As a Catholic baptized as a tiny baby and raised in the rhythms of ritual and sacrament, I have the words “this is my body, this is my blood” woven into the fabric of my being. It’s one of the reasons I have always loved being Catholic—it is so embodied, so physical, so human, incorporating me into a Mystery that has everything to do with my body. Ours is an incarnational faith. We follow a God that had a body, and that now, has a body—through us. We are commissioned to become and to be the Body of God in the world.
This is amazing to me on so many levels, and it’s one of the reasons it’s been impossible for me to “leave” the faith of the roots. How can I leave something that is part of me? I can disagree with the institution’s leaders. I can rage against the unjust actions taken by the hierarchy, teachings that violate the dignity of human beings. I can separate these actions (of human beings) from the action of God (which is always love). I can remember that there is a difference between “church” and the Divine One, the Spirit of the Living God. But I cannot turn my back on a central mystery of embodiment that makes so much sense, and resonates with the intuition of my soul. Receiving the body of Christ, and becoming the body of God, never had anything to do with the people in power anyway—it has to do with you, and with me, the beloved little ones that Jesus loves and heals and empowers to be all that we are.
This central mystery, these words of incorporation, take me right into the person of Jesus, right into the sacred heart of the Christ, the one who somehow holds together all things—human and divine, male and female, questions and answers, death and life. Catholics know the words by heart: On the night before he died, gathered with his friends, he took the bread and said, “This is my body. Whenever you eat of this, remember me.” Then he took the cup and said, “This is my blood. Whenever you drink of this, remember me.” The bread and wine, the body and blood, are passed and we all share, we all participate, in this Divine Human Life. We become what we eat. Amen, yes, we do believe!
What did he mean by those words? What significance did they hold for him, and for us? We all know the traditional teachings—fruit of the earth and work of human hands. Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation. He was/is the “living sacrifice” we are told, given as repudiation for our sins. The “lamb of God” the one sacrificed so that we might live. Sacrifice was a huge part of the culture of Jesus’ day. Animals were regularly sacrificed to appease a hungry and thirsty God, to show the earnestness of the people. In this paradigm, theology has turned Jesus into the helpless animal, offering himself to a God requiring the death of his own son so others might live unblemished. This never made sense to me, and reeks of a God I don’t believe exists, except in the egoic constructions of fearful people—judgmental, vengeful, blood-thirsty.
But what if its all about something else? What if we shift the focus from sacrifice and exceptionality to… life? To affirmation of human, bodily life? To ordinariness—ordinary, daily food and drink and companionship? To unbounded love and unity? What happens then?
When I was in Italy, traveling on a pilgrimage to Assisi, bread and wine are placed on every table at the beginning of every meal. It was so regular, so habitual, so expected and so comforting. Sitting down hungry, waiting for the main meal to arrive, we poured a glass of wine and broke bread, eager bellies assuaged by the light and immediate comforts of food and drink. This is my body, this is my blood. Here for you. All the time. Every time you do something as regular and necessary as eating, I am here. Every time you nourish your body and spirit through drink, I am with you. My love is always present—at every table, at every meal. You are never, ever alone. Never forget this. Always remember— every time you eat, know my love. Every time you drink, know my faithfulness to you. Do this in memory of me.
It’s constant. It’s ordinary, always occurring, this love and life of God. Maybe that was Jesus’ point—not to make it something extra-ordinary, something you have to be worthy of. Maybe it’s not about some elaborate sacrifice schema between a transcendent Father-God and his heir. Maybe it’s simply about love, and life. Maybe he wanted us to know that its ever-available, this love and union. That you will always have access to the bread of Life and the cup of Compassion. That nothing can keep you from Love. That as often as you eat and drink, Love is holding you. That the “table” is not some special place only priests can touch. The table, the true altar, is the altar of our life—the constant offering of all we are to Love. The trust that Love is always meeting us, sweeping us up into her grace. The openness to the transformation that comes through life itself. The surrender to love. The willingness to give that Love that we have become to a world so in need of love.
Maybe it’s actually about the body—this is my body. As often as you nourish yours, know mine, Jesus says. In my goodness, know your own goodness. In my love, know your belovedness. In my confidence in your utter belonging to Life, live deeply rooted in belonging. Maybe it’s actually about security, and unity, and an unending, ordinary love that can be found everywhere—at every meal, in your very digestion, and in every action of your love-filled body.
At this table, in this invitation, all are invited. No one is left out. We are all, every human being, every one of us, no matter what, welcome at the table of Life. We are ushered into Love’s invitation. Jesus says—this is my body, and he means every last one of us, the body of humanity, the body of God.