Church isn’t a drive thru
Homily for June 18, 2017 (Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ)
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147 (v.v.); 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
Here’s something that may give “eat on the run” a whole new meaning: according to the NPD group, a consumer tracking organization, Americans make well over 12 billion trips to a restaurant drive thru every year, roughly a quarter of all restaurant visits. It’s a testament to our desire for convenience, our changing (and sometimes unhealthy) eating habits, and the busy lives and crowded schedules that many families have today.
Of course, eating on the run isn’t exactly new. It goes back at least to the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. At times it was casual. At other times it was necessary. In recalling the first Passover, for example, Exodus 12 notes that God directed the people to leave Egypt for freedom at night with their “loins girt, sandals on [their] feet and…staff in hand” and to eat their bread unleavened because they didn’t have time to wait for the dough to rise. Many centuries later the Church developed the practice of giving viaticum, literally “food/provision for the journey” or a final communion to those who were preparing for their passing over from life in this world to life in the next.
Our gospel reading from John 6 comes near the end of what has come to be known as the Bread of Life Discourse following the miraculous multiplication of loaves. Using graphic terms, Jesus tells the crowds: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” John wanted to emphasize that the Bread of Life that Jesus offered them and now offers us in the Eucharist was real food, so the word that we translate as “eat” literally means “munch” or “gnaw.” It can’t get much more real than that!
Does our eating and drinking Christ’s Body and Blood make a real difference in our lives? That’s the challenge St. Paul posed to the church at Corinth: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is not it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Today we have a different name for this participation: communion. We typically think of it as an object, i.e. something we receive. But it is even more a relationship— between God and us and also between one another. As Paul goes on to say, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
Paul faced a community divided by disputes and even scandals around ideology, leadership, understandings of freedom, sexual ethics and liturgical practices. Nearly 20 centuries later, the church and our world continue to struggle with these issues. The call remains for us to be people of communion wherever we are. When we say “Amen” to receiving the Body of Christ, we also say “Amen” to being the Body of Christ. That’s something we can’t do on the run. Church isn’t a drive thru. +