3 June 2018
Exodus 24, 3-8 + Psalm 116 + Hebrews 9, 11-15 + Mark 14, 12-16. 22-26
One of the things I miss most in retirement is being a Pastor in the spring when First Communion comes around. As I learned more and more about being a pastor, I took more and more of a roll in the preparation of the children for this Rite of Initiation. That’s what it is, you know, it is one of the steps in Initiation following Baptism which is why the tradition of wearing white stays with us. That white garment of Baptism gets put on again. When I would visit with the children, I would insist that they not think about Holy Communion as something they come to get lest they begin to think it was prize or a reward. The parents had a hard time with that for a while, but I never gave up. I would insist that they watch their language and stop telling their children they were going to “get communion.” I didn’t really like “receive communion” either. Not because there is something wrong with that language, but because there is something better. I would suggest that it was better to say that their children were going to “enter” communion. I wanted to shift off the object and explore the experience. Communion is something we go into, not simply something we get. Communion is no reward for being good. It is an experience of belonging, a sacrament of Unity that builds up the Body of Christ.
I think of all this today on the Feast of Corpus Christi. A feast that in many cultures and places gets focused on the consecrated host with beautiful processions, hymns, and prayers. I grew up in an Italian Community where this feast day ignited an unbelievable contest to see who could build the most beautiful altar on their front porch because the priest, servers, and other neighbors would process through the neighborhood with incense and bells ringing before the monstrance. Any home with an altar would be a place where the procession stopped for a few moments, Benediction was given, and then the procession continued on to the next home picking up of the faithful as they went. While it was a wonderful and faith filled experience, there was always a risk that it might become more about the consecrated host than the experience of having the Divine visitor at your home along with all the growing numbers of the faithful who joined the procession as it went by. While I can remember that sometimes a little competition would get involved in building the biggest altar or having the most flowers or candles, the whole feast was in the end about community, belonging, and most importantly about Unity. Those people knew who they were, and their identity as Catholics was rooted in this Feast.
There is one word that nearly leaps off the page of this Gospel today. That single word leads us into the mystery and wonder of what the Church celebrates today. That one word sums up the whole of the Gospel and the life of Jesus Christ. “Take”, he says. “Take” is his command. Anyone who thinks that this invitation to take and eat is simply about a consecrated host is missing the point and failing to receive what is offered. There is much more to Christ’s command here than simply taking something to eat. He wants us to take alright, but in taking Communion we take up unity and now take a responsibility for preserving that unity. He wants us to take alright, but this more than taking Holy Communion for in doing so, we take up the work and the mission of Jesus Christ.
Take is the message. Take is the command. We may not just take and eat or grab and run as some seem to think. If we take, we also receive. We receive a place in communion, a place among what we call in the Creed, the “Communion of Saints” for what we enter into through communion is a mystical experience that ties us together with all who have gone before us, with all who are living in the timeless Kingdom of God. So, brothers and sisters, Take today. Receive today. Enter today in the Body of Christ, into the Church, into the Communion of Saints. Take food for the journey of life. Take up the life this gift offers. It is not reward for being good, it is a remedy for what is evil.