UNDERSTANDING THE OFFERTORY

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe.” These words have been used by faithful Jews to offer thanks and praise to God all through the centuries as they lift the Cup of Blessing and share the Passover meal, the Seder. This was the occasion within which Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. Key elements of our celebration of the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) are anchored in this Hebrew tradition—among them, the Offertory.

                 

A few years ago, representatives of the congregation began bringing the gifts of bread and wine, together with monetary gifts, to the altar. These offerings are rich in symbolic meaning. They represent the fruits of the earth, the work of our hands, and our very lives as they are presented to God with thanks and praise. Offertory hymns like “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow,” or “Let the Vineyard be Fruitful Lord,” or “What Shall I Render to the Lord” inform what is happening in this action. Likewise, an Offertory Prayer focuses our intention. One of them reads:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, maker of all things. Through your goodness you have blessed us with these gifts. With them we offer ourselves to your service and dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that you have made, for the sake of him who gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Words of Institution, we hear that Jesus  “. . . took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples. . . ”  We do the same things at each celebration of the Eucharist, following his command to “do this.”

                 

Notice that in Jesus’ “Feeding of the 5000,” recorded in each of the four gospels, the action is strikingly similar. Scholars believe this miracle is “eucharistic” in its nature. Jesus took the gifts of five loaves and two fish, gave thanks, broke them and they were distributed in far greater measure than they had first been given. God’s power transforms the gift. What begins as bread and wine is returned to us as the very Body and Blood of Christ. By God’s power, the time and treasure we offer becomes much more for sustaining the life of the world than we could have imagined. Each Lord’s Day, we act out this mystery of faith in the Eucharist, and it all begins with the Offertory.

–Pastor Dean Bard, February 2011