The Universal and Unifying Meal
Thursday, July 26, 2018
The mystery of sharing food and a common table takes place on different levels. First there is the unifying idea of sharing the same food. Then there is the symbolism of the table itself: where you sit at the table, how the table is arranged, and who is invited. Together the food and table become a symbol of how our social world is also arranged. (Think of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series on food, Parts Unknown, which became the context for communicating an entire life philosophy, political commentary, and study of international friendship.)
Jesus’ last supper was a meal of deep table friendship—with his closest followers—that evolved into the formatted, highly ritualized meal of bread and wine that many of us feel obligated to participate in today. The first disciples soon came to understand it as their special way of gathering, as the way to define their reality and their relationship with one another, a “memorial” meal with Jesus and thus with the larger society.
This communion meal was originally somewhat of a secret ritual (especially during times of persecution) by which the community defined itself and held itself together. Frankly, most people have never been ready for the Eucharist’s radically demanding message of solidarity with both suffering and resurrection at the same time. Therefore, we made it into a worthiness contest and something that we could supposedly understand with our mind—both a terrible waste of time, in my opinion. Catholics even publicly say, “Lord, I am not worthy” in the Mass, immediately before we walk up as if we are “worthy”—and others are not. Ken Wilber would call this a “performative contradiction” right in the heart of the liturgy.
Yes, we are to recognize Jesus himself in the Eucharist, but we are also to “recognize the Body” (see 1 Corinthians 11:29) of those present as the Body of Christ, too (as Paul goes on to describe at great length in 1 Corinthians 12). There is no true Eucharist without a living assembly because we are being saved together and as one. The message is corporate and historical. (Yet I grew up with priests in great numbers saying “private” Masses all by themselves. And some still say we did not need a liturgical renewal!)
The Eucharistic meal is meant to be a microcosmic event, summarizing at one table what is true in the whole macrocosm: We are one, we are equal in dignity, we all eat of the same divine food, and Jesus is still and always “eating with sinners” (for which people hated him) just as he did when on Earth.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publications: 2016), 296-297.