Summary: When we receive the body and blood of Christ, we are pledging to commit ourselves to alleviate the hunger in the world.
I watched the Oscar winning movie, “Gandhi” years ago when I was a school student. But one scene remains vivid in my memory. After Gandhiji returned from South Africa and started getting involved in the struggle of Independence of India, he made a journey all over the country to see and live India in the villages. One of his close friends joined him in these trips, a missionary he knew in South Africa, C. F. Andrews. In this particular scene from the movie, they are travelling by a bus and Andrews notices some villagers sitting on the roof of the bus. They invite him to go up. Once he reaches the top, the villagers welcome him with broad smiles. One of them asks in his broken English, “You, Christian?” Andrews nods yes. The villager continues, “I know Christians. They drink blood”. Now Andrews is perplexed. But the villager continues, “The blood of Christ… every morning..”
Sounds funny; but it is true. We not only drink the blood of Christ, we eat his flesh too. That is what Jesus did two thousand years ago on a day like this. On the Feast of Passover, at the table when he broke bread with his friends, he told them that it was his body and when he shared the cup of wine with them, he told them it was his blood. Those of us who share this tradition and take part in this table fellowship remember this great offering on this Maundy Thursday.
But what is this bread that we share- this Holy Communion? It is such a small piece of bread that it is hardly sufficient to satisfy the hunger of anybody. To see its greatness, we should look at it with the eyes of faith. Science may ridicule us if we see anything more that bread there. But we believe that it is no more the bread made of wheat. It has transformed. But this transformation will be meaningful in our lives only if it makes a transformation in our lives too. That means, the meaning of the Eucharist for us depends on a certain transformation in our lives. What is this transformation?
While the other evangelists speak about the sharing of bread and wine during the last supper, St John leaves that space to mention another important event. Jesus makes himself small by washing the feet of his disciples. And then he gives the greatest commandment- that of loving one another. In a way, John reminds us that Jesus has equated the Eucharist with loving one another. When we reach out to one another in the loving service of washing one another’s feet, we are following Jesus. Mother Teresa said, “For a Missionary of Charity, the poor is equal to the Eucharist.” Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper should enable us to see Christ in the suffering people around us. It should enable us to reach out to them in loving service.
I saw read a cartoon with the following idea. The mother-in-law goes to the church in the morning. After attending the service and receiving the Holy Communion she comes back home, but on the way shouts at beggars, quarrels with neighbours and on reaching home, fights with her daughter-in-law. The point made is too easy to escape our attention. The Eucharist fails to make any change in the quality of her life and relationships. It has not touched her at all. If the Eucharist does not make any change in our lives, it has failed in its purpose.
This story is said of a Zen Master. At the end of the training, to test his disciples, he asked them, “How will you know that night is over and day has begun?” The first disciple said, “When I see a tree and recognise it as a banyan tree, night is over and day has come”. The Master said, “You have not learnt”. The second disciple said, “When I see an animal and recognise it as a cow, night is gone and day has arrived.” The Master said, “You have not understood.” The third disciple said, “When I see a man and recognise him as my brother, night is over and day has dawned.” Master said, “There, you have understood my teaching.”
This is the transformation the Eucharist should bring in our lives. To see that all the suffering people around us are our brothers and sisters. It is for this purpose that Jesus died on the cross. While tending the deep wounds on the body of a mentally challenged person, a Missionary of Charity brother told me, “Look brother, I am tending the broken body of Christ.” Christ’s broken body is scattered on the pavements around us. We pretend that we don’t see it. This Eucharist should enable us to recognise Christ there.