What did Jesus mean by “this is my body”?
These words of his seem to be everywhere in the New Testament (all three synoptic Gospels, 1 Cor). Nor can we escape them in the fourth Gospel where we might wonder, with his original audience, what Jesus could possibly mean by saying “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:53).
He meant something serious enough that, though it caused many of his followers to leave him, he kept saying it, more determinedly than ever.
It’s his body, his blood, the deep pulse and sinew and bone of him, that he urgently wanted to give his friends, as he gave them bread and wine the last night he ate and drank with them (see Eph 5:30).
And they received and handed it on in a way that has connected us down through the centuries. The church has always seen here the wellspring of the Eucharist.
During the Easter days when we laypeople had to fast from Communion, we had a unique opportunity to ponder these words afresh. What does eating Jesus’ body mean for us? What did the Communion fast mean? It may be worth checking now while we still feel it.
We are not the first, of course; Catholics in the Amazon have fasted from Communion for years, as have many others on many occasions. We tasted a little of the hunger others have long known. Here was an opportunity to share a longing of the whole body of Christ. Let’s notice, while we can, where our search for his body leads us.
It’s bodies that got us into trouble in this pandemic, since the virus attacks them. In a way, though, they also mirror the inner trouble our souls are in; not that our spiritual illness caused the novel coronavirus, but that physical illness can be a doorway to the inner life.
We might be tempted to conclude that virtual church is just as good if not better than live church, and that maybe God gave us the internet instead of physical communion. Thank God, our spirits have connected over the internet and in other ways, but don’t we miss each other’s bodies? Don’t we long for physical connection, too?
If we don’t miss Christ’s body, we may be fooling ourselves that we miss the rest of him.
When you take a photograph, do you focus on the yellow daffodils in the foreground or the blue lake in the distance? The choice is yours, but it makes all the difference in the resulting picture.
So for us, in this next chapter of the human race’s illness, where will we focus? If we focus on money, everything reorganizes around that; if on physical health or the environment, around that. Not that these are mutually exclusive, any more than the daffodils and the lake, but the focal point changes the picture.
What if we focus on the body of Christ and let everything organize itself around that?
As I heard in an Eastertide homily, we can learn by observing how the picture changed for Jesus’ friends when the body of Christ became their focal point.
The myrrh-bearing women went to his tomb out of a solemn, loving duty to the body of Christ. Presumably, they expected nothing but death, and they got more “nothing” than they dreamed: no body at all. The same with Peter and John when they went to the tomb.
Out of this nothing they received more “everything” than they dreamed: the whole person of Christ returned to them beyond death, the same but different.
The rest of the apostles, meanwhile, stayed at home under lockdown watching the news. Since they didn’t go out to meet it, the body of Christ came to them. The risen Christ penetrated their locked doors and breezed through their walls. The apostles checked out different aspects of the body of Christ: feeling his wounds, eating with him, hearing his words, seeing his face and body.
What will happen for us if we go to the body of Christ, even where it seems dead or absent? Or if we let the body of Christ come to us, even when we would rather stay home and let somebody else take the risk?
Did the apostles go “back to normal”? Could they? The body of Christ continued as their focal point. They were nourished and inspired by regularly repeating in their community life, as in the New Testament, “this is my body,” not only in word but also in action and deed.
It is in the breaking of his body and the sharing of his body that we recognize him and make him present. If we want to know what Jesus meant by saying “this is my body,” the answer is: “Do this.”
Mary Marrocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.