Cradle Catholics have no memories of their baptisms. We were infants when they occurred. My Aunt Edna, who was one of my sponsors, assured me that I was loud and gassy. I accept her account for two reasons. She was a woman to be trusted, and things haven’t changed all that much. Yet life has a way of restoring losses, and the Church grandly compensates cradle Catholics for their lack of baptismal memories. She regales them with a never-to-be-forgotten moment of religious excitement: First Holy Communion. It’s Academy Awards and beauty pageant and papal election, all rolled into one.
We prepare and practice for almost a year, and, in the first years of primary school, that’s a lifetime. But none of the memorized prayers or practiced marches can adequately prepare us for the razzle-dazzle of the day. Girls with ratty hair and band-aid shins suddenly appear among us as little princesses, dressed in white.
When I was in first grade, Pam Hickle was the most beautiful girl in the world. Imagine how overwhelmed I was by the sight of her in a veil and a tiara! Crowns are not indigenous to central Kansas.
For the first time in our lives we are dressed up like movie stars and told to ready ourselves for no one less than Christ himself. The excitement overwhelmed by best friend, Steve Schachle. He threw up shortly before Mass began. You have to swallow glamour in small gulps.
The parochial pageantry of First Holy Communion seems far removed from the meager meal that two discouraged disciples shared with the Risen Jesus, but Saint Luke uses Emmaus to draw an arc between past and future.
Eucharist reaches back into history, to the Christ who lived among us. It also reaches forward, to the one yet to be revealed. This is food from the future. Someday we will understand the mystery of Jesus among us. But for now, our greatest minds grasp little more than the children who come for Holy Communion.
Saint Luke links Eucharist to Easter. Eucharist is a mysterious presence of the Lord that begins with the Easter apparitions. Only the first Eucharist was celebrated before the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then as a prophetic promise of what was to come. Every subsequent Eucharist, celebrated by the apostles or us, is a revelation of the Risen Christ. Like the risen flesh of Christ, Eucharist is a mystery that stretches far into a future we cannot fathom.
Saint Luke also links Eucharist to the journey, the road each of us must travel to reach the Kingdom. Food from the future is also food for the future. The Christ who comes to children in pageantry will linger as they string their lives through distant Sundays. He will nourish them as they pronounce their vows. He will come to some on the eve of battle. Others he will comfort as surgeons have their sway. This Christ will found on that future day, when they kneel before a tabernacle in silent, desperate prayer. And someday, Holy Communion will be carried to these children, when their grandchildren gather round their beds to bid farewell. Recognized and reverenced, or almost forgotten and ignored, Christ will be their food.
Emmaus is a deep revelation of Eucharist. It links the past to the future, the night Jesus died to the morning he returns. Eucharist is food for the future, Christ feeding us on the road. How many centuries lie between Emmaus and today’s First Holy Communions? The way is long for the Church, all too short for her communicants.
Children come and receive the Lord into your flesh. He is food for your futures.
Acts 2: 14, 22-33 1 Peter 1: 17-21 Luke 24: 13-35