Sunday, June 18, 2017


Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life. The one who feeds on me
will have life because of me. 
John 6: 51-58
The Eucharist! The Lord’s Supper! The Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion! The Breaking of Bread! The Mass! Throughout our 2,000 year history, we have used several words to describe what we do here today. One of my favorites words for the Eucharist is that old fashioned word “viaticum.” “Viaticum” was what we called the Eucharistic Bread when we gave it to those who were moments away from death. It was their last Holy Communion. The word “viaticum” means “nourishment you take with you when you set out on a trip.” The fact of the matter is, we are invited to receive “viaticum” every Sunday, the first day of every week, as “bread for the journey and strength for the trip” to help us during the week ahead. This is not just any bread: when we eat this bread Jesus invites us to “feed on” his very flesh and blood. We go forward each week, then, with God’s power under our belts! Two other words closely associated with this meal make it even more life-giving and soul-strengthening. The word “parish” means a way station for pilgrims. Like one of those stagecoach stops in the old western movies, a “parish” is where spiritual pilgrims stop to refresh themselves before continuing on their trip. The word “companions” comes from the Latin words for “bread” and “with.” So “companions” are “people you eat bread with.” So, what are we here for? We are here as spiritual pilgrims on a journey to the Lord. Our “parishes,” are fueling stations where we receive “viaticum,” bread for the journey - places to be encouraged by our “companions,” other spiritual pilgrims with whom we share this Bread of Life. 

One of my favorite parables is the parable of the wedding feast where Jesus teaches us that “the good and bad alike” are invited to come and “dine with him.” This parable, and others like it, have always raised the question about who is worthy to receive the Eucharist: even more, what is the purpose of the Eucharist? Is the Eucharist a reward for good behavior or the medicine sinners need to be healed? It is the church’s duty to protect the Eucharist from desecration, heresy and triviality. The church has done it’s job well over the centuries, but in a zealous attempt to protect the Eucharist, has it not ended up sometimes keeping it out of the very hands of those for whom it was most intended, those who most need it? 

There may be another way to look at the Eucharist: not simply as a reward for good behavior, but more so as powerful medicine for the sick of soul. Jesus told stories like the parable I mentioned because he was under attack from religious leaders for welcoming sinners and eating with them! Jesus believed that by welcoming them and being with them, they would more likely be motivated and strengthened to let go of their sins and be transformed. Even Judas was invited to the last supper! He was not only invited, he was invited to sit in the place of honor. It was to Judas that Jesus gave the “choice morsel,” traditionally given by the host to the most honored guest!

Early Christianity preserved the idea of the Eucharist being medicine for sinners, placing the marginal and the wounded in the center of their communities in order to give them greatest care. As time went by, probably because of doctrinal and discipline concerns, the idea of “worthy and unworthy” crept in. Over time, feeling unworthy, people stopped going to communion, for all practical purposes, with Eucharistic adoration taking precedence over the reception of communion. It got so bad that the church had to finally mandate communion once a year. It was known as your “Easter duty” and it is still in effect today. 

My own thinking in this matter has been affected greatly by 47 years of pastoral experience, especially by something that happened to me one day here at the Cathedral where we had a major outreach to disaffected Catholics. I was distributing communion. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a woman who had come to see me the day before. She was divorced from an abusive husband and had remarried. She did not believe in divorce, but had successfully rebuilt her life. Even though she longed for the Eucharist, she had not received it since her divorce. She was crying. In front of me was a line of people, many of whom were validly married in the church. Some of them were coming toward me, looking around, winking and waving at friends, obviously not very conscious of what they were doing or how important it was! I don’t challenge the teaching of the church on the permanence of marriage, but I kept saying to myself: “we’ve got this “who’s worthy” thing all wrong! That woman needs this more than anybody in this line!” 

This sacrament is cheapened, I believe, not so much by giving it to sinners who recognize their need for healing, but by giving it to unconscious people who care little about it, people who are not prepared to receive it, people who do not recognize the presence of the Lord. St. Paul put it this way to the church at Corinth, “Everyone is to recollect himself before eating this bread and drinking this cup, because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.” 

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