Eating as We Wait
June 22, 2003
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
The Eucharist is not simply about what we have. It is also about what we are waiting for. Jesus makes this very clear in today’s Gospel because on the eve of his passion and death, even as he tells his disciples, “Eat my body, drink my blood,” he also points to what he is waiting for. He says: “I will never again drink from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” Therefore, this Eucharistic meal is not only a meal that we celebrate today, but a meal that points to a future hope; to the establishment of God’s Kingdom. There we will share in the full blessings of God with Christ. This meal, then, is not simply about what we have, but what we are waiting for.
What we have is the real presence of Christ. You and I as Catholic Christians believe that when we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we receive the real presence of Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. This is a wonderful gift and a wonderful mystery. It is one that we share in every weekend. But, even as we consume what we have, this meal still points to what we are waiting for. Even as we eat, we are longing for the establishment of God’s Kingdom, when all evil will be destroyed and when we will share in the fullness of God’s promises. It is obvious how much our world still needs God’s Kingdom to be established. For we live in a world that is characterized by hatred, injustice, violence, by sickness and greed and death. These realities in our midst tells us that all that God has promised us has not yet come to pass, that the Kingdom is not yet here.
But the power of the Eucharist is that what we already have gives us reason to hope in what we are waiting for. Because we have the real presence of Christ, we have reason to hope that what we are waiting for is not an illusion, that God’s promises are trustworthy. This is very important, because when we look at what is wrong with our world and with ourselves, it is easy to lose hope. So the real presence of Christ in our midst, is our reason to believe that God will, in fact, establish the Kingdom.
Therefore, the Eucharist is not simply about the food we have today, no matter how wonderful that food is. It’s about the hunger which we trust will be satisfied in the future. Therefore, as we come to the Eucharist, we need to bring our hunger and the hunger of our world. As we together, sing the Eucharistic Prayer and approach this altar, we must remember what we are hungering for: for a world, in which the weak are not oppressed and the poor are not abandoned; for a world in which every human being is treated with dignity and where those who have power do not abuse it. As we come forward and open our hands to receive the bread of the Eucharist, we must remember what we are waiting for: for the ability to forgive, for the strength to speak the truth, for the courage to overcome our addictions. As we raise the Eucharistic cup to our lips and drink the wine, we must remember what we have been promised: how change is possible, how true love can be found, how we can become a people more generous, more patient, more joyful.
Are these high hopes? Yes, they are. But these are hopes that flow from what we already have. Because we already possess the real presence of Christ, we have reason than to wait for the rest. Because Christ is risen and Christ is present in the Eucharist, we can be a people that dare to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” and believe that it will.
Why Christ Is Present in the Eucharist
June 18, 2006
Mark 14: 12 – 16, 22 – 26
On this feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord we celebrate the foundational Catholic truth that Christ is present, really present, in the Eucharist. What should we say about this wondrous gift? In past centuries much theological time and effort was spent on trying to understand how Christ was present. But to this day the mode of Christ’s presence remains a mystery. So today I would rather emphasize another aspect of the Eucharist and one which I think perhaps even more important. Rather then centering on how Christ is present I would like us to reflect on why Christ is present. Because the wondrous gift of the Eucharist allows Christ to be present for our benefit—present to help us live.
Now how does the Eucharist help us live? I would suggest to you it does so in three distinct ways. Three ways that correspond to the mystery we celebrate. What is the mystery we celebrate? We proclaim it in the midst of the Eucharist prayer: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Each of these three aspects of Christ’s paschal mystery corresponds to a way in which the Eucharist helps us live. For the Eucharist gives us the power of letting go, the power of seeing goodness, and the power of holding on.
Christ has died. We remember in this meal the wondrous love by which Christ gave his life for our salvation. Dying is about letting go. As we encounter in the Eucharist the Christ who died for us, he imparts to us the power of letting go of those aspects of our life that which hold us back. What are the things that hold us back? Each of us must answer that question from the circumstances of our lives. Perhaps we must let go of resentment or hurt or self-indulgence or addiction or prejudice or pride. Each time we come to this meal we set those obstacles before the Lord, and the Christ who gave his life for us enables us to let go of whatever hinders us.
