Sacrament of Ongoing Christian Life

During the Easter season a major concern in the Sunday Scripture readings was how the movement begun by the earthly Jesus might continue after his death, resurrection and ascension. These readings showed that we can have a personal relationship with the glorious risen Christ. From that relationship flows the possibilities of knowing and loving God and one another in new and more profound ways, radiating the peace of Christ, working for unity with others and listening to and cooperating with the Holy Spirit. A major element in this process is the Eucharist, as the outward sign of the ongoing presence of God and the risen Christ among us.

 

The Scripture readings for Corpus Christi (“Body of Christ”) remind us that what Jesus did at the Last Supper had a rich history that should shape our ongoing Christian life. The reading from Genesis 14 recalls the earliest days in the history of God’s people. The mysterious Melchiz- edek, the priest-king of Jerusalem, provides for Abraham a meal of bread and wine. Some early Christian theologians found in this episode a prefigurement of the Eucharist.

The passage from Luke 9 recounts Jesus’ multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish in order to feed a large crowd. The way in which Luke tells this story links Jesus’ action with the Last Supper and the early church’s celebration of the Eucharist. In Luke’s Gospel it is one in a series of meals that Jesus celebrates (often with unlikely persons) and serves as an enacted parable of his hopes for the eternal banquet to be celebrated in the kingdom of God.

The selection from 1 Corinthians 11 provides the earliest written description of Jesus’ Last Supper and of the church’s celebration of the Eucharist. This text brings together key biblical motifs and thus offers a synthesis of biblical theology. The Eucharist carries on the tradition of Passover, since the Last Supper took place in the context of Israel’s liberation from slavery. The Eucharist is a sacrifice for sins, as the expression “This is my body that is for you” suggests. It is a memorial of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, as well as a remembrance of God’s action in salvation history. It inaugurates a new covenant, not as an abrogation of the old covenant but as the fulfillment of the various covenants throughout Israel’s history. It is a sign of hope for the fullness of the kingdom of God. And it is a thanksgiving in which we proclaim what God has done throughout salvation history.

It is not enough, however, to know and admire the rich historical and theological roots of the Eucharist. Rather, it must be an integral part of our ongoing Christian life. That life is rooted in our personal relationship with the glorious risen Christ, expresses itself in love of God and others, promotes peace and unity with others and is open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. By inspiring and nourishing these dispositions, the Eucharist enables us to carry on what Jesus began. Thus the Eucharist can and should be the sacrament of ongoing Christian life.

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