The Body and Blood are never just for us

  • June 4, 2007
The Body and Blood of Christ (Year C) — June 10 (Genesis 14:18-20/1 Corinthians 11:23-26/Luke 9:11b-17)

How often we wish that certain passages in the Scriptures would say a bit (a lot!) more than they do. Who was Melchizedek? Obviously he was someone very important in spiritual terms, for he gives his name to an eternal priesthood fulfilled by Jesus. But in comparison to Abraham, Moses, David and others, he does not get much press. And he uses a different title for God — “El Elyon” — the Most High God rather than the usual Elohim or Yahweh.
{sidebar id=2}Scholars tell us that this was a title of the chief Canaanite god, and the Israelites seem to have appropriated it for their own. It is used a few times in the New Testament. Salem is the name of Jerusalem centuries before King David’s conquest of the city. It is clear that God has been worshipped in Jerusalem for millennia — even long before the Israelites appeared on the scene. Perhaps that is one reason why that small and relatively unimpressive piece of land continues to inspire such devotion and passion.

Many spiritual currents and tributaries flow into the Old Testament as well as the new, forming the wide and deep river that has become our own tradition. There is far more to salvation history than we can imagine. Abraham is blessed by Melchizedek and in turn he acknowledges his status by giving him a tenth of all that he has won on the battlefield. The gift of bread and wine, the staples of life, suggest their sacramental importance in the distant future when Jesus becomes the great high priest.

The Body and Blood of the Lord shared by the Christian community in Corinth had become the occasion of division and scandal. Paul is adamant: this is not just a pious ritual, nor is it merely a social gathering. Whenever believers share in the Body and Blood of the Lord, they proclaim His death until He comes. In other words, it is a sign that announces something about the end of the age and the birth of the world to come.

Its uniqueness and power do not reside in the use or non-use of Latin or liturgical minutiae. It is supposed to make a forceful statement about Jesus and about God the Father, as well as how human beings should live. The divine reality was supposed to be mirrored in the people gathered as the body of the Lord: equality, love, sharing, acceptance and the absence of arrogance and competition.

In Corinth, unfortunately, it was saying a lot about human selfishness and all too familiar cultural values. Real presence reaches its fullest expression when those gathered in the Lord’s name around the altar radiate the same compassion, justice and peace as the one they proclaim.

In Luke, the uneasy apostles are urging Jesus to send the people away so they can find something to eat. It has been a very long day. But His forceful “You give them something to eat!” turned the tables on them. We can only imagine their puzzlement and hesitation. Jesus wants to see if they have been attentive throughout the journey. But as with most people, their fear focuses on the lack, and they are paralysed.

It was the same for the Israelites on the journey through the wilderness. God promised to provide and God did, but despite manna, quail and water, the people could not easily outgrow their distrust, fear and negativity. God is compassionate and abundant; God can be trusted, as Jesus soon demonstrates.

The symbolic power of the Body and Blood of Christ was beautifully illustrated in a recent broadcast of PBS’s Religion and Ethics. Sara Miles was a reporter and a life-long atheist, and she was convinced that Christianity is nonsense. Out of curiosity she entered an inner-city church one day and was struck by the welcoming non-judgmental atmosphere towards all, regardless of circumstances. During communion, she said she was “thunderstruck” by the bread and wine and experienced a conversion. She became a Christian and now devotes much of her time with church volunteers feeding the city’s many homeless and poor.

The Body and Blood of the Lord are never just for us. Being fed and nourished by God should fill us with the desire to share that gift with others.

Let us hope and pray that we too can be “thunderstruck” by the power and beauty of the Eucharist.