I’m finishing the New Valamo lecture and thought it wouldn’t hurt to think out loud as I put things together.

Where is the best place to begin when talking about the Eucharist and the suffering world? Do we begin from the suffering we see around us every day and experience ourselves in our own lives? Or do we begin with the redemptive suffering of Christ, of which the Eucharist is the memorial/anamnesis (there isn’t a single word in English that captures the Greek word anamnesis)?

It wouldn’t be difficult to make a case for there being no connection at all between the Eucharist and the suffering world. To take the Byzantine tradition as an example, although the Divine Liturgy contains intercessions, and although individuals may add their prayers for specific people or situations, the liturgical action as a whole doesn’t speak in a direct way to the suffering that people experience. In the worst case, the our celebration of the Eucharist suffers from inwardness and exclusivity that shuts out the world and its suffering. It becomes a celebration of us, medicine for the healthy, a feast for the already-well-fed.

One could argue in reply that liturgical signs aren’t supposed to speak directly to anything, that liturgical action is about praise and glorification, not addressing concrete issues in the world. I agree with this view, to the extent that at least in some Christian liturgical traditions it is possible for worship to be hijacked by one cause or another and lose the central element of doxology.

But — and I think in the end this overrides such a view of liturgical signs and actions — the God we worship has indeed spoken directly to us in the Word made flesh. The word God speaks to us is a word of healing, hope, and life, the Word who became a servant, for whom the first would be last and the last, first.

Moreover, the great teachers of the church have reminded the church again and again that (to put it in terms of diakonia, the theme of the New Valamo course) there must be a living connection between what we do liturgically and what we do diaconally. The “work of the people” (leitourgia) must take concrete shape in the world in the form of our servanthood to and for others (diakonia).

Insisting on the consonance of leitourgia and diakonia has great implications for how we live out being church in the suffering world.

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