Text: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17
A few weeks ago, I completed my first aid recertification course, so when I was invited to reflect on the Body and Blood of Christ, the associations that came up were more literal than usual. Not in the sense of wishing that Joseph of Arimathea had known how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation and had an automatic external defibrillator handy when he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, but in a new awareness of Eucharist.
When we hear the words, “This is my Body,” “this is my Blood,” we often think of the things imbued with God’s presence: the Scriptures, the bread and wine, even each of us. In the preface to the Eucharist, we pray that our sacrifices may be acceptable to God: food and money, bread and wine, and even our selves, open to God’s will. All of these things are consecrated, but I think there is even more to it.
If we represent these things by a body, what is blood? In our bodies, blood doesn’t fulfill its purpose by merely existing; it has to move, to circulate. CPR is largely about keeping that movement going when the heart isn’t able to do so. There is also a movement in the ritual of the Eucharist: we move, we give and we receive. It is in the sharing--love active in community--that God’s presence is completed, and that we are fed. When the bread and fish were brought to Jesus in the Gospel, they did not multiply when he blessed them, but when the disciples shared them out, there was enough and more. All the people there were not spectators to a miracle, but active and essential participants in it.
Eucharist need not be limited to the ritual we share here today. The ritual is, we say, a foretaste of the eternal banquet of heaven, and we can make that banquet present in every part of our lives. That is love: to see the body of Christ in ourselves and in others and in everything, and to give and receive with the same openness everywhere as we are called to do here. Sometimes, the love isn’t well received or returned; blood can be spilled when the body is wounded, as Jesus’ was. I believe we are called to persevere, and try to heal what we can while drawing on the love of others to sustain us.
Body and blood--am I missing anything? Well, I remember that in first aid, breathing is important, so maybe I can stretch the analogy a bit farther. It’s not really that much of a stretch: a couple of weeks ago, we heard that Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Just as air enters the body from outside, carrying the essential oxygen which the blood then carries to every part of the body, God’s Spirit animates our love. That Spirit, received directly and through others, is what sustains me when I might otherwise become exhausted by the work of love. If I neglect my own sustenance, I might continue to work, but soon find myself resenting the effort, feeling alone and unappreciated. What I do begrudgingly, I do poorly, much as blood without oxygen in it does little for the body, however it may flow.
At each Mass, we say that all are welcome here, and I think we mean it; I also think we mean more by “here” than just a place and a ritual. I may be able to be bread for you, if you ask; I may be able to be fed by you, if you offer. It’s difficult, I know: that first step takes courage, to open up something important, something private, to someone I may have barely met. I think we are all doing our level best to be worthy of that trust, though. That is the sacrifice we bring, and if we dare to share it, little though it may seem, it will feed us all, with more left over for us to bring to others when we leave here.
I want to share one last thing about the first aid course as I finish. The fellow teaching the course was a practical and seasoned paramedic and firefighter; I doubt I can imagine some of the suffering he’s seen. Something he said, though, surprised me and gave me some insight into why he does what he does, and how he is sustained in it. He said that if you go to help someone, and find that you can’t do enough for them and they die, at least they won’t have died alone. The saddest cases he sees are those where even on a busy street, someone dies without anyone caring.
None of us can always do all that is needed, but here if anywhere, you can ask; with God’s help, I will at least be with you, and I hope I can find the courage to trust that I will find the same in any of you, as the living Body and Blood of God’s incarnate love.