1 Cor 10:16–17
The two sections of Moses’ address to the assembled people of Israel are introduced with the words “Remember” and “Do not forget.” These are strong words. The implication is that while the people have been journeying through the wilderness for forty years they have precisely forgotten why they are there in the first place and who has been caring for them all these years. This call to remember and not forget is familiar to us also. What does Jesus say to the disciples after he gives them his bread and wine at the last supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, I am leaving but you have a life ahead of you. Don’t forget who I am. Your eating of my flesh and drinking of my blood will remind you of who I am and what I said and did for you. Don’t forget it. Whether we are the people of Israel ending our wilderness journey like the people in front of Moses or whether we are disciples of Jesus in the midst of our pilgrimage to eternal life we are not exempt from forgetting. The command to remember is a serious one.
What is it that we are to remember or what should we not forget? What about this Eucharist must be kept in mind?
The first thing to remember or the first thing we forget is that our God is a gift-giving God. The food of manna God gave Israel was a gift. Moses makes this very clear. The people were hungry and thirsty on the journey and God fed them and made water flow out of the most unlikely source, a rock. But when life is getting good, after the journey is over, we forget how we were nourished and cared for. We can find our own sources of livelihood. We no longer need be dependent on an outside source. We are successful now, but with the success come temptations of every sort. What have we lost that we need to be told to remember? Our hunger and thirst for God. Once we have enough to eat and drinks of all varieties are available at the nearest shop, we forget the real meaning of hunger and thirst. Hunger and thirst are meant to awaken in us the longing for what really satisfies, namely God. What we need to remember is that we are dependent on God. It is God who keeps us alive, God who ultimately cares for us and guides us through the wilderness of this life. God gives us the bread of his word so that we can find meaning and hope that keep us moving in the right direction. Once we forget that we cannot provide the ultimate meaning of our life any more than we can provide the ultimate breathe that keeps us alive, then we truly die and our life falls apart. When we forget that we live by God’s promise, then we are truly hungry no matter how much food we can buy.
God gave the people manna as gift to sustain them. Jesus gives us that ultimate gift of life by his death. He gives it to us and to the world. It is his ultimate gift to us: to let go of his life on the cross so that we can live. We can either accept the gift or drop it. We can either accept that in Jesus’ food is a dying man’s life for us or we can walk away from it. The Eucharist is gift; to be at the Eucharist is first of all a remembrance that God’s gift of life to us is a gift. We are pilgrim people, like Israel of old. Our temptation is to settle down, but we are on a journey. Eucharist is the gift that keeps us longing for the journey, for the ultimate table of the Kingdom. Jesus gives us the gift of himself in food and drink so that we can continue on the journey.
A second thing to remember is that the Eucharist is about communion. St. Paul talks about a participation in the blood and body of Christ. To eat the food of the Eucharist, to eat and drink what has been blessed, he says, is to enter into the deepest kind of relationship we can with Christ’s very self. The very purpose of eating and drinking is that the food and drink become part of us. The physicality of eating and drinking is to assure that the food is assimilated into our body. But the communion we share in is a communion with the whole body of Christ. Our communion is not with Christ as one person alone. Our communion is with the whole Christ, we though many and of all different kinds are one body in this communion with bread and cup. The Body of Christ is not limited to a sip of Christ’s blood or a piece of his body. No, the mystery of the Eucharist is that in sharing in those small elements we become a participant in something wonderfully large. The Eucharist may look like it is limited in space and time, but in fact when we eat and drink we are in communion with Christ’s whole self and that whole self includes all who are gathered here and beyond our walls. Taking communion, as we say, is wonderful and challenging, because I realize all with whom I am in solidarity. And if I am in communion with the full Body of Christ, then what is my responsibility toward each member of the one Body? If I am so careful to receive a piece of bread so as to treat it as something very precious, am I as careful with all those other members who are also hidden in that bread that is Christ’s Body.
The third thing to remember is that the Eucharist should shock us. The audience of Jesus was shocked when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The shock is meant to wake us up. Eating and drinking are most intimate acts. We become what we eat. At least that is what Jesus implies. How intimate are we with all that Jesus says and does? It is easy to come here and take the bread and sip the wine and then leave. But when we do intimate things in the rest of our life do we do it so easily or are we careful about it? To eat his flesh and drink his blood is ultimately to take in a broken body and blood spilt in violence. It is to have communion with a death that gives life. To eat as Jesus invites us is to shape our lives in such a way that we join Jesus in giving our lives for others at all times and all places. He says today very clearly: I give my flesh for the life of the world. My gift is my life given up. If we eat and drink that, week in and week out, should not our lives too become a gift to others? We are not eating a thing like bread or drinking a liquid like wine, we are communing with a person, with a spirit filled life. We are engaging in a relationship and like all relationships, it is deeply personal.
The food has been transformed into a life that never dies. What a precious gift to be part of that. What a challenge never to forget that this is my God working for me and journeying with me in this life and into life eternal. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” What better gift is there? What better word to live by?
Fr. Prior Joel Macul, O.S.B.