Breath of the Spirit: What is Eucharist?
It is easy to judge our experiences of Eucharist, to pick apart what’s not as it should be. Unfortunately, those lists of shortcomings can be anything but short. But today’s reflection takes the opposite tack, asking us to recall our most moving moments of Eucharistic grace. Then it challenges us by asking if we are bringing the radical trust and generosity that Jesus offers and encouraged in his own breaking of the bread. Finding fault is a temptation whenever we gather, but as we celebrate the gift of Jesus in our communal meal, perhaps it is better to ask what gifts we bring to the table.
June 19, 2022: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
What is Eucharist?
A reflection by Richard Young
What are your most beautiful experiences of Eucharist? A good question to ponder on Corpus Christi Sunday.
There are those who suggest that the real institution of the Eucharist was not the story of the Last Supper, but the story of the feeding of the five thousand, Luke’s version of which is this Sunday’s gospel. Luke’s account is one of six in the four gospels (Matthew and Mark tell us the story twice, John and Luke each offer one version). The apparent popularity of the tale tells us that it was extremely important to the Early Church and a profoundly beautiful experience of grace. It is presented as a miracle story (without actually using the word “miracle”). One gets the impression that Jesus makes food appear out of nowhere to feed the crowd. Yet, in three of the six versions, including today’s, Jesus puts the responsibility back on others: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” YOU make Eucharist happen. There are incredible blessings available, if we do that. The implication is that the crowd had the ability to feed one another all along, and the miracle was that they overcame their fear of not having enough. The miracle, it seems, is that they found the love within themselves to unselfishly serve one another, and that is a sure way to touch the divine. The grace of the sacrament, a perfectly inclusive gift, available to all in the crowd, regardless of status, was for ALL who learned to let go and feed one another. I like to think that what happened was a giant 1960’s-style love-in, and grace flowed like good wine.
I would like to suggest that Jesus, who was an amazingly gifted teacher, taught that crowd about connecting with one another in ways they couldn’t have imagined before. Jesus must have gotten them to believe deep down that they were sisters and brothers, regardless of their differences. He got them to see their radical interconnectedness and interdependence. They had the same Creator who loved them, but they had so much more in common than that. They must have found deeper mutual trust – and respect for their common struggles. I imagine it must have been like the dynamic we see when there is a great disaster, and strangers reach out to help one another, when people stop being petty and stop asking who “deserves” help. They ask no such questions. They just give – from the heart. That’s grace.
Religious Studies scholar, Neil Douglas-Klotz, says that the Aramaic word for “bread” in the Lord’s Prayer (“Give us this day our daily bread”) is lachma, and it can also be translated as “understanding.” It is related to the word hochma, which is translated “Holy Wisdom” in the book of Proverbs. Eucharist happened in a most beautiful way in today’s gospel story, I believe, because the food came with lachma, understanding and wisdom. Food just tastes better when it includes a heartfelt desire to share wisdom. There were, no doubt, people in the crowd who had a great need to be listened to, who were extremely burdened. They needed others to hear them and demonstrate some compassion. We do that best by breaking bread, while we break open each other’s stories. Carl Rogers, one of the 20th Century’s greatest psychologists, once remarked, “I can testify that when you are in psychological distress and someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!” We can ALL testify to that. That’s grace. Eucharist, the food, the Bread of Life, is an outward sign of that deep understanding (lachma), the sharing of Holy Wisdom. It tells us that the Teacher is here, and that we are his body. When we receive him as the crowd did, letting go of our fears of not having enough, believing in the power of unconditional love, committing ourselves to mutual compassion and understanding, it feels damn good. That’s Eucharistic grace. It leads to a deep thanksgiving, which is what the word Eucharist means.
Well, that’s what Eucharist is supposed to be like. We all know it isn’t always that way. There were folks in first century Corinth who were not doing it right. Our second reading comes in the middle of a pastoral correction by Paul particularly aimed at the well-to-do among them. He wrote, “when you hold your agape meals, it is not the Eucharist you’ve been commemorating, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, while another gets drunk... Surely you have enough respect for the community of God not to embarrass poor people!” What happened in Corinth, where people of status disregarded the poor, is the very opposite of the unselfish sharing that is described in our gospel, where kindness and lachma and grace were the order of the day.
So, again I ask: what are your most beautiful experiences of Eucharist? Perhaps you can probably think of an occasion where a young person, deeply wounded by the intolerance of family or parish or society came to their first Dignity liturgy and wept for joy at finally finding a place with lachma, free of judgment, and full of sincere welcome. Perhaps you can recall a time where Eucharist was not withheld or seen as a reward for good behavior; instead, it became a grace that couldn’t be described in words. At such a moment, there is a profound healing of the heart and feeding of the soul. On this Corpus Christi Sunday, we recommit ourselves to being bread for each other and to providing beautiful experiences of Eucharist. We recommit ourselves to the beauty that is possible through sharing the Bread of Life with love and lachma, with wise understanding and radical inclusion.
Rev. Richard P. Young is a retired Catholic priest and mental health counselor. He co-chairs the Social Justice Committee of Dignity/Dayton’s Living Beatitudes Community and has worked with several Dignity chapters since the late 70s.
He once served for a term on the national board of DignityUSA and has attended all the national conventions/conferences since 1981. He is married to DignityUSA’s national secretary, Bob Butts.