Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
We celebrate that Jesus Christ gave us his Body and Blood. This gift has two primary and contradictory qualities. On the one hand, it is the ultimate gift, the highest sign of love, the proof that Jesus was not willing to hold anything back. Though rich, he did not take from what he had and present us a gift. He gave us himself. He had already given us a planet to live on and a universe to look at. We demanded more, which is partially because we are ungrateful, and partially because God had made us for more, he had made us for himself, so no gift less than himself would satisfy us.
And so he gave us himself. Using the sacramental signs of bread and wine, he gave us his body and blood. The gift was not imaginary or pretend. Using his power as creator of the universe, he declared that whenever one of his Apostles imitated his actions which they saw at the Last Supper, the ordinary bread and wine which was prayed over would become truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. So it is that today we are in the presence of a man chosen by a successor of the Apostles to continue this sacramental action. We have ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but soon it will not be bread and it will not be wine. It will look and taste and otherwise seem like bread and wine, but things will not be what they seem. They will be the greatest gift we have ever received: God himself: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
On the other hand, this gift is repulsive. It is the body and blood of a man. We do not eat human flesh! We will not drink human blood! Such things are repulsive to us. To treat a human being, a person like us, as if they were no more than a meal for us is the ultimate moral depravity. What do we Christians sound like to others? “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man you do not have life within you.” If we heard someone say that, without knowing that it was Jesus, we would be sure that it was the ravings of an insane person.
We must not pass over this element because, if we do, we risk a weak faith in something that we will not look at directly. Many people, because of this factor, consider the Eucharist to be a strange symbol. For them it is just bread and wine, nothing more. And it does not even symbolize the Body and Blood of Christ, because to imagine human flesh and blood would be absurd to them. The Eucharist just becomes a symbol of acceptance. To refuse the Eucharist to someone is an act of the highest offense, equivalent to spitting in their face. So anyone who limits Communion is bad, because it is a piece of bread that symbolizes love, so to refuse it must mean that they hate the other person. So a priest is called very pastoral when he tells everyone to come receive Communion. So there was that Protestant minister who gave communion to a dog. He said that the dog seemed to really want it.
The Eucharist is not a piece of bread that symbolizes love. It is human flesh that symbolizes love. To invite someone to Communion is not to say, “I think you’re pretty good too.” It is to ask, “Will you eat this human body and drink his blood with me?” If someone asked you that question, how would you respond? You would be horrified. So we are afraid to ask it. They will think we are monsters. Until they find out that it is just bread and wine. Then they will say, “Oh what you said was just pretend.” But why would we pretend such a thing? If the reality is horrific, how could it be good to pretend?
We are going to eat a man’s flesh and drink his blood. We gather daily and weekly to repeat this action. Jesus said to do it in memory of him, but what a way to remember somebody! The author of Hebrews says that Jesus was carrying his blood like a priest of the old covenant carried the blood of the bulls and goats. In the first reading, we see Moses sprinkle the blood of bulls and goats all over the people like a priest sprinkles water sometimes these days. It is easy to believe that the blood of Jesus is greater than the blood of cattle, but why sprinkle blood at all? Because blood is life. A cow or goat might be bought or sold, but its life is without price. We cannot beat death; we can only delay sometimes. From the moment of conception we are destined to die. Without life, nothing else matters for us. The blood of the sacrifice was the life. The Israelites painted it on their door frames and sprinkled the people with it; they poured it out at the base of the altar and put some on the priests’ ear, thumb, and big toe, but all this was only a symbol of the blood that was coming.
The Body and Blood we receive is alive. Jesus rose from the dead, so his Body and Blood are alive. When we eat his flesh and drink his blood, his life is in us. We are marked with his death and his life. We eat his Body and drink his Blood in memory of him, not merely a memory in the imagination but of participation. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we die on the Cross with him and rise with him. The Eucharist changes us and nothing else could change us in this way. Because we have eaten the Body and Blood, and this Body and Blood has become our Body and Blood, we can say that we have died on the Cross and risen.
To receive the Body of Christ is a privilege beyond any other but it is also a fearful mystery. We hold in our hands the Body and Blood of a man who is God, and we eat it because he told us to. Above all the Eucharist teaches us that our life comes from God. We cannot hold onto it forever, so we must constantly receive life from God. We cannot take the life from him and then go off on our own, the way the prodigal son did. We can never sever the connection between God and us and become independent, the way Adam tried to with the fruit. All food is life for us. That is the purpose of eating. But every other meal is a symbol of this meal by which we receive life directly from God.