8/16/15, Transitions at the Table


Proverbs 9:1-6, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:48-58

Two weeks ago I shared in the ordination of the first woman in Idaho to become a RomanCatholicWomanPriest.   It was a grand event, a solemn event, an event that marked a moment of significant change in the life of the woman who was called to be a priest and in the lives of the community who called her and will stand with her in witness of the Christ in Hailey, Idaho.  After the words of commitment were said and the music sung and the tears shed and the hugs exchanged and the blessings offered, what do you suppose we all did?  Everyone sat down to eat and drink!  How similar this is to other moments of transition in the lives of humans: weddings, baptisms, funerals, birthdays, even elections.  How do we mark moments of change in community life?  WE EAT TOGETHER!  Eating and drinking is a way of symbolizing our common ground, our oneness, our sharing of joy and sorrow in community.

There are many scripture stories that involve the experience of eating and drinking together.  In the passage from Proverbs today, Lady Wisdom herself invites us to eat at her table. She promises that as we do so,  we will gain understanding about life.  In our reflections on the 6th chapter of John this month, several of these eating stories are brought to our attention.  First we heard about the feeding of the 5000 beside the Sea of Galilee.  Then as he speaks to them, Jesus reminds the crowd more than once of the story of their ancient ancestors eating manna in the desert.  Today he offers a rather strange teaching in which he says his own flesh and blood are true food and drink, and that people who partake of this food become one with him.

What is the meaning of this teaching? The temple authorities took issue with it.  What changes to Jewish theology could he have been suggesting when he spoke of communally sharing a meal of his own substance?  Three possibilities come to mind:

1.      Jesus might have been saying that we need to change our minds about what’s most important.  Spiritual bread is more important than physical bread.

2.      Jesus might have been saying that by taking his substance into ourselves, we become what we have eaten.  We are transformed into the body and blood of the Christ spirit.

3.      Jesus might have been saying that when eating happens in community, not only the individual is changed. The community is changed too.

Catholic scholars now believe that the words of Jesus spoken in the Gospel of John cannot be taken as actual words, to be literally interpreted. The Gospel of John was written in the last decade of the first century.  Its author chose to put these words of Eucharistic teaching onto the lips of Jesus as a way of explaining how late first century Christian leaders were coming to understand what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus meant to a communities that had now been scattered across the Mediterranean world but still gathered faithfully to worship. So John means for Jesus to speak metaphorically about all three of these things.  Spiritual bread is more important than physical bread. By taking the very substance of Jesus into ourselves, we are changed to become the presence of the Christ in our world, among the people we serve.  And when we share this meal in community, the individuals that are changed also become a stronger, united Body of Christ. The community changes too.

Later on in John’s gospel, in chapters 13-17, there is an account of the Last Supper. It does not include any words about the Eucharist as John has described it in this 6th chapter.   Instead, it is a picture of Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet, teaching them and praying at length for them. He is showing them what it means to be his Body, what they should look like when they partake of the Eucharist and become the Christ presence themselves.

The Eucharist that we celebrate every week re-enacts the Last Supper. At the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before he was arrested and crucified, he ate bread and wine and instructed his disciples to do the same in memory of him. (Re-member him.)

The words of institution recorded in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul indicate that after breaking the bread Jesus said: “Take this, all of you, and eat it.  This is my body which will be given up for you.” Bread that is "taken, blessed, broken and given" becomes the life of Jesus, the body of Christ. Some Christians take this literally and some take it symbolicly. Generally though, they agree that somehow what happens to the bread brings us to recognize Christ’s presence.  They agree that this action is a sacrament celebrating what Jesus did and what God wants to continue to do with human lives.   The sacrament of the Eucharist enacts this truth:

- In Jesus, God took a human body, blessed it, and was broken in it.

- God takes the lives of Jesus-followers, blesses them, breaks them, and remakes them.

- The piece of bread is taken, blessed and broken. The wine is poured out. In eating and drinking,  we take in the life of Christ and we become what he is: a flesh and blood Christlike servant, bringing love and peace to the world.

 

I invite you to consider your own thoughts about what it is we do when we celebrate Eucharist. Has your understanding of it changed over the course of your life?  Why is this meal important to you today?  When we eat together as Lumen Christi, are we open to change?

By Sandi DeMaster