May 25, 2008 Year A
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Reflections on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins
Theme: Signs and Associations
"I am the bread of life." (John 6:48)
I remember how one Bishop in the Charismatic Episcopal Church explained the Eucharist. He was aware that some in his flock did not believe that Jesus was really present in the bread and wine given them.
It was around Halloween and the good Bishop went to a local store looking for a Chalice. He was looking for a Chalice that was engraved with the signs associated with the devil and his power. And he found it. You can imagine this Chalice bearing skull and bones and other references to death and the devil.
As the Bishop was teaching on the body and blood of Christ he pulled out this Chalice bearing the signs of Satan. And then he asked, "If I filled this Chalice with wine and prayed to Satan to bless and fill it with his life, would you drink it?" All the people were aghast! In one collective shudder they were repelled by the notion. The Bishop pushed on. "Why?" he said. "It's only wine. It doesn't matter that it was offered to Satan. It's just symbolism." You are right. The people got it. And they got it that Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist. He is present body, blood, soul and divinity. If things consecrated to Satan can convey Satan's power, how much more are we participants in the body and blood of Jesus? It was not the Bishop's intention to show how present Satan can be. The mystery of our faith is about how closely, directly and personally we are to Jesus in the cup of blessing and the bread which we break.
In our religion we believe the sign becomes the thing it signifies. Even food associated with idols through sacrifice was to be avoided in the early Church. And so today we come to the celebration of our faith in the presence of Jesus in the bread which we break and the cup which we bless. We have encountered the richness of our faith for several weeks. First there was the Passion of our Lord. Then, we rejoiced at his Resurrection from the dead. For forty days he showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. This was followed by his Ascension into heaven. Ten days later the Holy Spirit was poured out without measure upon the praying Church. Last Sunday we meditated upon the Most Holy Trinity. And today we renew ourselves in our understanding of the Last Supper.
Christianity is not a weak and anemic faith. Always and forever the Lord calls us to himself. His will is that we will live in him and he in us. Jesus said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." This is not a symbolic gesture of goodwill. Holy Communion according to Jesus is a sign that becomes the very thing it signifies. The Priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon our offering of the Bread and Wine that they may become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus. As temples of the Holy Spirit it is more than the ingestion of mere symbols. It is an immediate encounter with the Lord whom we love. We keep this feast because Jesus said to always do this in remembrance of him. And the remembrance of which he speaks is a promise that he will commune with us if we will commune with him.
St. John Chrysostom reflecting on the Eucharist said, "Let us return from that table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil; thinking on our Head, and on the love which he has shown us." No, there was no anemic symbolism associated with the Eucharist by this Golden Tongued preacher. Filled with the Holy Spirit he moved his parish to embrace the real meaning of Jesus' words.
The manna served the needs of the natural life but conveyed no immediate encounter with divinity. This is the demarcation point between the manna of the wilderness and the bread of life. The bread of life is a person who seeks to impart his life to us. It is to us he says today, "He who eats this bread will life forever."
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you teach me to listen with spiritual ears. Help me not to reason with my flesh but to receive you into my heart. Open the eyes of my heart and strengthen me in the life only you can impart. And when I come to your Table fill me with yourself. May my body and blood become a living witness of the body and blood of Christ. Amen.