“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”
When I repeat these words at the Eucharist I try to pray them meaningfully. That’s against earlier years, when the words just rolled off in anticipation of the next response. Since the First Holy Communion, I felt that I had been dutifully attending mass, and apart from frequent distractions, prayed sincerely ( as I had been taught). But, at some stage, an emptiness appeared. Was I addressing the priest? My missal, or some vacant space that would not respond? I felt I needed to have a more intimate connection with the object, the people and celebration. The conversion took time over a meandering progress in my own spiritual awareness.
Essentially, it came down to mulling over the elements in the prayer: bread, drink the Passion and the Second Coming. Smugly people who can deny what I consider to be hard facts. Cliches and Catechism lessons, slided, were revisited, and persevered with, till they made sense and echoed responses in a restless heart.
Bread nourishes and provides viaticum through the journey of life. The Lord provided manna in the desert to the people in their wanderings to the Promised Land. The Lord tested and reconfirmed the covenant He had made with them. The Exodus defined their complete dependence on God. By the time Jesus came, sacrifices and celebrations had dulled memories to the extent that form and ceremony became paramount. Despite continual reminders from the prophets to the people that God will be satisfied by change and contrition, they vied with pretentious offerings of beasts and grain. It was, therefore, a stumbling block when Jesus offered His body as the viaticum. But, when Jesus said, “This is my body”, there is no record of doubts among the disciples; just immediate and complete acceptance.
“Take this all of you, and drink from it: this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” One could visualise a high priest splashing blood on offerings of atonement. A vanity for some, but, a deeply moving ritual to those of the Jewish faith. Jesus supplanted the ancient ritual, by offering his own body and blood for the atonement of the sins of world. For this he came, for this he suffered and died. It is a covenant like no other, sealed by the master’s own blood.
The Passion conjures the sweats of blood at Gethsemane; public shaming and scourging at the pillar; the burden and struggles on the way to Calvary; the indignity and pain at the despoiling of his robes; the final agony of the crucifixion itself. Meditation evokes culpa and contrition in those that believe it was the once-off sacrifice made for the forgiveness of the sins of the world.
But, Jesus did not to leave the world grieving in despair. Sin brought death into the world (an absence of God); through His resurrection we are given hope. His Second Coming will be the final reconciliation; dividing those who choose to follow from those who choose their own way.
Those talented and of the world may see this as marching through the eye of a needle; an irrational aberration. With their chosen priorities and attachments they cannot reconcile worldiness with a transcendental existence. We have been admonished to live in this world, without being of this world. Therefore, we believe that faith can move mountains, quieten storms, even reverse the laws of nature in small and great things. When the Master blesses a loaf of bread and turns it into His body, we believe. Just as He turned water into wine, His words change sacramental wine into His blood. He has said that unless we eat His body and drink His blood, we cannot have life hereafter. Those with ears listen: those who wish it are free to believe. Lord. I believe; bless my unbelief.