Living the Gospel – August 19, 2018

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

During the Israelites’ time in the desert, they ate the manna that came down from heaven, food for the body. Jesus explained to his followers that this bread only nourished the physical body. What he now offers is nourishment for the spirit. In the same manner that partaking in the paschal feast saved them from the angel of death, eating the flesh he would give them would provide a different kind of life – an everlasting life.

The hang-up, of course, is the concept of eating the flesh of Jesus. It sounded like cannibalism and was too hard for many of the Jewish people of his day, as well as many Christians even now. Most of our Protestant brethren have scrambled to find a shortcut to real worship that avoids this upsetting concept. They have chosen to believe that communion bread is only symbolic of Christ’s body.

I confess this concept is also difficult for me to grasp. After all, that wafer tastes like bread, looks like bread, and feels like bread. How can I believe it is actually flesh? The first answer is, of course, through faith. I don’t know the how or why, but I’m sure it’s true. But there is an analogy that helps me, as an author.

A series of words can be written on paper, but they don’t necessarily become a sentence or a paragraph. A group of paragraphs doesn’t automatically make a book. When I pick up a book and thumb through it, I still see a bunch of words. Just because it is a book that tells a story, doesn’t mean it stops being a bunch of words. It’s just so much more than that.

You could also say a piece of cardboard isn’t a box until it is transformed into one. The box still looks like cardboard and feels like cardboard, but now it is so much more. It can hold things – maybe a gift for me or you.

So it is that the wafer of communion bread is so much more than just food for the body. It now is the essence of Jesus, his flesh so to speak, that provides the believer with nourishment for the spirit. If the Israelites, because they didn’t understand how it could help, didn’t believe the blood of the lamb on their lintel would save their lives, do you think it still would have? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know I wouldn’t have wanted to put God to the test.

So we have food for the body, provided by our farmers, and food for the spirit, given to us by Christ through the consecration of the host. But, what about the final type of food – food for the community? What might that look like? Who will provide it? I would think that as members of the Body of Christ, the nourishing of community is a job for all of us.

Linda Crowley