Christ is risen. Here is the center of our faith. We believe that the love and goodness of God was so real in the person of Christ that God conquered even death. As we encounter the risen Christ in the Eucharist he gives us the power to see the goodness that is a part of our life and our world. Do we need to see that goodness? Without a doubt. How easy it is of us to center on what is wrong, what is broken, what has failed? In doing so we discount all the goodness and blessing that surround us in our lives. What could be a greater waste than to be a blessed and loved person and never claim and celebrate that gift? So each time we come to this meal and encounter the risen Christ we receive the strength to be thankful for the people who love us, for our health, for our talents, for the beauty of the world around us. We pray for the risen Christ to make us always conscience of those gifts and never take any of them for granted.
Christ will come again. Although Christ is risen, the victory of Christ is not yet complete. Evil, injustice, violence, and hatred remain as a part of our world. They touch our lives. But we as a community believe Christ will come again, and when he comes the ultimate victory will be won and all evil will be destroyed. So each time we encounter the Christ who will come again in the Eucharist he gives us the strength to hold on, to hold on in hope. This strength allows us to believe that whatever troubles we must face God has not forgotten us and will not abandon us. In this Eucharist meal we pray that Christ will allow us to hold onto hope, even in the midst of family troubles, in the midst of sickness, in the midst of discouragement and failure, and yes even in the shadow of death.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the Christ who is present in the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that this Christ gives us the power to let go of those things that hinder us, to see the goodness of the world around us, to hold on the midst of trial. On any particular day that we come to the Eucharist our lives might require one of these gifts more than another. But every time we come to the Eucharist the whole Christ is present to us. So what do you come for today? What needs shape your life? Whatever you need, approach this table with confidence, with the confidence that you will be fed. The good news of the Eucharist is not only that Christ is present, really present, but that Christ is present for our benefit, present so that we might live.
In Memory of Him
June 14, 2009
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Today on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist, the gift of that sacred meal which we share together with one another every weekend. In the gospel the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples at the last supper, “This is my body, this is the cup of the new covenant,” are the same words that we hear in every Eucharistic Prayer. To them are added words that Christ spoke according to Paul, “Do this in memory of me.” It is that command of Christ’s on which I wish to focus today, that command that we do this meal in memory of him.
Christ asks us to remember, but what does he ask us to remember? Certainly he asks us to remember his words at the last supper but I think he asks us to remember much more than that. By joining this Eucharistic meal to the command to remember, Jesus makes the Eucharist the antidote to forgetfulness. Our lives are diminished over and over again by the things we forget. We are so busy, so preoccupied with so many things that we often end up forgetting the things that are essential. We are so focused on raising our children, in negotiating problems at work or getting through the fear of the economic down turn. We forget to take strength from the things that can truly give us life. It is all so easy to focus on things which are marginal and forget those things that are fundamental. In that forgetfulness, we keep going faster and faster and our lives become more and more superficial because we sever ourselves from the beauty and the mystery of living.
Against this kind of forgetfulness, Jesus asks us to remember, to celebrate this meal in memory of him. I believe that he asks us to remember three things: To remember who we are, what God has done, and what God has promised.
Each time we come to the Eucharist, each time we gather at this meal, we are asked to remember who we are. Not who we are in the minds of the people we work with or even in the minds of our family and friends, but who we are in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God, each one of us is a beloved daughter or son. Each one of us is a person of permanent value. All too often we forget that. We forget and therefore we define ourselves by our weaknesses or our sinfulness or our fears or our failures. But when we come to this place, we are called to remember our true identity. We come to this holy place because we are a holy people and here we remember our dignity, our status as chosen children of God.
