As we read in the Epistle, on the night before he died, Jesus had supper for the last time with his friends. During the meal he took bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it. We follow his commandment to do as he did in memory of him every Sunday, indeed, every day, as we celebrate the Eucharist. The problem we have had for the past year is that we have not been able to practice the fourth of those actions, sharing what was taken, blessed and broken, with the entire community. We are not heeding the command of the Lord! There is, certainly, good reason for this – we want to make sure that we are acting in ways that prevent the deadly spread of the virus – but our lives as Christians, as Catholics, is missing an essential element. Not sharing the Eucharist with the community at large diminishes our identity as the Body of Christ. It is the Eucharist which brings us into communion, into unity with God. It is the Eucharist which makes us a community, a people who belong together, who matter to one another. We hope, we pray, that this pandemic will be over soon, or at least abated enough for us to gather as a community. But what do we do in the meantime? It’s feels like we hoarding something that others need. How we be who we are called to be if we don’t share, partake, give of this great gift that is the Eucharist?
As we read in the Gospel, on the night before he died Jesus had supper for the last time with his friends. During the meal he took a towel and tied it around his waist. With a water-filled basin he then proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples and dry them with the towel. He did this, he told them, to provide a model to follow, an example. As he had done so they were called to do – and so should we. What should characterize the followers of Jesus is loving service. But I wonder if we are withholding loving service just as surely as we are withholding the Eucharist and probably for the same reason: fear. Not fear of the virus but a more existential fear, a fear that goes into our bones. We are reluctant to serve our hurting brothers and sisters because we fear we are inadequate, we don’t have anything to offer. We are reluctant to donate charity because we fear there will not be enough for us and them. We are reluctant to involve ourselves in improving the community because we fear that it will take away the little bit of time we have for ourselves. Fear keeps us from loving service. How do we follow the example of Jesus?
You might have read an article in the Smithsonian Magazine a few years ago on the atmosphere. The article described how stable the atmosphere was with the same chemicals – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc. – swirling around the globe in constant motion. This particular line caught my attention: “The elements in the atmosphere are so well mixed and so long-lasting that in every breath we take we are breathing in a molecule that Jesus breathed — and a molecule that Judas breathed.” Take a breath. Inhale. Exhale. What are you breathing in?
You might read the daily paper like some of us old timers . It is constant tale of woe: widespread disease, basic disregard for healthy living, police on trial for murder, ongoing racism, crime in the streets, global warming, environmental disaster, extreme weather events, pollution, persistent poverty, hungry children, dysfunctional politics, nuclear threats, religious wars and then just plain old death. If we breathe in the Judas molecule this can be so overwhelming that we see no way out. We might despair and give up. We hunker down. Stay in our shell. Hope the world goes away. However, if we breathe in the Jesus molecule things look different. While Jesus did not have the same list of woes as we do he certainly had his own. Instead of retreating in the face of it all he acted, he did something. And he acted in very personal and particular ways. There were probably many lepers in Israel but Jesus cured the one who was right in front of him. There were many hungry people in Israel but Jesus only fed the crowd that was right there with him. There were many sinners in Israel but he gave the word of forgiveness to the woman weeping before him. That is the model, the pattern we are to follow. We can’t fix all of the problems of this world but we can do something about the problem we see right in front of us. We can reach out to our cousin who is hurting. We can recycle our cans and papers. We can wear our masks. We can greet someone who doesn’t look like us. We can provide some cereal for the food pantry. The loving service we provide is retail, not wholesale. Like Jesus we serve in the providence of our everyday life.
Maybe we are reading the text without sufficient understanding. Jesus does not only take, bless, break and give away the bread, he does the same for us. Jesus as taken us as his very own, as named and claimed, as beloved children of God. Jesus blesses us with divine grace which transforms our flawed and fault-filled selves into ministers of God. Jesus breaks our old habits, our fears, our rigidity so that we can become something new, more like the people we are meant to be. So we come to this moment. Jesus wants us to give it away, to dole out the blessings, to share how graced we are. Breathe in and feel the Jesus molecule re-make your very soul.