Francis of Assisi
556 South Jersey Street;
Denver, CO 80224
National Catholic Church (PNCC)
St. Francis of Assisi Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) @2008
Many of the prayers made by the people of the Old Testament are centered on reminding God, in case his divine memory is slipping, of the promises he made to save them. When the chosen people faced new trials, their insurance against disaster was the promise of God to see them through their time of pain. They held fast to that word of promise. Every new experience of want or suffering served to keep alive the memory of God's promises. So their prayers of intercession were made to jolt God's memory, to play back his promise, to hold him to his word.
But what happens when these people come into plenty? Do they remain faithful to their promises to God in the midst of prosperity? In today's first reading Moses reminds his own people of the need to remember God: he notices that as the people get richer, their memories get poorer. In the midst of comfort God appears as unnecessary as a rescue squad at a picnic. If the people don’t want God to forget them in their affliction, they must remember God doesn’t want them to forget him in their affluence. So, he reminds them that when they’re safely installed in their new homes with security devices to keep out the uninvited, with their two-car garage, excellent salary, fringe benefits, and secured retirement plan, they should still remember who it was who hauled them through the wilderness when they had no baggage except the memory of slavery, and nowhere to go but away from Egypt.
If that memory isn’t kept alive, then it’ll be as if God no longer existed because people aren’t disposed to remember how he adopted them and cared for them in their need. Prosperity has made them a thankless people. In the desert the people learned that they couldn’t continue their journey without being sustained by the word of God. This experience was to teach them that they couldn’t live on bread alone: when the bread ran out and the water dried up, their very survival depended on the word of God making new life possible for them. It was the creative word of God which brought them the manna — their daily bread — that in psalm 78 is referred to as "the grain of heaven" and "the bread of the mighty". The people collected as much as they needed for the day; they were forbidden to hoard any of it. The next day the arrival of the bread was seen as a new sign of God's continuing favor.
In today's Gospel John picks up the theme of the manna and contrasts the bread the Jewish ancestors ate in the desert with the new bread of life given by Jesus. In the person of Jesus there’s a new word of God and a new bread from heaven. The Word of God has become flesh, and the bread of heaven is the very life of Jesus himself. To eat this bread is to have a share in the life of God himself; It’s to participate in eternal life. It’s at the Last Supper that Jesus gives himself away as food and drink to his followers when he says: "This is my body which will be given for you. This is my blood which will be shed for you. Do this in memory of me."
During the last meal of his earthly life Jesus charges his disciples to keep his memory alive by gathering together to break bread. Whatever else they do, his followers must remember to eat in his name. Most of us don't have to remember to eat: our stomach has its own way of telling us when it's time. But we do have to remember to eat in the name of Jesus — which is why the Church asks us to gather in community each week to keep the memory of Jesus alive. Our Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us. So we don’t forget what he has done, we assemble to hold that memory sacred. That’s why after the consecration we pray in the Eucharistic prayer:
“Father, in celebration of the memory of Jesus Christ, your Son, we your people recall his passion, resurrection and ascension into heaven.”
The Eucharistic prayer expresses the purpose of our gathering: the refusal to forget what Jesus has done in his body. We keep the memory fresh; we celebrate it anew at every Mass; and in celebrating we receive new life for our own journey in faith. Whether we live in the midst of affliction or affluence, we come together as a community to profess that what Jesus did for us has a continuing importance.
Today, our celebration of the Eucharist keeps us from being a thankless people. In celebrating the Eucharist we celebrate a dangerous memory: the memory of suffering, passion and death. We recall Jesus' radical values that put him in opposition to so many of his own people: his talk about God and the kingdom; his insistence on forgiveness; his opposition to religious sham; his commitment to peace; his willingness to die to overcome sin. In receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ we become his body in our world. As St Paul says: "Though there are many of us, we form a single body because we share in this one loaf." In communion we share with Jesus Christ and with one another;
we become one with his memory. And in that way, his memory never dies.
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June 18th - Body and Blood of Christ - A 2017