Also when we come to the Eucharist, we are called to remember what God has done, what God has done for us. We are called to remember the gift of our spouse and the mystery of the love that unites us. We are called to remember the gift of our children and our friends, who bring wonder and hope into our lives. We are called to remember the gifts, the talents we’ve been given and the opportunities that we have been provided with to use them. Now we know all of these things, but all too often we forget them. In that forgetting we diminish the quality of our lives. But when we come to this meal, we are called to remember. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving and each time we come to the Eucharist we are called to remember all that God has done for us and to be thankful.
Finally we are called to remember at each Eucharist, what God has promised us. God has promised never to abandon us, never to forget us. We need to remember those promises as we deal with the problems of life, as we deal with loss and grief and fear and change. Now we know God’s promises as words but we often forget their power. We strive then to solve the problems of our life on our own. But at this Eucharist, we are called to remember that we are not alone, that God goes with us, and that together we can face whatever life brings.
Jesus gives us the command to share this meal in memory of him. He asks us to remember: who we are, what God has done and what God has promised. So at this Eucharist and every Eucharist, as we respond to the Eucharist Prayer, let us remember our dignity as children of God. As we come forward to receive the bread and share from the cup, let us be filled with thankfulness for the gifts that God has given us. As we go forth from this place, let us remember that we do not go forth alone but God comes with us. The Eucharist is the antidote for forgetfulness, for the forgetfulness that can diminish our lives. By remembering, we can live in dignity, in thankfulness and in hope. In this meal, we can find true joy and lasting life, all because we do it in memory of him.
The Perfect and Imperfect Meal
June 10, 2012
Mark 14: 12-16; 22-26
Can you identify what was your most memorable meal? This was a question posed by a hostess at a dinner party, and she received a variety of answers from her guests. One couple said that their most memorable meal was a three course dinner which was made by an executive chef for them on their honeymoon while on a river cruise in Paris. Another couple said that their most memorable meal was the first time that their children served them breakfast in bed on their anniversary. There was a man there who was once a boy scout. He said his most memorable meal was a meal of hobo hamburgers, which he prepared in tin foil over a campfire on the day when he was able for the first time to light the fire without matches. A mother of three said her most memorable meal was a meal at which she ate nothing. It was the first time she nursed her newborn son. The reverence and holiness of that moment would never be forgotten.
If you can identify your most memorable meal, it most likely shares one thing in common with every other most memorable meal—a connection to life. More than other things, meals have the ability of capturing, expressing, and celebrating something that is fundamental to who we are and who we hope to become. This is why we use meals so often. We celebrate meals on birthdays and anniversaries, at weddings and funerals. Coming together around food in a meal somehow is able to carry the significance and meaning of the deepest things we experience.
This truth is what makes the Eucharist a perfect meal. Because, in this meal, we share the body and blood of Christ, the real presence of our savior. Christ is the source of life and therefore the source of all the blessings in our lives which we commemorate in all the other meals we celebrate. The Eucharist is the meal which is the source of all our meals, because, in the Eucharist, we encounter the author of life who is the source of every blessing. Through Christ we are blessed in our family, our friends, our talents, and our possessions. All of these gifts come from Christ. In the Eucharist we encounter him and celebrate the blessings we have received.
So, in this sense, the Eucharist is a perfect meal. But, remarkably enough, it is also at the same time an imperfect meal, because the very mission of Christ was to establish the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will only fully be established when every evil and injustice of our world is eliminated. That will not fully occur until the time when Christ returns in glory. Therefore, it is only then that the perfect meal can be served.
Jesus says as much in today’s gospel. At the last supper, he tells his apostles, “I will never again drink from the fruit of the vine until I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” So, the Eucharist we share is an imperfect meal, an incomplete meal, because the very sharing of it points to that final great meal which we will celebrate with Christ himself in the kingdom. That meal we call the Supper of the Lamb.
