistic reference: it means ‘assembly’, yet not simply any kind of assembly, but specifically the worshiping assembly, the People of God ‘called out’ and gathered for the offering of the Divine Liturgy.
It is no coincidence that the phrase ‘Body of Christ’ has a double meaning, signifying both the community and the sacrament. It is equally no coincidence that the Latin words communio sanctorum (communion of the holy) – denote both the communion of saints and communion in the consecrated Gifts. The Church is essentially a Eucharistic organism, and when she celebrates the Divine Liturgy, then and only then does she become what she truly is. The Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church.
‘If asked to point when asked: Where is God? We would point to the person of Jesus Christ; if asked to point when asked: Where is the Church? it is difficult to think how anyone could point to anything but the Eucharist.’
In one of the Gospels we read at Matins on a Sunday morning we read about the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. Christ appeared (although they did not recognise him) and discussed with them about what had happened in Jerusalem and how it was necessary that the Christ should die. “And he opened to them in all the scriptures concerning himself” i.e. The Old Testament. However when they arrived at Emmaus the two disciples persuaded Christ to stay with them and they then recognised him “In the breaking of the Bread”. This was the first Liturgy and the first times after the resurrection that anyone had received communion. From that day to this there has never been a Sunday when somewhere in the World people have not partaken of the Liturgy and received Communion. It is therefore true to say that Communion is of enormous importance and central to our Faith. As Christ says in St John’s Gospel Chapter 6: “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood there shall be no life in you”. And the Greek word that he uses is fagate which means to munch or chew – it is intensely physical.
So if you want to meet God, to share in His life you must come to church and share in the Liturgy!