Jun 6, 2015

Sunday: Christ to be eaten, Christ to be shared

Ex 24: 3-8
Hb 9: 11-15
Mk 14: 12-16, 22-26

There is a well-known and beautiful prayer called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” and the most quoted part of it prays: 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The first time I heard this, an image came to my mind.  Imagine making several huge signs of the cross over your entire body and reciting at each move the words above, line by line as you move your hand. Try it head to toe and left to right and pray it slowly thinking about what it implies. Just to save any embarrassment either do it with others or alone in your room. Small children would enjoy this very much yet it’s anything but child’s play actually.

You can picture that we are wrapped around or covered with a large blanket of protection: within, behind, before, beside, comforted, restored, beneath, above, in quiet, in danger, in our hearts by Christ Jesus. As a people of faith, embraced and saturated by the protection of Our Lord, what have we to fear of anything? 

This weekend we mark a beautiful Solemnity of the Church as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a core Sacrament of our faith and a great mystery.  Still, didn’t we have enough “mystery” to deal with last weekend as we contemplated the very mystery of God himself in the Holy Trinity? Yet, this weekend’s remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper and the origin of the Eucharist seem somehow much closer through our lived experience. 

After all, we have something to touch, taste, hold on to or see with our eyes.  We all are familiar with our Mass and participate in prayer, song, and listening to the Word of God.  So, this “mystery” seems more understandable based upon our experience. Something, or someone, invisible is made visible to us.  That “someone” is Christ – above, beneath, within, around, behind, before.  We believe that this Jesus, God made human, who walked among us in a human body with human blood, is now alive and risen in that same body which he now shares with us in a way that is both mysterious and touchable. This sacrament provides us a moment to touch God as we encounter him in the Holy Eucharist.  Yes, to touch God and for him to feed us, literally in a spiritual yet mysterious encounter like two people who stand face to face.   

The readings this weekend intimately connect us to our Jewish roots.  The Book of Exodus 24: 3-8 relates the bloody sacrifice by Moses upon a constructed altar that symbolically sealed the covenant between God, his Law, and the People.  The blood of a sacrificed bull was spread upon the altar then sprinkled on the people in what may seem to us a primitive ritual but richly symbolic of a life given and a covenant sealed.  That blood was the sign of life shed and life shared.

Here we also have an altar and on this altar another sacrifice is remembered but with even more eternal effect. Our second reading from Hebrews makes the entire ritual tied to the blood of Jesus himself, who made himself a sacrifice: “The blood of Christ . . . offered himself unblemished to God.” And created a new covenant of which we are his people.  His blood was shed and is now shared with his body for us. We too are sealed and signed in the new Covenant which implies a personal and forever relationship between us and the God of eternal unity.   

The Gospel from Mark today, as do all the Gospels, relates to us the origin of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper Jesus took bread and wine, and at that meal which marked the freedom of the Jewish people, transformed that moment forever: “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ’Take it; this is my body. ’Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ’This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’” (Mk 14: 22-26)

From that point forward, after the glory of the resurrection, once the Apostles could grasp the full meaning of what Jesus did, they believed that in their gatherings, at the moments when they “broke bread” together, Jesus was truly in their midst as they remembered what he had done not long before on Calvary. They passed this truth forward.

St. Paul, in his missionary journeys, as he established Christian communities throughout the ancient world, likewise believed what the Apostles and other Christian converts passed on to him.  He reminds his Corinthian converts that it was the Lord himself who taught him: (1Cor 11: 23-27). He then passed it on and on and on down through the centuries of Christian history to our own time. 

Today we continue to believe as countless generations before us.  That under the signs of unleavened bread and simple wine, Jesus Christ becomes present to us, not in a symbolic way, but in a true and substantial way – his precious body and blood.  It is a mystery not less challenging than our belief in the Trinity of Persons in God as we recalled last Sunday.

This is a uniquely Catholic Christian belief and while our brothers and sisters in other Christian traditions have a similar meal at times, the Catholic Church alone can trace its belief back to Apostolic times and enhances its mystery. We “remember” Jesus sacrifice on the cross which is made present again to us as if there were no time between the Last Supper and today.

While the Eucharist is a rich source of prayer, full, conscious and active participation in our life of faith is the fruit of the Holy Eucharist.  It is essentially food to be eaten and food to be shared. But, it is Christ to be received as gift and food and Christ to be shared. So, if we receive Christ we also take him to others.  The social and mission dimension of the Eucharist has been defined in particular ever since the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI called for a new direction of the Church that Pope Francis has so beautifully articulated for us – a God of encounter that is brought to others, especially those on the margins. In a real way, the Body of Christ (the People of God, the Church) moves to others and proposes what Jesus offers.

Our celebration of the Eucharist and the Christ we find here sends us to bring his Gospel above, within, beside, behind, before and to extend comfort and healing to others.  The corporal works of mercy we hear of in Matthew 25 is likely an obvious way to bring Christ to the lonely, the unloved, the non-believers, those in need of mercy, in need of acceptance and those who feel estranged. 

It’s a great challenge that does not promise a smooth road but with Christ who surrounds us on every side, who are we to fear anything?

Grant your Church, O Lord, we pray,
the gifts of unity and peace,
whose signs are to be seen in mystery
in the offerings we here present.
Through Christ our Lord. 

(Prayer over the Offerings)