Jesus in bread and wine
4/2/2015 9:00:00 AM
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
(Editor's note: This column is based on the April 2 Eucharist of the Lord's Supper. See Father Karban's regular "Word of Faith" column, as well.)
As we gather around the Lord's table April 2, we're not only remembering what Jesus said and did on the night before He historically died; we're also expected to reflect on what's going on in our own minds and hearts as we liturgically commemorate that event.
The vast majority of biblical authors wrote only when they surfaced problems in their communities. No one usually sat down on a beautiful day when everything was hunky-dory and wrote part of the Bible. If there weren't troubles in faith communities, we'd have no Bible.
Ironically, the I Corinthians 11:23-26 passage for April 2 provides us with the earliest biblical narrative of Jesus' Last Supper words and actions, and our John 13 passage gives the last biblical narrative of that event.
The former was written in the late 50s; the latter, in the mid-90s. Though 45 years separate the two writings, the problem prompting both authors to write was the same: a failure by some in the community to recognize the risen Jesus present and active in all those participating in every celebration of the Lord's Supper.
We can only speculate how our Christian Scriptures would read if they were written today. What problems would modern sacred authors address that our faith ancestors didn't encounter?
When it comes to the Eucharist, for instance, Church authorities have recently been concerned with the number of Catholics, especially youth, who have difficulty believing the risen Jesus is "transubstantially" present in the eucharistic bread and wine. Some think He's just symbolically present. I'm certain that the Last Supper Jesus portrayed in any writing approved by today's official Church would make statements emphatically supporting transubstantiation.
Yet, as we hear in the day's first and third readings (Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; John 13:1-15), first-century Christians were less worried about the consequences of how Jesus was present in the bread and wine than with the implications of ignoring His presence in all who were committed to imitating His dying and rising.
Paul is disturbed because the wealthy in Corinth are refusing to share their eucharistic food and drink with the poor; John is worried about the reluctance of some in his community to serve the needs of others, especially when they can't be in control of the way they serve them. In each situation, people who claimed to be other Christs were overlooking the presence of the risen Jesus in the poor and the needy. It simply cost too much for them to become one with everyone who gathered for the Lord's Supper.
What to believe
No wonder we Catholic Christians eventually shifted our focus from Jesus present in one another to Jesus present in the bread and wine. Believing Jesus is transubstantially present in the eucharistic bread and wine doesn't demand much on a practical level. Once I decide to believe it, I'll probably go about my daily life in pretty much the same way as before.
Being convinced He is actually present in people who don't look like me, think like me or even share my theology not only takes a real act of faith, it forces me to change the way I look at everything and everyone around me, even the person standing next to me during the Eucharist.
As we hear in our first reading, the yearly celebration of Passover helps all Jews remember they're free, delivered from slavery by Yahweh. The Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper should force all other Christs to remember they're one people, formed into one body of Christ by Jesus' death and resurrection.
When we take from the cup, we're stating publicly that we're determined to carry on the ministry of Jesus. Such a commitment entails making Jesus' frame of mind our frame of mind.
I presume there were some men and women sitting around that Jerusalem Last Supper table with whom Jesus also had a difficult time identifying. Yet He did, and He expects us to do the same, no matter the problems it creates.