Meals are an important part of our lives. Most of our holidays revolve around shared meals, and table hospitality is an important way to begin deeper friendships and to maintain friendships. Meals can also build community.
Several years ago a movie came out entitled Babette’s Feast. It was the story of a French cook living in exile in Denmark, and she was sponsored by a small Christian group, a little church. This group was generous in its own way, feeding the poor of the area, but petty jealousies and an extreme attitude of self-denial, even denial of individual talents and simple pleasures, had sapped the life from the group. They were people who seemed doomed to dwindle into oblivion unmissed by their neighbors and each other. Then Babette won a lottery, and she wanted to show her appreciation by fixing them a wonderful meal. The group agreed that it would be polite to eat the meal and allow their refugee to show her appreciation, but they should ignore the taste in order to preserve their spiritual purity from the temptations of the flesh.
Of course there is a long sequence where the ingredients of the meal are assembled and prepared, including the wines, as well as the preparation of the table and the room. The group enters, accompanied by an army officer who adores wonderful food, and over the course of the evening, they relent and decide to enjoy themselves after all. They regain more than enjoyment of simple things: thanks to the food and drink and atmosphere that are created, this group manages to find reconciliation of their little differences. All the old festering wounds that were sucking the life out of their gatherings were brought out in order to be forgiven, and as they left there were able to sing their songs with the same enthusiasm as in their youth.
Today in the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate a meal that is more than meets the eye. We celebrate the meal that binds us together, the meal that reminds us of who we are and what we believe. The first reading spoke of the covenant at Sinai in a special way: Moses called the people to remember the great things that God had done for them as a way of calling them to continuing faith. The second reading makes the connection between the Body and Blood of Christ we share and the type of community we are called to be. When we get together week after week, we remember through this meal Jesus’ way of living as a model for our life and our future. We look forward and back: we remember the Last Supper and we remember the great Banquet of Heaven that we will be part of. We’re called to do more than simply remembering, because what Moses says is “do not forget”. Not forgetting is a higher form of remembering, rather than recalling something when we have time, we are called to keep it always in front of our minds everywhere we go. The Greek word is anmenesis, and is what part of the Eucharistic Prayer, when we recalled the Last Supper, is called. Not forgetting Christ means more than remembering; it’s about putting Him front and center all the time.
Sharing Jesus isn’t easy to do: in the Gospel reading we find that a great number of people can’t handle Jesus saying: “I am the bread of life” and simply leave. Their minds look at the surface of what Jesus says and are blown away: they say that they’re not cannibals. The disciples have a hard time with that. Jesus makes the connection between the manna in the desert and what he’s offering.
Today we come together to receive the manna that Jesus offers, the cup that slakes our thirst. It’s tough to fathom everything that this sharing means: Jesus becoming part of us has some rather strong implications. We accept what we do here in faith: when our rational reaches its limit and we are tempted to stay away it’s good to remember that those who were Jesus’ followers aren’t perfect. Jesus didn’t ask them to become perfect before he shared himself with them or sent them out to be his Body and Blood for the world. Jesus says, “Don’t forget.” Are we able to accept this higher standard of remember? As we share in this transforming meal, do we take it with us always?