This time of year is the “wedding season,” as young lovers often choose late spring or early summer to celebrate sacramentally their commitment to each other. In an act of profound self-gift, they entrust themselves, body, mind and heart to each other in loving union.
There is another way in which bodies are given for others: Mothers who carry their children within their womb for nine months share their own body and blood for the nourishment of the new life within.
Within the body of believers, church members also give of themselves body, mind and spirit for one another and for the life of the world. In each of the ways in which the whole self is given in love, Jesus’ act of self-gift lives on.
In the world of Jesus, the expression “body and blood” was a way of speaking of the whole person. “Body,” soma, connotes the whole physical person, while “blood,” haima, is the life-force (Dt 12:23). Today we speak of “body, mind and spirit” when referring to the whole self. This feast day celebrates the gift of Christ, whose entire self was entrusted to us, both in his ministry of preaching and healing and in his ultimate act of self-surrender in death. In the ancient formula handed on to Paul and then to us, which we repeat at Eucharist, we are invited not only to receive the body and blood of Christ that is for us but also to “do this in remembrance” of him. “Do this” means not only to recall his words and actions at Eucharist but to emulate his whole manner of life. Moreover, “remembrance” is not simply to call to mind but to make present again Christ’s entrusting of himself to us in love.
In the Gospel, we see how easy it is to miss the moment when such self-gift is asked of us. The Twelve and the crowd have been with Jesus all day as he has poured himself out in teaching about God’s realm and has restored the bodies of those who needed healing. With the day drawing to a close, the peoples’ physical needs now come to the fore. The Twelve suggest to Jesus that he send the crowd into the surrounding villages and farms to find lodging and provisions. Such a move would, indeed, give the hosts in the villages the opportunity to give of themselves in eucharistic hospitality.
Instead, Jesus directs the Twelve to their own resources. They are sure there is not enough, and they quickly jump to the option of going out and buying provisions. Jesus, however, takes the five loaves and two fish, looks up to heaven, blesses, breaks and gives them to the disciples to set before the crowd. There is plenty for all and then some. To ask how it happened—Did Jesus actually multiply the loaves and fish, or was it a miracle in which everyone was prompted to share with others what they had brought?—is likely not the question the Gospel writer wants us to ask. A better question is: How do we replicate the giving of our whole selves, body, mind and spirit, to the one who is the source of all nourishment so that we may be broken open in love for the life of the world?
Such self-giving is not possible on our own. It is in the gathered assembly of believers, where we remember Christ’s act in sacramental ritual, that we gain strength and give courage to one another to entrust ourselves to this kind of love. Just as the disciples will have another opportunity at the Last Supper, so we come to the eucharistic table often so that the ability to replicate Christ’s action in our world becomes all the more natural as we remember again and again.