Christ the King Catholic Church
Anthropologists who study human cultures tell us that in almost every culture of the world eating together is a sign of friendship. Sharing food is one of the most common way in which friendship is expressed and by which we welcome people into our lives. An invitation to dinner is an invitation to share life.
Weddings, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, family reunions, retirements and parish picnics are all examples of coming together to share meals. Business deals and treaties between governments are concluded with meals and banquets. There is something universal about sharing a meal together. The meal is a sign of friendship and celebrates the bonds that exist between people.
When I first arrived in Sudan the missionaries there told me that when you received an invitation to dinner to the home of a Sudanese family, it was a sign that you had been accepted, that you were one of the family.
Certainly, the God who created us knows this. Throughout salvation history he reveals himself to us, he comes to meet us, in ways that we as human beings can understand. The most dramatic example of this is the incarnation. The Son of God, in the fullness of time takes on flesh and becomes one with us in our humanity.
But all through salvation history, God comes to meet us in ways that we can understand. And one of these ways is sharing meals with us. Meals and the sharing of meals is one of the prisms by which we can study salvation history.
The Old Testament is the story of covenants, agreements that God has made with us. And following the custom of the day, each of the covenants was sealed by the sharing of a meal. That meal was a sign of the special bond that existed between God and the people he had chosen as his own.
The prophets speak of heaven as an eternal banquet in which we will feast on fine foods and choice wines,
Today's first reading records the lowest moment in Jewish history. In spite of the covenant that had been sealed on Mount Sinai in which God promised to be the God of his Chosen People and the people promised to live as his people by keeping his commandments, the people had failed to live up to their end of the bargain.
Instead of putting their trust in God, they had entered into foreign alliances and put their trust in military powers.
As a result of turning their backs on God and the covenant that they had made with God, God allowed the Babylonians to conquer the Children of Israel and take its leading citizens into exile. And there, by the rivers of Babylon, they did some serious soul searching and many recognized their unfaithfulness to God and repented of that unfaithfulness. They 'hungered' for God's friendship.
God listens to their cries and begins the process by which they would return to the Promised Land. And, through the Prophet Isaiah, he tells them that he will make a new covenant with them that will be an eternal covenant. The people will once again eat well and delight in rich fare. The bonds of friendship, symbolized by a meal, will be restored.
Fast forward to today's Gospel. Jesus comes among us to fulfill the promise that had been made through the Prophet Isaiah. He comes among us to establish a new and everlasting covenant. The bonds that this covenant will create between God and humankind will never be broken.
As Jesus prepares to establish this covenant, what does he do? He eats with people. "Zacchaeus, come down from that tree, for I intend to eat at your house this day." He goes to visit Martha and Mary and Lazarus and Martha, in spite of complaining about all the work, prepares a meal for him. After calling Matthew, the tax collector, he goes to Matthew's home and eats with him and his friends. What was the Pharisees constant complaint against Jesus? He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He accepts an invitation from Simon the Pharisee and eats at his home and the signs of hospitality that Simon fails to give are given to Jesus by the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The night before he died, he gathers his closest friends together to share a meal, the Last Supper. After his resurrection, he prepares breakfast on the seashore for the disciples who had been fishing all night and eats with them. Jesus shares life with people by sharing meals with them,
In today's Gospel Jesus feeds a large crowd. He feeds them through his teaching, which satisfies their hunger for meaning, and then satisfies their physical hunger through the multiplication of the loaves. And the language he uses in today's Gospel is a language familiar to all of us. "He took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples." It is the language of the Eucharist.
Jesus continues to come to meet us today and, in the Eucharist, shares a meal with us. And he gave us this meal with the command that we do it in memory of him until he comes again. For us as Catholics, the central act of worship of our Church is a meal, a sacred meal, this meal.
Think of all of the ways God could have called us to worship him. He could have commanded us at least once in our life to travel to Mount Everest and climb the world's highest mountain in search of God. He could have commanded us to travel to the solitude of the Sahara Desert and meet him there. He could have commanded us to live our lives in constant search of a suitable sacrifice to offer him. But instead, our God invites us to a meal and invites us to meet him in Word and Sacrament.
We sometimes receive formal invitations which read "The pleasure of your company is requested... " God extends a similar invitation to all of us. The pleasure of our company is requested at a banquet that God gives in honor of his own beloved Son. What an honor to receive this invitation! And God tells us that by our very presence here we honor him. The Eucharist is not primarily something that we do. It is something that God does. He comes to meet us in Word and Sacrament and in this meal does what God has always wanted. He comes to share life with us.
A couple of years ago Deacons Eddie Ensley and Robert Herrmann came to offer a parish mission here at Christ the King. I always remember Deacon Eddie telling us in a meditation on prayer that 90% of life is simply showing up. 'Showing up' for prayer is 90% of the battle. The same can be said of the Eucharist. 90% is simply showing up.
Anthropologists, who study human cultures, tell us that sharing a meal is a universal way of sharing friendship among peoples. This is something that we
have to tell God. All through salvation history he has come to meet us by sharing meals with us. No mountains to climb, no deserts to visit or sacrifices to find.
What God asks of us is that we take our place at table. The Eucharist is many things. It is the memorial of Jesus' passion and death. It is the one, perfect sacrifice that Jesus has offered once and for all. But it is also a meal, a sacred meal, in which God satisfies our deepest hungers for life and for love. It is the meal by which God satisfies his hunger to be one with us and to share life and love with us.
And so once again this morning, "The honor of our presence is requested... "