What we remember and proclaim is greater than our fears

  • May 31, 2010
Body and Blood of Christ (Year C) June 6 (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17)

In many narratives there is greater meaning in what remains unsaid and unexplained. The passage from Genesis seems mundane and innocuous enough. After returning from a minor skirmish with the enemy, Abraham shares the booty with a mysterious figure named Melchizedek. But then the questions begin.

Who is this “God Most High?” This is an unusual title for the God of Israel, and in fact this event took place before the existence of the Jewish nation and the covenant.

The city of Salem is actually Jerusalem, as it will later be called, but at this point in history it is the capital city of a pagan people known as the Jebusites. It will not be part of Israel until the reign of King David nearly 1,000 years later.

Melchizedek — which means “King of Righteousness” — will be mentioned again in Psalm 110 and in the Letter to the Hebrews chapters 5-7. In these verses he will be portrayed as the founder of an eternal priesthood and one without human origins. He is clearly an interesting figure and we can only wish fervently that the biblical authors had been forthcoming with more details than the few verses that we have inherited.

The story does tell us that there was far more happening religiously long ago than the Bible cares to relate. It seems that God had always been worshiped in Jerusalem, even before it became the centre of Israelite temple worship.

The fact that this non-Israelite priest figure was held in such awe and veneration is itself amazing — he even imparted a blessing to the father of Israelite faith. God has always been worshiped throughout history in many places and styles, and has been served faithfully by many — even those outside the boundaries of what we would call traditional faith or religion.

This should warn us about putting boundaries and limits on God in the way we think. We don’t know God’s entire story and probably never will, but we can appreciate and marvel at God’s wisdom, compassion, and generosity.

Paul’s description of the Lord’s Supper is the earliest reference in the New Testament to the Eucharist, predating the four Gospels by several years. It is clearly an essential element of the early tradition. There are two words that bear consideration: remembrance and proclamation.

Remembrance is the process by which the Jewish people call to mind the great deeds of God in order to praise Him and to draw inspiration. It is something far more vivid than an ordinary memory or ritual — it is a re-experience of the event as if it were present and immediate.

Paul also insists that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation to the world until his coming. He also makes it clear in the rest of the chapter that the manner in which it is celebrated is of supreme importance.

It should be a symbol of unity, reconciliation, inclusivity, sharing and the elimination of boundaries and labels. Selfishness, factionalism, exclusion, competition, and inequality should be absent. Only when these conditions are present is the Eucharist truly a sign and proclamation to the world.

So much of human competition and conflict is generated by a fear of lack — the idea that the essentials of life, even God, are limited and that we are going to be the losers.

This fear and competition is also the basis of our economic systems and is intertwined in our culture, political structures, and behavioural patterns. The story of the miraculous feeding is more than an illustration of Jesus’ powers. We are challenged to rethink our fear-charged ideas.

The disciples focus on the lack: we do not have more than five loaves and two fish. They are overwhelmed and ready to quit.

But God is generous and giving by nature and this love shows itself in practical ways. Jesus looks to heaven and blesses what they have — something we must learn to do. There is more than enough for all.

The miraculous feeding foreshadows the Eucharist and both provide God-given models for our behaviour. Eucharist — thanksgiving and sharing — is not merely a ritual but a way of life. And humanity’s survival just might depend on it.