8/19/12, Transitions at the Table

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

Yesterday afternoon I had the delightful privilege of celebrating with a young couple as they marked a moment of significant change in their lives.  They got married!  Really big change! So after all the words of commitment were said and the tears shed and the hands shaken and the hugs exchanged… What do you suppose we all did?  Everyone sat down to eat and drink.  That got me to thinking about other moments of transition in the lives of humans: weddings, baptisms, funerals, birthdays, even elections.  What usually happens? 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 matter of eating and drinking together.  In the passage from Proverbs today, Lady Wisdom herself invites us to eat at her table and gain understanding about life.  As we reflect on the 6th chapter of John this month, we are introduced to several of these eating stories.  We hear about the feeding of the 5000 beside the sea of Galilee.  Jesus reminds the crowd of the story of ancient ancestors eating manna in the desert.  And then he launches off into a teaching in which he says his own flesh and blood are true food and drink, and that people who eat of him share oneness with him.

What does he mean by this?  What changes could Jesus have been marking in speaking of the communal sharing of a meal of his own substance?  Three possibilities:

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

2.    Was Jesus saying that unless we become what Jesus is by taking his substance into ourselves, we do not have spiritual life?

3.    Was Jesus saying that when feeding happens in community, that in eating together the community is changed even as each individual is changed?

I think that Jesus is speaking metaphorically about all three of these things. 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 writer of the Gospel of John 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.

Later on in John’s gospel, the Last Supper account does not include any words about the Eucharist.  It is, instead, a picture of Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet and praying at length for them. He is showing them what it means to be his Body.

The Eucharist that we celebrate is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples before his arrest, and eventual crucifixion. At the meal Jesus ate bread and wine and instructed his disciples to do the same in memory of 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. Is this to be understood literally or is this symbolic?  Christians have interpreted this differently but in general, 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.

- Christians believe that God has taken their lives, blessed them, broken them, and remade them.

- The piece of bread is taken, blessed and broken, too. In eating it, we take in the life of Christ and we become what he is: a servant bringing love and peace to the world.

 

There is much more background to be offered in regards to understanding these scriptures and the theologies that grew out of them as the history of the church progressed.  The several articles you received by e-mail this week are my small attempt to fill in what we never have enough time to explain in homilies.  But for today, I’d like to open this up for you to express 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