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JUNE 2, 2013: BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

Readings: 

Genesis 14:18-20
I Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11b-17

With the number of Eucharists being cut drastically all over the world because of the man-made priest shortage, it might be good to look at some of the first Christian concepts of that celebration.

Early followers of the risen Jesus were so committed to the Eucharist that they even found Hebrew Scripture references to it in passages which modern scholars are convinced had nothing to do with Jesus or the Christian Breaking of Bread. Today's Genesis passage provides us with a classic example of such "eisegesis." The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, for instance, especially zeroed in on two points: Melchizedek being a priest, and his offering Abraham's men bread and wine.

Yet Paul in today's I Corinthians passage - our earliest biblical reference to the Lord's Supper - stressed a completely different aspect of the Eucharistic action.

Angered by the Eucharistic behavior of some in the Corinthian community toward the poor, the Apostle does more than just remind his readers of Jesus' Last Supper words and actions. He emphatically states, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."

Back then, the Eucharist was celebrated in the context of community meal, an event in which everyone shared their food and drink with everyone else. Some of the Corinthian well-to-do resented the fact that the poor couldn't bring anything to the meal. They seemed, for instance, to have announced to the wealthy that the Eucharist would start at 7:00, and told the poor it began at 7:30. By the time the latter arrived, little of the meal remained. Because some refused to die by sharing their food with others, the poor went hungry.

Paul was convinced that the risen Jesus became present only when the community died enough to themselves to experience him/her in everyone participating in the celebration. For Paul, not to recognize the body of Christ in one another made one unworthy to receive the Eucharist. Unlike today's theology, Jesus' presence didn't depend on having the right person say the right words over the right elements; it revolved around a commitment to be one with all who were present.

Our gospel references to the Lord's Supper also emphasize sharing.

All Scripture scholars agree that Luke's theology of the Eucharist shaped today's miraculous feeding pericope. Since Luke faithfully copies most of Mark's chapter 6 narrative, it's important to notice that his Jesus technically doesn't feed the crowd; his followers do. When the Twelve make him aware of the hunger situation, Jesus doesn't immediately take care of the problem. Instead, he tells his disciples, "Give them some food yourselves."

He quickly brushes aside their protest, "Five loves and two fish are all we have ...," telling them to arrange the 5,000 in groups small enough to be efficiently served. Then he takes their bread and fish, says a blessing over the meager fare, and returns it to them "to set before the crowd." The people's hunger is only taken care of by Jesus' followers' willingness to share what little they have.

If we're serious about following our biblical Eucharistic theology, any modern reform of the Lord's Supper must revolve around more than just changing ceremonial words and rituals. Somehow we must create an opportunity for all to share with others. I presume Paul would have been uptight to discover that one day we'd remove the pot-luck dimension from the Breaking of Bread. He'd quickly demand we come up with something to replace it, something by which we could become one enough with those around us to make the risen Jesus present to all. Any ideas?