19th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
For the third part of our series on the Eucharist, let us look for see how Eucharist fills our need for justice and is at the goal of our never ending search for joy. But first let’s define these terms.
We all feel the need for justice in our lives. When we are wronged, we want it made right; when we are left out, we want to be included. And knowing we are one body, that sense of justice develops into social justice and is extended to all who are not treated fairly, whose dignity is impugned. Joy of course is that sense that is beyond and greater than happiness which we all know is fleeting. It is a sense of well-being and love that persists despite the circumstances that affect us. In Eucharist, we can have our fill of both.
To delve deeper into John 6 and the Bread of Life discourse, it helps to know we are witnessing that which is a common occurrence throughout John’s Gospel. It is what scholars call the Christological implosion. In other words, when the talk turns to light, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” If you were to say to Jesus, “You speak the truth,” he would correct you and say, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So it is no surprise that when he is having a conversation about bread, he informs all those listening, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” It is literally all about him, which is o.k. if you are Jesus. But now, he goes even further. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” He will always be with us. He is promising more than to feed us, he is asking us to feed on him. And by that we shall live to eternal life.
That is why we flock to communion when we are broken, or maybe just a little chipped. Here we will know that we are not abandoned or forsaken. Here we are made whole in the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ. Here we are showered with a dignity far greater than we could imagine. Here our sins are forgiven. Here, we have our reconciliation.
That is why at any given hour, in places around the world where Christians are hated, they risk their lives to come to church and receive the bread and wine that heals, that tells them they matter. How much do those who suffer from the oppressions of war, poverty and violence need this medicine in a world that too often turns a blind eye to their needs? How much, a year after Charlottesville, when hatred and bigotry filled the streets of an American city, do we need to be reminded of each person’s inherent and awesome dignity? How much do we need the Eucharist when once again our church is rocked by scandal and a lack of transparency? We need the Eucharist to rise above and rescue our scarred and stumbling church. This is the bread of justice and the wine of equality which tilts our head to a new horizon where all live in peace with God and one another.
To make that new world ours, we must change Eucharist from a noun to a verb. We have to be Eucharist – a bread of life for others to feed on. To be bread for the life of the world. In my life, no one does that as well than my best friends Diana and Fred. They are the Albany Catholic Worker and they have chosen to live in voluntary poverty and in the same neighborhood as those whom God has called them to help. First off, they do a great job of caring for me and I am a handful. But they also take care of their neighbors and those who come to them for help. When they are hungry, they bring food. When they are sick, they bring them to the doctor’s and translate for them. When their neighborhood is imperiled by violence, they stand up. When immigrants need a voice, they speak up. They do it for people who are grateful and ungrateful. But what they really offer is friendship. All this is done in the midst of relationship, not a cold entity providing service, but a friend who sees Christ in the person they aid. After all, a sense of aloneness, that nobody cares, that is the greatest poverty. Fred and Diana put Eucharist into action. They are the bread of justice in the lives of so many.
And that is what we do when we are at our best. My greatest joy in the life is to be Eucharist for others, to be present as Christ is present and to feed whatever hunger I find as Christ would feed them. Isn’t that your greatest joy as well? And I could not do it without the nourishment of communion. Some happiness might come from living for yourself. Joy comes from living for others.
It seems to me that we live on a knife’s edge of selflessness and greed, friendship and alienation, despair and hope just as the world teeters between war and peace, justice and oppression, hate and love. It is the Eucharist that shifts the balance to the truth that ultimately satisfies. It is like a shaft of sunlight piercing clouds and in that light everything takes on a different hue, everything is directed toward beauty. When you approach the altar and receive communion, think of what you are receiving. Come and taste the goodness, the peace, the compassion, the forgiveness, the hope and the love of God. Come and receive Christ Jesus. Come to the sacrament of joy.