DO This in Memory of Me

Jesus continues the Eucharistic dialogue with his followers in John 6:

Many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer walked with him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

“This is my body broken for you. This is my blood poured out for you. Do this in memory of me.”

These are the hard Eucharistic words the disciples were wrestling with. The disciples knew what Jesus meant and some chose to not follow him any longer. The rest understood that what Jesus was teaching was the way to eternal life-eternal life now because they were living in the person, power, and presence of the Risen Jesus.

I have just finished reading a wonderful book that connects Eucharist with social justice. It is The Eucharist and Social Justice by Sister Margaret Scott. Her prosaic descriptions of Eucharist and social justice are poetic and profound. Much of what she has written comes to mind as I mull over this Gospel account.

If we come to Eucharist with an individualistic save our own souls mentality, the words of Jesus are rather consoling. We can receive Eucharist, bask in the warmth of Jesus’ love, and go about living our lives in 21st century America.

If, on the other hand, we come to Eucharist and hear what Jesus is really saying, then these are hard words. They are hard words because, after receiving Eucharist and being renewed by Jesus’ presence, we have to DO something-DO this in remembrance of me.

Do is an action words. Last year my wife, who is also very much a peace activist, was talking to a person from our church. When Joan proposed an action, the person cautioned her to make sure it was OK with the pastor. As the discussion unfolded, the lady in good faith, told Joan that a lot of people did not want to tune into our Pax Christi message because peace and justice are action words. The person said, “When you hear them, you have to DO something and a lot of people in our retirement community church do not want to do anything about justice.” This is exactly what the reluctant disciples are saying to Jesus in this Gospel account. These are hard words.

[We are blessed-I guess- to be able to live parts of the year in two different communities which are basically retirement communities. Retirees have told me the same things, “We have done our part. We are retired. We aren’t gonna do any more.” It is like we can retire from the Gospel call. We can’t. How unfortunate that we who have gained wisdom do not see our role in our golden years as creating a better future for our children and grandchildren and all the peoples of the world!]

“This is my body broken for you. This is my blood poured out for you. Do this in memory of me.”

Why are these hard words? When we hear them and take them to heart, we have to do what Jesus did. What Jesus did goes far beyond atonement theory and dying for our sins. Jesus came to proclaim justice. He came to liberate the oppressed. He came to set captives free. He came to proclaim that all are welcome at his table-all! Jesus was broken and poured out so that we might have life.

If we miss the call to justice in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures we miss the main message. God is all about justice-reestablishing right order, making things be in right relationship. The more I read the Scriptures that more I realize that God is the God of the widow, the orphan, the immigrant-the oppressed and downtrodden.

Justice is the Gospel call of Jesus. When we hear the call, we have to do what he did. We too will be broken like his body and poured out like his blood as we strive to lift up the oppressed , liberate the captives, and give sight to the blind.

We answer this call in real time, in the “real” world. We live this call in a world and a country and a society where the professed values are far from Gospel values. Our society values wealth and the accumulation of wealth for individual comfort. Our society values military might and military conquest to secure the resources which sustain our bloated lifestyles while our brothers and sisters in the Two Thirds World die daily of hunger and preventable diseases. Our society values security to the extent that 78% of Catholics in an April 29 PEW poll favor the use of torture. (Incidentally, the American bishops in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship states that torture is an “intrinsic evil that can ever be tolerated.” This is the exact same moral definition they ascribe to abortion. They scream and shout about abortion and whimper about torture.) Our society values individual achievement and creature comforts to the extent that billions of exploited people end up having little or nothing to eat and drink. Our inexpensive fad clothes come from sweatshops around the world. Our country puts over 50% of its budget into defense and screams when the president proposes cuts in defense spending and increases in spending for health and education.

Initially, the church, the people of God, was counter-cultural. They professed Gospel values amid the wanton waste and hubris of the Roman Empire. They were martyrs, that is, witnesses to the hard teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who absorbed the violence of the world to show that resurrection would trump death. They proclaimed from the housetops that a better way of life was available. They gathered for Eucharist and felt the pain of their brothers and sisters and gave of their surplus so that all might have life. [In our culture this is called socialism!]

Gandhi said he would have become a Christian if Christians had lived Gospel values. In our culture of death, we must help people understand that “doing this in memory” of Me” means feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, welcoming the immigrant, loving our enemies, and forgiving those who persecute us.

These are the hard words of Gospel memory. These are the words of eternal life. We, like the Israelites, have a choice. We can choose life or death.

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