Attentiveness: Mysteries - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Mysteries

Last Sunday, as I came forward to receive the Eucharist, I found myself overwhelmed by sin: the sins of the world, the violence and divisions among Christians, and of course my own sin. As I knelt down to receive the body and blood of our Lord, I was overwhelmed by death: the death of our Savior and the death of relatives and friends.

I grasped the bread and then dipped it in the wine and tears came to my eyes. This has only happened a few times in my life. The Eucharist became for me a genuine sacrament, or mystery of God’s presence.

The Church through the ages has discussed, argued, divided, and even fought wars over the definition of the sacraments, especially Eucharist. The Greek word mysterion was translated into two Latin terms: mysterium and sacramentum. How Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper, to me is a genuine mystery and a sacrament (a visible sign of an inward grace).

This week, all those technical arguments, trying to define specifically what happens when celebrating the Eucharist, were far from my mind. What was in my heart was the suffering of the Messiah on the cross and the sin—even my sin—which He bore and which caused the suffering.


I seldom cry. I wiped them away quickly and returned slowly to my seat. What brought this on, that I was so overwhelmed by an inexact sense of my own sin, the sins of the world and the suffering of Christ? Why, and why now?

I cannot answer the second (Why now?) except to say that God knows best what I need, and at this point I needed to be reminded of my own sins and the suffering of Christ.

But why? Evagrios the Solitary (d. 399) may have a clue for me or for us.

“First, pray for the gift of tears, so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul. And having confessed your transgressions to the Lord, you will obtain forgiveness from Him. Pray with tears and all you ask will be heard. For the Lord rejoices greatly when you pray with tears.”[1]

And, like Evagrios notes, it was after confessing my transgressions that this occurred. I believe it is not just our mind, but our heart which needs a full conversion. The heart represents both the will and emotions. I believe, by God’s grace he is giving me this gift, to more fully identify with Christ. Paul said it well and this little section of Philippians means so much more to me today that it did just a week ago.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Yes, I do want to know Christ.

[1] From The Philokalia translated by G.E.HJ. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, (New York: Faber and Faber, 1979) p. 58.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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