Many years ago I visited a parishioner in the hospital who had been diagnosed with advanced cancer. I had been told by the family that she didn’t have more than a few weeks to live, and would be moving to hospice when she left the hospital. When I stopped at the nurse’s station to see if it was okay to visit, the nurse said that would be fine. I noticed, though, that they were just beginning to bring around the lunch trays, and so, I indicated that I could stop back later. The nurse replied that my timing was actually good as people usually ate better when someone was with them. I entered my parishioner’s room just as an aide had brought in the lunch tray. I told my parishioner to go ahead and eat, and that we could talk while she ate. While she ate, we had a lovely visit as she told me about her husband and family and her life. After about 25 minutes I indicated that I probably should be going. She thanked me for visiting and then almost as an afterthought said that she hated eating alone so the timing of my visit couldn’t have been better.
The two things I remember about this visit were the nurse’s words that people usually eat better when someone was with them, and my parishioner’s words that it was nice to have someone with her while she ate because she hated eating alone. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how important these things are. Being with someone and conversing with them while they eat can be the difference between just ingesting food and sharing a meal. Eating with someone can also help us better appreciate the food. It can also fill us up—not just physically, but in other ways as well.
I believe the above is the reason why, when Jesus’s time on this earth was coming to an end, he chose to share a meal with his disciples and then to command them to “do this in memory of me.” Jesus knew the importance of sharing a meal with others. He knew that this wasn’t just a way to nourish their bodies, but also a way to nourish their spirits. I suspect he also knew that people ate better when there was someone with them.
We believe that in the Eucharist that Jesus left us, that Jesus is really and truly present. Further, we believe that when we receive the Eucharist it strengthens us and sustains us that we might become more like Christ. As St. Augustine said many years ago: “Behold what you are. Become what you receive” The Eucharist is not a reward for life well lived. Rather it is to help us live life well. It helps us to better follow Christ and to better bring Christ to the world around us.
In addition to being a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, though, the Eucharist is also a communal event. As we gather to celebrate and share the Eucharist we are reminded that as we seek to follow Christ, we do so within a community of faith. It is the community that strengthens and sustains us when our energy begins to wan and our efforts feel unproductive. In the Christian community, we are reminded that there is no private dining at the table of the Lord. We are all in this together, and we need the encouragement and support of one another as we seek to be and to bring the presence of Christ in our world.
The Eucharist is a great gift and blessing. It is a sacred communal meal we share and that empowers us to follow Christ and to be Christ in our world. For this gift let us never fail to give thanks. Because of this gift let us pray that we might become what we believe.