The Eucharist then is both a perfect and imperfect meal. That means that every time we come to the Eucharist we should come with thanksgiving and with commitment. Every time we receive the Lord in the Eucharist, our hearts should be filled with thanksgiving for all the blessings that we have received, all the blessings that we have celebrated throughout all the other meals of our lives. But, at the same time, as we come to the Eucharist, we should be aware of all that is lacking in our world. We should see all the evil that the power of Christ promises to eliminate. We should share in this meal, aware of the poverty, violence, greed, and hatred that still surrounds us. This meal should increase our hunger and our desire for the kingdom of God. We should commit ourselves to build that kingdom.
We then come to every Eucharist with thanksgiving and with commitment—with thanksgiving for all the present blessings we have received, with commitment to work to build God’s kingdom, so that someday we might share in that kingdom the final and perfect meal, the Supper of the Lamb.
Being Ready to Take
June 7, 2015
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
The verbs are very important in today’s gospel, because they not only tell us what Jesus did at the Last Supper, they describe the way that God always deals with us. The gospel says that Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and told them to take it. Of these verbs two are most important: Jesus gave and told his disciples to take. These two verbs succinctly describe the dynamic of our relationship with God. In that dynamic God is always the giver. Now it is true that we can give some things to God. We can give God our service and our love. But our giving is always overshadowed by God’s giving, because God’s giving is greater and more fundamental. God gives us life, family, intelligence, health, and (in a way that is very appropriate at today’s Feast of Corpus Christi) God gives us God’s very self. When it comes to giving, we cannot compete with God. Therefore, the second verb is the important action for us: the verb to take. If God is the giver, we must be the takers. If God overwhelms us with so many blessings, we must be willing to receive them.
Here is where our relationship with God can be short-circuited. It is possible for us to come into God’s presence and not be ready to receive. In 1972 Henri Nouwen wrote an important spiritual book that describes this dynamic between God and us. The title of that book is With Open Hands. Nouwen says that we must approach God with open hands because only when our hands are open are we able to take what God offers us. Nouwen suggests that often we come into God’s presence without open hands. We come with clenched fists. And when our fists are clenched, we cannot receive, we cannot take what God is giving us. We clench our fists because we are afraid. We fear that God will not respond to us with mercy and love. We clench our fists because we feel that we are unworthy, embarrassed by the mistakes we have made and the people we have hurt. We clench our fists because we want to be the givers and refuse to submit ourselves to God’s control. We clench our fists and become unable to receive. We walk away empty.
Therefore, the most important thing we can do today or any day is to open our hands to receive what God gives. We must not be afraid to let God enter our space and see us as the people that we are. We must not be afraid to let God see our disappointment, our failures, even our hatred. We must set aside all fear and pretense and open ourselves, so that our fists can relax and open to take what God offers. Today on the Feast of Corpus Christi, as we come to communion, let us see our open hands to be the sign of our relationship with God. Clenched fists will not do. Jesus wishes to give us his very self. So let us open our hands and open our hearts to receive him.
June 3, 2018
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Rabbi Naomi Levy tells a story about a man in her congregation named Henry. Henry owned a start-up business, and business was booming. At the age of 36 he had already earned more money than he ever thought he would in his life. He was happily married, and he had a beautiful and energetic young son. “But something is missing,” he told the Rabbi. “I feel an emptiness inside. I know I shouldn’t complain with all the blessings that I have. But it’s like I’ve forgotten something, and I don’t know what I have forgotten.” “Maybe,” the Rabbi said, “you’ve forgotten your soul.” “But I’m living my dream,” said Henry. “Maybe”, the Rabbi said, “your soul has a different dream.” As the two of them talked, Henry admitted that he was often distracted at home—always checking in on his phone and iPad, always plugged in. The Rabbi said, “Perhaps you should take the Sabbath more seriously. You know, we Jews believe that one day a week we must disconnect from work. What if one day a week, you turned off all the technology, forgot about your business, and simply spent time with your family and friends?” Henry agreed to this plan, and after a few weeks called the Rabbi back to report. He said, “Rabbi, the first night, I couldn’t stop reaching for my phone so I finally turned it off and put it in a drawer. But it was like I had cut off a limb. I kept waiting for it to ring.” “And now?” said the Rabbi. “Now, I feel that I am better at being a father and husband than I have been in a long time. I celebrate the joy in my son’s eyes when I read him a story. There is no more technology in bed. I fall asleep holding my wife in my arms. The emptiness is gone. I feel rich.” “You are rich,“ said the Rabbi, “for you have moved below the surface of your life and rediscovered your soul.”
