In the Eucharist, Christ becomes present to us
A Reflection for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Here is where it happens. And by that, I do not mean the act of reading a text or of watching a video. I mean in the Eucharist, the moment and place in which the church is summoned by Christ to hear his Scriptures and to fulfill his command to “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). This is the place and this is the moment that Christ heals lepers.
The members of the ancient church did not peruse the Scriptures, searching for verses to substantiate their own predilections. Manuscripts were scarce and the ability to read even more so. No, the Scriptures were proclaimed in solemn assembly. Not as a record of what Christ once did but as a pronouncement of what he is doing now.
No one would have asked, even if the technology had been there, if watching a video—however prudent that might be for some—counted as taking one’s stand with Christ in the Eucharist. How could one stand with Christ apart from the community that he called into being, outside of its solemn assembly?
Reading sacred Scripture or watching a televised Eucharist can be powerful meditations, but neither rises to the level of sacrament, the mystery by which Christ promises his presence to his church.
The night before he died, Christ did not tell his disciples to go home and study Israel’s Scripture in the safety of seclusion. He did not say that what he was about to do, for them and for many, could be recorded, either in memory or by way of technology, for later retrieval. The night he died, Christ called his disciples to table, called them to take their stand in him as the fulfillment of Israel’s faith. They were to continue to do so, “until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18). That our Lord’s enemies did not strike in the upper room, making martyrs of them all, is due to God’s providence alone.
Reading sacred Scripture or watching a televised Eucharist can be powerful meditations, but neither rises to the level of sacrament, the mystery by which Christ promises his presence to his church. In the sacraments, who Christ was for us becomes who Christ is for us. As always, one of the earliest fathers of the church, the third-century Alexandrian theologian Origen, captured the core of Christ’s new covenant:
Everything with respect to Jesus: his birth, growth, maturity, passion, and resurrection took place not only at a given time. It continues to act in us even today (Homilies on Luke, 7:7).
One of the last and greatest fathers of the church, Maximus the Confessor of the seventh-century, taught that the Holy Spirit authored the Scriptures so that they would address each of us as though they were written with each of us in mind, pouring out the healing presence of Christ:
[H]aving contemplated spiritually the matters issuing from the written records of the events, we must surely marvel at the wisdom of the Holy Spirit who wrote them, and how he arranged the meaning of whatever was written so that it would accord and fit with each and every one of us who share human nature (On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios 50:3).
This is the place and this is the moment in which Christ heals lepers.
Here is where it happens. This is the place and this is the moment in which Christ heals lepers. This is the mystery we are called to affirm and assist. We judge some Christians to be separated sadly from the fullness of the church’s sacramental life, and yet, to our shame, many of them nevertheless assemble, fully expecting the Lord to work new wonders in their midst.
So now the question is this: What leprosy must be healed today, in this place? What personal pathology keeps each of us from fully living life with others? How must the Lord heal us? Shall he save us from prejudice? From presumption? From resentment?
It is not that the Lord is limited to the liturgy. As the medieval theologian Peter Lombard pithily put it, “Deus suam potentiam non alligavit,” or“God is not bound by his own ordinances” (Four Books of Sentences, 4.1.4). Yet even as the Holy Spirit acts beyond the sacraments, the purpose is always to call humanity into Christ. The Spirit never divides; the Spirit always summons. The church is convoked to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
More on this Sunday’s readings: