The Eucharist is not magic. It is Christ feeding us through fellowship.
A Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Only seven years after presiding at her funeral, I had to look up her baptismal name. It was Alma. I was thinking it was Alvera. An understandable mistake. No one in town called her Alma. She was always Pinky.
She was Pinky when I met her as a toddler. After my mother went back to work, Pinky watched us kids for an hour or so in the late afternoon. The contrast between the two women was considerable. Pinky had a high, sweet voice. My mother’s was sultry from too many cigarettes. Pinky was pudgy and jolly; my young mother, svelte and pointed.
I had to ask, when we buried her, where the moniker “Pinky” came from. She had carried it most all her life, picking it up as a toddler on the family farm, south of the river. Here’s how it happened.
Jesus does not magically feed us. He feeds us through fellowship, through the identity and love that flow from it.
The extended family had sat down for Sunday dinner, the midday meal. Little Alma wanted the butter, which from her perch, seen through the glass of a water pitcher on the table, looked pink. Not knowing the word for “butter,” she asked for the “pinky,” and that’s who she became.
Many of us, bred on Sunday dinners with family, would give most anything to go back and sit down, just one more time, at that blessed table. Recreating the food consumed, even using grandma’s recipes, would not be enough. It is the fellowship, the sense of belonging and the identities forged around the family table that we are longing for.
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35).
So often in John’s Gospel, the evangelist asks us to approach the commonplace on a deeper level. Jesus has fed the multitude, and they pursue him across the Sea of Galilee, looking for more. That is when our Lord tells them what they truly lack: fellowship, belonging and an identity that comes from being loved. He tells them that he is the bread of life.
Unlike real bread, Jesus does not fill anyone’s belly, either during his earthly life or in his resurrected, sacramental presence. If he calls himself the bread of life, it is on the deeper level that St. John describes. Christ feeds our hearts, our intellects, our spirits. And he does not do this simply because we consume the sacrament of his body and blood. As St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, one could mistakenly consume a consecrated host and nothing would happen. Jesus does not magically feed us. He feeds us through fellowship, through the identity and love that flow from it.
Christ is present in the tabernacle, in the monstrance and in the pyx carried to the bed of the hospital patient. But he is there because he is here, in the table fellowship of the church.
Eucharist only “happens” when we come together in the fellowship Christ convoked—the church. Eucharist is the great sign of who we are when we gather at table. Eucharist is the love we find in each other, one forever marked with the sign of the cross, God’s own great act of love.
Yes, Christ is present in the tabernacle, in the monstrance and in the pyx carried to the bed of the hospital patient. But he is there because he is here, in the table fellowship of the church, in the sharing of her sacred Scriptures.
Do not separate what is consumed from its circumstances. Just as with the family table, they make all the difference in the world. The Christ we encounter each week, the Christ we consume, alters in time. He takes on the characteristics of the congregation; he reveals a different side of himself each time the Scriptures are proclaimed.
The closing collects of our eucharistic meals speak of being refreshed and renewed, having found food for the journey. Sometimes as I read them, I wonder, are we really that different come the end of the liturgy? If one reduces Christ’s presence to a single consecrated piece of bread, probably not. Pinky did not become Pinky by eating alone. That’s not how she found out who she was, who she was always meant to be.