Body and Blood of Christ – C
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
Food and drink. Very ordinary, very simple. Very necessary. Without them we die. Stop eating and drinking and we will soon be having a burial. The word we have just heard is all about food, the ordinary food of that time: bread and wine-fruits of the earth and vine. The priest Melchisedek wants to give thanks for Abraham’s victory and so he brings out food, bread and wine the text says. And Paul reminds the Corinthians of what Jesus left behind his farewell gift, the stuff by which to remember him. And what is it: bread and cup. Ordinary food into which he put himself as it were. This food Jesus left behind would become life, a way of life for those around the table. If food is necessary, then the food of Jesus is necessary for his followers. Otherwise, we are headed for a sure death, death of spirit and body. And finally today our Gospel story of the marvelous scene out in the open deserted country. Many people, and little food. Only 7 pieces of food can be found in the crowd of 5000. Bread and fish, the staple food of a lakeside community and the impossible odds of making such little ordinary food keep alive a crowd of 5000. But in the hands of Jesus and with the blessing from God the food is enough and more.
Ordinary food and drink, bread and wine, and in the gospel a few fish. Nothing elaborate, nothing special, just ordinary food—and yet in each case a moment of new life and opportunity for staying alive. It is wonderful how Jesus can use the simple things of ordinary life to make his points. A lost sheep, a lost coin, a farmer sowing seeds, a tiny mustard seed, a lost son who comes back to a welcoming father, a servant who is faithful to his master through thick and thin: all language to speak of the Kingdom of God, to speak of where to find God’s activity in the world. Today someone’s supper of 5 loaves and two fish, or a picnic lunch become a moment when God nourishes his new community in a new desert of loneliness and hunger. It is in the simple ordinary things, words and actions that God’s mighty deeds are made known and continue. Jesus speaks a word and people are washed with forgiveness; Jesus touches and someone is healed; Jesus lays his hands on the children and the insignificant, the least, are blessed. Or Jesus eats with the 12 and picks up a loaf of bread and breaks it and shares it, and then says; from now on you will find me with you in the bread and in the cup of spirit-filled wine. Everyday food now filled with a life and power beyond imagining.
This feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord is a feast about Jesus taking up the ordinary sustenance of human life and transforming it into himself, transforming it into the very means by which we experience God’s sustaining, nourishing and feeding us. The Gospel writers have preserved the story of Jesus feeding thousands in an open deserted place six times, one for each Gospel and twice in 2 gospels. It is the only miracle story that told so many times. Not even the story of Jesus’ death is told so many times. Why is this? What is the fascination of this event? It may simply be that food speaks to us humans in a way that nothing else can. Eating together and sharing food and drink with one another is not only something that keeps the body alive, it is something that keeps the human spirit in us alive. The sharing of food not only binds those who eat together, but hidden in that communion with one another is communion with God himself.
The numbers in today’s Gospel are significant. It is not just anybody who comes to realize the critical nature of the situation, that it is the end of the day, people are hungry, and there is not much to go around 5 loaves and 2 fish for 5000. It is the Twelve who bring this crisis to the attention of Jesus. It is the Twelve, the 12 leaders of the new community of Israel that are concerned for the needs of the 5000. Here is the leadership of the Church showing concern for the community at large and feeling helpless with what is at hand. Here the new community, like Israel of old, is in the desert and hungry on their journey. And here in this lonely place manna will come again from the hands of God. But the community is not totally helpless. What is new in this desert feeding is that God uses the ordinary food at hand to feed his people. 5+2=7, the number of the days of creation, the number of perfection and wholeness. Creation and we humans come together with God in Jesus and thus the larger community is fed and satisfied. What is essential in this meal is that we share. Jesus invites the 12 to feed the people themselves. Don’t buy; money is not necessarily the way to handle the deep seated hunger of people. Don’t buy, share; you have what you need within you. You think it is a lack and insufficient what you have. But it is not. The feeding story of the people is a meal story where we learn about how to satisfy the hunger of others; we learn something about eating. We share what we have; Jesus takes our sharing and then shows us how to bless God for it and then to break it. We share what we have and from Jesus we learn that the meal is completed only when what is shared is broken.
In the feeding story there is the number 50. It is the number of the jubilee. We still rejoice when someone reaches 50 years of commitment, marriage, ordination profession. The jubilee time is fulfillment time; a time of rejoicing. For Israel it was a time to rest and to start anew. It was a time of recreating: the earth and soil and human relationships. Jesus is calling the crowd into jubilee time; it sits down and rests; it is being fed and restored. The community will enjoy the jubilee food and rise renewed. It says something about what Jesus is trying to do at our Eucharist. Each Eucharist reminds us of a time of fulfillment; at each Eucharist we too are being made new, re-created by the food that Jesus offers us. Jesus offers us his body; he breaks his body and shares it—we are reminded that we come together as broken pieces because his one body is shared out. Here is a cup he says; in it is a new covenant..in it is a new form of relationship-a relationship between you and me, between you and me and the Father and between yourselves….a people is being formed anew at each offer of our cup.
The miracle of the sharing of food from little to more than enough, ends with another number, but it is the number that started Jesus off: yes twelve. How many baskets are there at the end? 12 baskets with fragments, pieces left over. What is in the baskets? Pieces, fragments of bread. Are not these 12 baskets ourselves? We are fragments, pieces, yes, but pieces of one the one loaf that was broken and shared. We cannot be discarded and thrown away. The loaves were precious because held by Jesus’ hand for blessing and praise; precious because broken by him. But each broken piece is precious because it belongs to the whole; it is part of the 12, the community Jesus is founding and setting up so that God’s people may continue in time.
Yes, the feeding story ends with you and I gathered carefully, not forgotten, not thrown away. We are gathered with the 12, held in the community for whom the Lord said this is my body broken, for you. And this is the cup of my blood, poured out for you. The feeding story does not end with leftovers to be fed to others or swept away. The feeding story ends with you and I, now bread in Christ, gathered and collected into the community of the Lord, into his body. We are pieces, broken and precious, held in the basket of his love.
Yes, ordinary stuff: loaves of bread, hands that break bread so that it satisfies even all humanity, and baskets, to hold what looks like pieces but really is the body of Christ renewed, refreshed and loved by the one who gave his life that we might have life forever.
Ordinary stuff—this bread and cup, but now extra-ordinary, filled with power, love and life.
Vryheid, South Africa
2 June 2013