St. James is not a filling station. You know what a filling station is: when I need some gas, you go in and fill up. (I’m old enough to remember when my Dad would get a fill up with $2 worth of gas. Back in the day…) We are tempted to treat the Church like a filling station. I need to get married. I come and get my fill up. I need to bury a loved one. I come and get my fill up. I need to have my baby baptized. I come and get my fill up. Those are the obvious ways of treating the church as filling station: the church as a place to be hatched, matched and dispatched. But more subtly, we all tend to treat the church as a filling station. We come in, sit down, and wait to be filled up. Okay, I’m here. Do me. Feed me. Meet my needs. Take care of me. Entertain me. Scratch my itch. Ring my bell. Light my fire. The Church is not a filling station because the Church is not there FOR me but BECAUSE of me. We don’t come to Church to get something but to give something, to give of ourselves in the task of making God’s kingdom of peace, love and justice come alive. Perhaps one of the unanticipated side benefits of Renew My Church as we have seen many churches closed: we are reminded not to take St. James for granted. We are all responsible for the future we will build together.
On the other hand (isn’t there always an “other hand?”) we do come to Church to get something. As today’s feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, reminds us we come to Church to receive Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament. What we must understand is that the Sacrament is not meant merely for my personal spiritual nourishment. We receive communion not only to build up ourselves as individuals but to build us up together up as the Body of Christ. The great African bishop, St. Augustine, used to proclaim as he held up the sacred elements: “Behold who you are; become what you receive.” We receive the body of Christ at the altar so that we can become the body of Christ in the world. Each one of us are the cells, the organs of the body of Christ who supply some necessary component for the full functioning of the body. If we aren’t all together in it, there’s something missing. We aren’t church by coming merely to get something but by giving of ourselves in sharing the mission of Jesus.
Perhaps that is what lies behind the choice of the gospel for this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. At first glance the story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes in Luke 9 seems to have little to do with the bread that is broken and the cup that is shared in the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Paul recalls that story of the Last Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians. However, when the Eucharist is understood not as something that I come to the filling station to get filled up with but rather as something that transforms me into the body of Christ in the world the story of the loaves and fishes makes pre-eminent sense. At the heart of the event, after all, is the command of Jesus. “Give them some food yourselves.” The apostles seemed shocked by this. They had a hard enough time taking care of their own business. Send those other people away. Their needs are too great. We only have a little bit ourselves – five loaves and two fish to split among the twelve of us, oh and you too, Jesus. We’ll take care of ourselves and let those others fend for themselves. Jesus doesn’t think that way. Every person who is in need deserves his care. “Give them some food yourselves.” It might seem like only a little bit to you, but if you give what you have God will make the increase so that it can feed a multitude. When they shared, there was enough and to spare. We as the followers of Jesus are given the same command today. “Give them some food yourselves.” As a Eucharistic people we have received the body of Christ in order to become the body of Christ for others. We give to our families the love that God has poured into our hearts. We give to our neighbors our commitment to make this world a place of justice and peace for all the people. We give to our church our involvement and participation in the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God in our midst. We aren’t church merely because we receive heavenly food but also by giving the food of God’s love to others.
Yesterday we had a wonderful event here – the ordination of one of my confreres, Brother, now Father, Victor. He has lived at St. James for the past six years so this was a moment that needed celebrating. Did I worry about how the ordination ceremony would go? No. Did I worry how the choir would lead us in song? No. Did I worry about parking? Well, maybe a little. But what I really worried about was food. Would there be enough for those attending? Where would they sit? Would I need to multiply the tortillas and carne. How about drinks? Desserts? Those things are important because, as the gospel story today reminds us, sharing food is sharing our love, our care, our very selves. St James is not a filling station, it is a graced sensation. We are a Jesus congregation. We are a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Though one hundred and sixty-seven years might seem like a long duration. We’ve only just begun for we are God’s creation.