Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ - C - 2019 (June 23)
Genesis 14: 18-20.
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
Luke 9: 11-17.
You may not have noticed, because your local situation, but the number of Eucharists, all over the world are being cut drastically, because of the man-made priest shortage. And because of that undeniable fact, it might be good on this feast, to take a look at some of the first Christian concepts of that celebration. Early followers of the Risen Christ were so committed to the Eucharist that they went so far as to find Hebrew Scripture references to it in passages which modern scholars are convinced had nothing to do with Jesus or the Christian 'Breaking of Bread'. To-day's Genesis passage provides us with a classical example.
But Paul in to-day's Corinthian passage (our earliest biblical reference to the Lord's Supper) stressed a completely different aspect of the Eucharistic action. There, angered by the behaviour of some Christian in that community towards the poor, Paul does more than just remind his readers of Jesus' last Supper words and actions. he emphatically states, 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes'. Back then, the Eucharist was celebrated in the context of a community meal - an event in which everyone shared their food and drink with everyone else. But because some of the Corinthian well-to-do resented the fact that the poor could not bring anything to the meal, they selfishly refused to share their food with others and the poor went hungry.
Paul was convinced that the Risen Jesus became present only when the community selflessly experienced him in everyone participating in the celebration. For Paul, not to recognise the presence of Christ in one another, made anyone who did that, unworthy to receive the Eucharist. How different that is from to-day's theology, where Jesus' presence depends on having the right person (an ordained minister) say the right words over the right elements (bread and wine). For Paul, Jesus' presence revolved around a commitment to be one with all who were present.( I wonder how many of us have ever heard that aspect of the Eucharist?)
Take note of the fact that our gospel reference to the 'Lord's Supper' also emphasizes sharing. Notice that Jesus does not feed the crowd; his followers do. When some of the disciples make Jesus aware of the hunger situation, Jesus does not immediately take care of the problem. Instead, he tells his disciples,'Give them some food yourselves'. He then quickly brushes aside their protest, 'Five loaves and two fish are all we have......' telling them to arrange the crowd in groups small enough to be effectively served. It is then he takes their bread and fish, says a blessing over the meager fare, and return it to them, 'to set before the crowd'. The people's hunger is only taken care of by Jesus' followers' willingness to share what little they have.
If we are serious about following our biblical Eucharistic theology, any modern reform of the Lord's Supper must revolve around more than just changing ceremonial words and rituals. Somehow we must create an opportunity for all to share with others. Paul would not be happy and he would quickly demand that we come up with something by which we would become one with those around us to make the Risen Jesus present to all. Any ideas?
In our more or less immediate surroundings, we would make contact with families who are forced to live on charity; with neighbours hit by unemployment; with sick people; with people in prison; with single parents; with recovered and struggling alcohol and drug addicts etc.
Sharing what we have and do not need.
Working for a more just and less corrupt society, one that is more supportive and less selfish, more responsible and less consumerist.
Any other ideas?
Surely such active engagement would strengthen ties and mutual support within families and local communities. Surely our sensitivity to the neediest could grow.I am not sure how society would react. It's possible for selfishness and obsession with one's own security to grow. But this feast of The Body and Blood of Christ and the readings specially chosen might shake up our routine and mediocrity, and challenge us with the fact that we cannot commune with Christ in the privacy of our hearts and homes without communing with our sisters and brothers that are suffering. We cannot share the bread of the Eucharist while ignoring the hunger of millions of human beings who are deprived of bread and justice.
The celebration of the Eucharist must help us open our eyes to discover who we have to defend, support, and help in these times. Experienced faithfully each Sunday, the Eucharist can make us more humane.