June 19, 2022 at Saint Elizabeth Seton and Saint William Catholic Churches in Naples, FL
Genesis 14, 18-20 + Psalm 110 + 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26 + Luke 9, 11-17
It disturbs me a little that the committee who organized the Sunday Readings stopped the reading at verse 26. It bothers me because what comes in the next three verses is the point of what proceeds. The next verses go like this: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine themselves, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on themselves.”
Those verses are the strongest condemnation in the entire New Testament, and they are not to be taken lightly. In the context of the Sacred Liturgy, a letter written to the Church in Corinth is written as well to the Church of Naples. We are challenged by this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ to gather around this altar as commanded to “Do this in memory of me.” Only Luke and Paul preserve those words, and Paul repeats them twice. We are not here to “get” or “take” communion. We are here to enter into communion with Christ and to become the Body of Christ. We are here to DO something in memory of Christ. Eating and drinking is not the “doing.”
So, we need to be clear about what “this” is, and what “memory” means. Religious Memory is not an intellectual activity. It is a power that allows us to participate in what had formed people in the past. Memory in the experience of religion has the power to bring the past into the present with such force that we feel and are part of the past. And so, there are no observers. When we remember the Last Supper, we are there, at the table. We are not pretending, rehearsing, or re-enacting that meal. It is now as much as it was then. That’s what it means to “remember.”
Once we get that right, we might wonder what Jesus is asking us to do. What is “this”? Well, we can learn from the Corinthians that “this” was certainly not an imitation of words and gestures of Jesus. They seem to have thought, and some may still think, that “this” is the repetition of certain words and gestures. NOT! Says Paul.
When Jesus says: “Do this” he refers to giving himself, to pouring out his life’s blood for the sake of others. He does not refer to a menu, a prayer formula or set of gestures. To take, bless and break bread in Jesus’ name implies the commitment to be in communion with his self-giving and make it our own.
The Gospel today is the only story told six times in the Gospels to make a point. We often wrongly call it the “Multiplication” of loaves, but not one of the six versions say that the quantity of bread increased. They simply tell us that the disciples claimed there was not enough while Jesus asked them to give everything they had. When they did, there was more than enough. Each of those six stories foreshadow the Last Supper repeating the formula that Jesus “took, blessed and broke” to satisfy the needs of the people. He teaches us how to give all we are and all we have just as he did through his life and death. That was, and only that could be enough.
There are no observers at the table of the Eucharist. When we take and eat, we had better be ready to be broken and poured out in service and in love, or we “bring judgement” on ourselves as Paul said. At this table we are invited into communion with Jesus Christ who still lives in and through us, and we commit ourselves to proclaim the death of the Lord by our very lives. Nothing else matters.