Last night I attended a talk in my parish by Archbishop Harry Flynn, retired archbishop of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Diocese. He spoke on the Eucharist and on the centrality of social justice in the lives of Christians. There are many things I could share, many things that I want to reflect on from his talk. But I share here one that seems to me central.
The Archbishop observed that when he ate a piece of the lemon square that was served for dessert at the dinner preceding his talk, he changed the food into himself. In contrast, when we receive Eucharist, we don’t change the Body of Christ into ourselves. Rather we are changed into the Body of Christ. We become what we receive. The Body of Christ doesn’t become Harry Flynn; rather, Harry Flynn becomes the Body of Christ.
I think he right in observing that we don’t always receive the Eucharist with a consciousness of what it means, of what it does for us and to us. The Eucharist doesn’t just nourish us; it transforms us. We become Christ. So there is nothing figurative about saying we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
Similarly, as I become Christ in the receipt of the Eucharist, so too does everyone else in the assembly. And I don’t become one Christ and you a different Christ. Rather, we all become part of the same Christ. Thus, when we say that we are many parts but one body, we are not speaking figuratively, but quite literally.
To me this gives a much fuller picture of the meaning of Christ’s words at the Last Supper – do this in memory of me. If we take seriously this understanding of the Eucharist, the invitation to do this in memory of me is not just an invitation to eat bread and drink wine. Instead, it is an invitation to eat the Body of Christ so that we can be the Body of Christ in the world. The “this” in “do this” is not just the eating and drinking, but the being in the world what Christ was when he walked in the world. That’s a much more demanding invitation – an invitation to become what we receive.