Text: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17.
“Kosher salt.” You’ve seen it at grocery stores, of course; have you ever wondered why it’s called that?
I did a little research; it turns out that pretty much all salt is kosher. What it really means is koshering salt, salt used for making meat kosher. In Leviticus, it is written that “anyone who eats blood, whoever he may be, shall be outlawed from his people.”1 One way to remove blood from meat is to coat it with coarse salt, which draws out the blood; observant Jews follow this practice to this day. So when Jesus tells his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he is, as he so often does, turning Jewish law on its head. When he first spoke of this idea, the people said, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” and many left him.2 I think that today’s readings can help us find our way around this stumbling block.
In the first reading, Abram participates in the priest Melchizedek’s sacrifice to God by contributing a tithe of his possessions. In the Gospel, the Apostles contribute to Jesus’ providing for the crowds, giving the little they have, which Jesus causes to become an abundance. In the Eucharist of which Paul wrote, the Apostles, and we, are invited to participate in God’s self-sacrifice to God and to us. In these acts, there is a progression of relationship. In the first case, the people—we—are worshipers looking toward a distant and separate God. In the second, we collaborate with and are helped by God present among us. In the third, we become one with God, partaking of Christ’s divine will, substance, and essence.
This is because in giving us his Body as bread, Jesus shows himself to be quintessential sustenance, and also reminds us that this bread is more than bread, for “man does not live on bread alone but … on everything that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.”3 He himself is the living Word, given to us, by which we are fed; as we will pray in our missioning prayer, we are called to likewise feed each other—body and soul—as “bread broken and shared for each other,” loving each other as Jesus loved us.4
Back to Leviticus. To explain why blood is sacred to God and not to be eaten, God says through the prophet, “The life (meaning the soul, the animating essence) of the flesh is in the blood. This blood I myself have given you to perform the rite of atonement for your lives at the altar; for it is blood that atones for a life.”5 In Jesus, all these things are made one: God the giver, the sacrificial lamb by which atonement is made, the altar of the Temple, the death atoned for, and God who receives the sacrifice. By inviting us into union with himself, Jesus bypasses the reasons for the prohibition, as the blood is still going to God. This being so, what would otherwise be blasphemy and abomination becomes benediction. As his soul—his blood—is God’s own essence, he shares with us a sacred union with God.
It is never on our own that we reach this union. As Father Richard will proclaim in the Doxology, it is through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that we give glory and honour to God the almighty Father.6 Thus we together become the Body of Christ, animated by Blood and the Spirit to be and live love in the world as Jesus commanded, and that is the true universal—Catholic—Church, which transcends all our institutions. This unity is love, and in Communion, it is a gift of all, by all, to all. (Today, we celebrate Nathalie and Laura’s choice to accept Christ’s invitation into this union, and look forward to sharing this Communion fully with them.)
In closing, let me simply express my prayer that this Eucharist help us to make our union with Jesus’ generous love so complete that we live up to that old folk adage: “You are what you eat.”
1: Leviticus 7:27
2: John 6:60-66
3: Deuteronomy 8:3
4: John 13:34
5: Leviticus 17:11
6: The Roman Missal, 2002
I shared a reflection on these readings 6 years ago; this one is quite different. For comparison, here it is:
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, but the readings from Scripture seem to be about food and drink. Why were these readings chosen? The Eucharist, as Paul describes, is the natural link, but why is the Eucharist as it is? To answer this, we must mediate and pray about Body and Blood, Bread and Wine.
All of these are symbols, and so I will talk for a few moments about how I understand symbols in general.
Symbols provide links for us to reach truth beyond our worldly experience. These links are not merely intellectual abstractions, but deep connections which come from our lived experiences. These worldly experiences provide a direction for our understanding of deeper things. The greatest symbols are often simple, commonplace things, with which we have come into contact in many different times and places. The richness of our life experience can then be transmuted into a richness of wisdom.
The symbols thus have a natural sense which we perceive with all parts of our being. Of course, each of us lives a different experience, and so the symbols bear subtly different messages to us. Each of us can pray and meditate with these symbols as a focus in order to find in them approaches to God. The Church provides guidance for us in reading these symbols, and has built up a vast language in them. The Mass which we celebrate today includes such symbols everywhere.
The meanings of symbols for others can provide inspiration to us as well. Father Richard, in his homilies, often broadens my understanding of the symbols which permeate Scripture through his discussions of the life experiences which were common in Biblical times. I will share some of my own meditations on the symbols which are presented today, but these symbols carry so much significance that I can say only a little about them.
The sacrifice of bread and wine by the priest-king Melchizedek in the first reading is a simple enough thing, taken by itself: he, on behalf of the community, dedicates bread and wine, the stuff of their subsistence, to God. “To sacrifice” means “to make holy,” to give up our control over something and yield to God's will in disposing of it. By doing this, we allow God to work through us. The sacrifice of food is a symbol of trust in God: the Israelites trust that they do not need to hold back anything, but can offer the very necessities of life, knowing that God will see that they have all that they need.
I find this a difficult thing to do in my own life. I'm a bit of a control freak in that I want to have what I will need for the future already safely stored away, and not have to trust in anything unseen. It is not a comfortable feeling to have one's livelihood, depend on things outside one's control, but that is a part of what the offering of bread and wine to God mean for me. Of course, there are other things which we want to control for ourselves: health, respect, relationships, and so forth. We want to have things our way, but we cannot come to God through our own strength: we have to let go of our way in order to accept God’s.
Seen this way, the Gospel sends us a clear message: our trust in God to provide is not misplaced. Even when there seemed to be too little food for the crowd, all had what they needed in the end, and there was more to spare.
Many ancient legends from all over the world tell of inexhaustible sources of one thing or another: water, gold, grain, the list goes on. Usually, the source is a unique magical object which is the prize in an epic battle. In this miracle, God reveals himself as inexhaustible source. All we need to do is come in trust, and we will not be disappointed. God is doubly inexhaustible: not only does he satisfy each of us, but he satisfies all of us, so there is no battle which needs to be fought.
So what does this have to do with Paul's description of the Eucharist in the second reading, and with Christ's Body and Blood?
Jesus says that the Bread and Wine are his Body and Blood as he offers them up to God. In one sense, we can see in this a prefiguring of his death: as the Bread and Wine are offered into God's hands, so will Christ's Body and Blood be offered on the Cross in only a few hours' time. But there is a converse sense in which we can read this symbol: Christ's Body and Blood are the Bread and Wine. He is that which sustains, because he is the Word made flesh, and it is by this Word that we live. By giving this spiritual food and drink over to God, he makes it possible for God to feed us all.
To receive this gift fully, we must offer up everything we already have. In the prayer of offering, we pray that God will accept the sacrifices we bring, concluding with "the gift of our very selves, open to (God's) will." This is no small thing to offer, because this offering leads us, with Jesus, to the Cross. Through this sharing in Christ's sacrifice, however, we share also in his life.
Therefore, if we are to share this with Christ, we too must become life for each other. The Bread and Wine which we share are Jesus' Body and Blood. If we commit ourselves fully to this sacrifice, we too become his Body and Blood. Then the life-giving Word of God manifests itself through us, and that Word is Love.
I think this year's is better, but maybe that's because I'm looking at it today; who knows what I'll think of these in another 6 years? If nothing else though, this year's was shorter, which counts for something!