John 6: 51-58
On most of the Sundays of August the gospels are about the Eucharist – Jesus is the bread of life, come down from heaven. He is not like the manna God provided His people as they journeyed in the desert, they all died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
The Eucharist is the greatest of the sacraments. The most important of the sacraments is Baptism because we can’t receive any sacrament until we are born into the Christian faith by baptism.
In a recent article Fr Ron Rolheiser tells of a famous English convert to Catholicism. He was the historian Christopher Dawson. He was from an aristocratic family and his mother was quite distressed at his decision to join the Catholic Church. She had nothing against Catholics as such but what really bothered her was that, becoming a Catholic her son would have to worship with the help. The English were very class conscious in those days after the First World War. She knew that in church at least, his aristocratic background would no longer set him apart from others or above others. At church he would be just an equal among equals because the Eucharist would strip him of his higher social status.
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul is quite angry with the people because of the way they celebrated the Eucharist – which was quite different from the way we celebrate it today. The celebration would begin with an agape – a love meal at which people shared food and drink with one another and then they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But that didn’t work out too well, at least in Corinth. So we have Paul writing “I cannot say that you have done well in holding meetings that do you more harm than good. In the first place I hear that when you come together as a community there are separate factions among you, and I believe it – since there must no doubt be separate groups among you.’
As Paul points out ‘when the time comes for you to eat, everyone is in such a hurry to start his own supper that one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk.” Paul goes on “surely you have enough respect for the community of God not to make poor people embarrassed. When Paul condemns those who eat and drink without recognizing the Body he is referring as much to the Body of the community as he is to the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Anyone who would participates in the Eucharist and would ignore or snub the person next to him or any other member of the gathering would be making, what we called in the old days “a bad communion.’ They are ignoring the very unity of the sacrament.
As Rolheiser says in his article ‘The Eucharistic table is by definition a table of social non-distinction, a place were rich and poor are called together beyond all class and status. At the Eucharist there is no rich and poor, only one equal family praying together in a common humanity.
At the Eucharist there is to be no distinction between rich and poor, noble and peasant, aristocrat and servant. Rich and poor, able and disabled, gifted and limited, men and women, adult and child, every nationality – we all line up together and come to be nourished with the Body of Christ. We are all equal. Not just here at this Mass. We live this Mass outside these walls when we put behind us our stereotyping of men and women of other faiths, cultures, social backgrounds and life styles. We live this Eucharist outside these walls when we try to accept and respect men and women we see as different from ourselves.
There can be times when we find this a bit challenging to do. It is difficult to rid ourselves on bias and prejudices instilled in us as children. What makes it possible is the promise of Jesus, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” The abiding Christ will give up that openness of mind and heart to help us keep his new commandment, “love one another as I have love you” The abiding Christ will give us the openness of mind and heart to love as he loved, to forgive and he forgave and to embrace and accept as equals all those He sends into our lives.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we see in those who celebrate with us our brothers and sisters in Christ – all equally love and accepted by Christ, all equally loved and accepted by ourselves – in here and outside these walls.