This experience of Henry meshes well with today’s feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord. For what we celebrate today is that the real meaning of the Eucharist is not found in seeing the bread and wine, because the bread and wine is only the surface. We believe that beneath the bread and wine is the real and living presence of Christ to us. But, this presence cannot be seen with our eyes, only with our faith. As St. Thomas says in the hymn for today’s feast, “Here beneath the signs are hidden, Precious things to sense forbidden.” The real meaning of the Eucharist is found beneath the bread and wine, below its surface.
The same is true for our lives. That is why it is so dangerous only to live on the surface of our lives – doing more and more, running here and there, always under the control of stress and worry. When we live this way, there is so much of what we have and who we are that we miss. Every so often we must unplug ourselves, so that we can sink below the surface of our lives and again discover who we are and who belongs to us. Jews have chosen Saturday as their day of Sabbath rest. Christians move the Sabbath to Sunday. But the day is not as important as the rest itself.
Today’s feast reminds us that the real meaning is often found below the surface: below the bread and wine, below the hectic energy and activity of our lives. Today our liturgy invites us simply to take time to be: to remember again who Christ is, what Christ has done for us, who we are, and who we belong to. Take then, a Sabbath. Reconnect to God’s love by setting aside some of the busyness of life and re-embracing the people you love, family and friends. Then, you will be rich. There, you will find your soul.
Tasting the Love
June 6. 2021
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
For as far back as he could remember, Paul ate his grandmother’s bread. For him, his grandmother’s house was a place of love, comfort, and good times. But whenever she knew that he was coming, the kitchen was filled with the aroma of bread baking. Paul ate her bread when he was a child, when he proudly brought his crayoned drawings which showed his grandma’s house with smoke coming out of the chimney and grandma waving to him through the window. He ate her bread with his eighth-grade friends when they stopped in after a summer softball game. He cried over the bread when Lisa, the first true love of his life, dumped him for the class football star. He ate the bread with grandma when he left to study overseas and each time he returned home to visit.
As grandma grew older, it was harder for her to make bread. Her hands were gnarled with arthritis. But when she knew that Paul was coming, she would get up early and slowly mix the batter and knead the dough. Paul knew how much it cost her to make bread, but he never suggested that she should stop. It was too important. The bread was the bond of their relationship. After grandma died at the age of ninety, Paul found a recipe written on a small index card in her kitchen. The heading on the card was simple. It read: “Paul’s Bread.”
Paul decided to make the bread himself. After his first try, his mother called on the phone. “Well, how did it go?” she said. Paul answered, “It’s not as good as grandma’s. But it is worth it, because when I placed the first piece in my mouth, I could still taste her love.”
Today we celebrate the great mystery of the bread and wine that Jesus left us, the Eucharist. In our faith, we believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist in a real way—present not just because we remember him, but present body, blood, soul, and divinity. Jesus’s presence in the Eucharist is unique. Yet Paul’s experience with his grandmother’s bread still has something to say to us about the Eucharist. The very purpose of this sacrament is to unite us with someone we love and to remind us of the way he has loved us.
Each time that we eat this bread or drink this cup, we should recall the many times that Christ has blessed us. We should recall the joy we felt on our wedding day or the relief that was ours when our first child was born safe and strong. We should remember how Christ stood with us as we faced cancer or grieved the loss of a dear friend. We should never make receiving the Eucharist a routine. Each time we approach this altar, we should remember our history with Jesus and the many ways in which he has cared for us. The Eucharist unites us to our risen Lord. As we receive him today, let us be sure to taste his love.