Body and Blood of Christ
Reflections on the readings
Jesus was crucified because of the company he kept and the people he ate with. Eating together is a significant human activity. Stories and lives are shared. Relationships are renewed and strengthened. We are continually reminded that God is social, a God of relationship. Any spirituality or theology that disconnects us from the concerns of the world and contemporary social concerns should be dismissed.
It must have been abhorrent and shocking to his Jewish listeners when Jesus said that ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life’. His words are meant to shock too as we listen to his words each day with new ears and try to understand with new and open hearts. In taking Jesus inside us, we take into our selves his teaching, his vision, his sentiments, his passion and his values. His thinking becomes our thinking. His dreams become our dreams. His vision becomes our vision. We become Jesus for the world. Become what you eat!!
Today’s feast should be of ever widening circles of inclusion. This can cause hatred because it involves being in solidarity with the victims of the world. It causes us to raise questions when millions of people continue to be hungry and die of hunger, or as we have seen people, even in this country, being excluded from help during this pandemic because they do not qualify-when in fact the only qualification should be human need whether they are temporary visa holders or have not worked in a job for more than 12 months. As Father Pedro Arrupe said, ‘If there is hunger (injustice, inequality, oppression) anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere in the world.’
The celebration of the eucharist is trivialised when it is used to determine a person’s worthiness; when used to put up more barriers between people. It is like putting Jesus back in the tabernacle where he is worshipped but not connected with humanity. Yet, in tragedy and pandemics, we also see glimpses of humanity … glimpses that speak of ‘eucharist’. This feast is an action; it is the coming together as a community ready for action. Taking and eating the bread of life has consequences for us if the physical and spiritual hungers of people become more present to us.
The eucharist needs to respond to the cry of the poor and cry of the earth - the cries of people who are hungry, illiterate and homeless. It must address the increasing violation of basic human rights; the cry for freedom and sovereignty of First Nations’ people; peasants who are displaced due to extractive industries that also destroy the environment and Indigenous sacred sites. Our coming together must include allowing ourselves to see the world as Jesus does; to allow ourselves to be broken open to allow the world in and touch its scars. We are the Body of Christ here on earth. There is no other. We are bound together. As we approach the Feast of the Sacred Heart this week we are reminded that we are called to be on earth, the heart of God.
Though unable to actually take part in the eucharist in recent months, many have realised that Jesus is really present to our world in so many gestures where people connected with others who may have been off the radar, offering concrete concern for people in need, which was very evident even among other faith groups such as Muslims and Sikhs. Muslims even during Ramadan when they were fasting still provide assistance to other people. Our celebration must make us agents of God's justice and mercy for a world hungry for food, dignity, esteem, healing, forgiveness, freedom and acceptance..
St Augustine said ‘become what we receive’ when we celebrate the eucharist. We become Christ's loving and healing presence in this world. Our gathering is a sign of justice where there is a fundamental equality – not always embraced by sections among Christianity. St Paul condemns distinction, or class, or the slightest humiliation of the poor. If equality or hospitality are missing, our prayers or words about a God of justice and mercy are empty.
More and more, we need to expand the idea of neighbour. Pope Francis has echoed this call in his exhortations. The eucharist must do this for us. The various crises we face such as household debt, housing, climate, food and energy, interconnect and overlap. If these do not enter our thinking and acting, then we cannot share the eucharist with real meaning. The last global financial crisis resulted in over 10,000 people committing suicide in Europe and the USA. Hunger kills 1000s every day-more than Covid-19. The consequences of climate change (Pacific region and parts of Asia) impact mostly on people who are not responsible for it.
For Jesus, the only true bread that comes down from heaven is love [Jn. 6:35-40]. The Gospel today leaves us in no doubt that God’s presence wants to be made concrete in what is human, and human action, where change comes with challenging and replacing systems of injustice.
Clearly, as the eucharist makes Jesus present in our midst – it must be a ‘yes’ to love, life and God and a ‘no’ to violence. It must expose injustice, inequality and forms of violence where it exists. Jesus’ rising from the dead is God’s definitive declaration as to where God’s preferential option lays. Our reception of body and blood of Christ is our ‘Amen’, our ‘yes’ to what Jesus did for us and that we will share in his work. St Paul reminds us that ‘though many, we are one body’. If we take our understanding of solidarity a little further, it is that ‘if one member of Christ's body suffers, all suffer’. We need to move from individualism to interdependence. This interconnectedness with all living things is not abstract, but concrete. It may be that our participation in the Eucharist ought to create a great sense of unease about disunity, discrimination, hypocrisy in the Christian community and society in general.
Jesus broke bread with the disciples and said, ‘Do this in memory of me,’ reminding us to be the body of Christ in the world. Many today reject as outdated ideas of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘real presence’. This could be a mistake as it seems to reject Jesus’ teaching about the unity of all creation-something needed more than ever-as we are confronted with threats to the Earth and all living things. Jesus’ fundamental teaching was the unity of all life, that all life is one. It was something uneducated people and children were able to understand. It has been at the heart of the life and culture of Indigenous people in all places. All of us are God’s daughters and sons. Differences between us are only apparent. In a sense, there is really one of us. We are all Jesus. God has only one Son - and it is us. Pondering the state violence in the USA and the Philippines and other places and responses to it, we are confronted with the fact that when we use violence against one another, we are attacking ourselves. What we do to and for others we literally do to and for ourselves. This profound teaching is easy to grasp but difficult to live out.
Jesus expressed this in terms of bread. We are like a loaf of bread which is made up of many grains. The conscious act of eating the one loaf strengthens awareness of the unity that otherwise might go unnoticed and uncelebrated. Paul identifies Christ as the True Self that units all. Our True Self is the Christ within. So, what Jesus called ‘the one loaf’, Paul referred to as the one Body of Christ. The fact that we live separately can lead us to forget that we are all members of the same body. The Eucharist is a moment for ‘remembering’- recalling that we are how Christ lives and works in the world today. It is also about ‘re-membering’ where there is healing, reconciliation and acting in a concerted way that reflects the life and presence of Jesus amongst us. It’s a counter-cultural challenge to our era’s individualism, ethnocentrism, and perpetual war.
Fr Claude Mostowik msc