Jesus left us the Eucharist as the source of our unity. Sadly, often, it’s the cause of our division, both among Christian denominations and within them.
We tend to do battle with each other about most everything connected to the Eucharist: What’s its precise theology? Who may preside? How often should it be celebrated? What’s the precise role of the presider? How is the presider to be vested? Where should the altar be placed? Which hymns are appropriate, and which aren’t? How is Christ’s presence in the bread and wine to be understood? How inclusive must the language to be? What’s the relationship of the Eucharistic ritual to the celebration of the Word? Who may appropriately serve the Eucharistic species? The disagreements, it seems, never end.
Scripture scholars suggest that it has ever been thus, right from the beginning. Already within the earliest apostolic churches, these same questions were hotly debated and were the source of painful divisions. By the time that the gospels were written there was not one precise, univocal view on the Eucharist and, seemingly, considerable variety in its practice, not to mention painful and sharp disagreements about it.
Already then it was both a source of unity and a source of division within and among the various communities.
While the other gospels place the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, John inserts a very different kind of “Eucharistic” text. In place of having Jesus take the bread and take the bread and wine and say, “This is my body! This is my blood!”, John has Jesus washing the feet of his disciples – precisely as a “Eucharistic” act.
The Eucharist is an invitation to many things, but it’s also, as Jesus’ gesture of washing his disciples’ feet shows, an invitation to GIVE UP OUR RIGHT TO BE RIGHT, especially as regards our views about how the Eucharist must be celebrated.
Simply put, Jesus tells us (shows us really) that it’s more important to be in union with each other than to be right!
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Reflections by Ron Rolheiser, OMI