Becoming another Christ in Holy Communion
In a nursing home the residents were gathered in the chapel for the feast we are celebrating today, that of the Body and Blood of Christ.
One old woman, wheel-chair bound, was wearing two hats. A carer from the home tried to take one off, but the woman clung on tightly to her two hats. In her efforts to tidy up the situation, the carer saw that she was now defeated. So she backed off, and let the old lady be.
Perhaps that elderly lady, like the old-time prophets, was acting out a message to the gathered group. Perhaps she was saying: you all should wear two hats, i.e. you all should be your own individual selves – Peter, Rhonda, Brian, Xena, Reg, Helen, Joshua, Bernadette, Brendan, Brigid, Denver, Sandra, Mark, Karen, whoever.- But you should also be what you are as a baptised follower of Jesus – i.e. as another Christ, a second Jesus.
Speaking of Holy Communion, St Augustine in the 400s in North Africa, said many wonderful things about who we are as members, and limbs, cells and organs of the body of Christ. Among other things he said: ‘You are what you have received.’ In fact the first of the two signs in which we receive him is the sign of bread. In the course of digestion, bread and the person eating it become one. It is assimilated into the body of the one eating it.
So, when we receive him as the Bread of Life for our journey of life, we become ever more one with him. But there’s a big difference. Jesus is not changed into our bodies, into us. No, we are changed into him by becoming a more alive, active and energetic part of his body. This is to say that we are further incorporated into that extension of himself which is his Church – the body of Christians in the world today.
Profound implications follow for living our communion, our being joined and bonded to Christ and one another. These could hardly be better put than in these striking and beautiful words attributed to St Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes. You are his body.
Yes! Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
At his Last Supper, in a stunning way, Jesus acted out his care and concern for, his union and bonding with, his followers. Getting down on his knees like a slave, he went round the gathered group and washed their feet, one by one. It’s interesting that in his gospel of the Last Supper, John does not mention the action of Jesus with the bread and wine. Instead he tells us of the action of Jesus with a basin of water and a towel. In this way John tells us the meaning of both actions of Jesus. They are about belonging to one another in the same community of Jesus – the community of faith, hope and love, the community that is the Church. They are about bonding and union with one another, and about humbly serving one another. They are about reaching out with warmth and care, with welcome and hospitality to our neighbour, the neighbour who could hardly be better described than ‘the person who at any time needs me, and needs me now – right here, right now’. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta has said so eloquently:
I know you think you should make a trip to Calcutta, but I strongly advise you to save your airfare and spend it on the poor in your own country. It’s easy to love people far away. It’s not always easy to love those who live right next to us. There are thousands of people dying for a bit of bread, but there are thousands more dying for a bit of love or a bit of acknowledgement. The truth is that the worst disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis; it’s being unwanted, it’s being left out, it’s being forgotten.
Love and service, welcome and hospitality, kindness and compassion, self-forgetfulness and generosity, that’s what it means to follow Jesus. That’s what it means to come to Holy Communion. That’s what it means to live his Last Supper command: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’!