On a hill near Cape Town, South Africa, just below the famed Table Mountain, a gun is fired every day at noon. The firing of the gun once served a beautiful purpose. It signaled that a ship, on its way to or from Europe, had arrived in the harbour with a cargo of goods, and was in need of supplies, of food and fresh water. A beautiful exchange resulted. There was receiving and giving.
But that was a long time ago. The purpose no longer exists. Yet the gun is still fired dutifully every day. However, the firing is now little more than an empty ritual. Once it had a beautiful meaning. Now the meaning has gone out of it. Most of the local people ignore it. Visitors are told, 'If you hear a loud bang at mid-day, don't worry. It's only the gun going off.'
The Eucharist celebrates a wonderful event - the gift that Jesus made
of his life on our behalf. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we tell that story again. But like anything that is repeated over and over again, there is a danger that it may become just a ritual.
In the Eucharist Jesus nourishes us with the bread of life. But it's not meant to be one-way traffic. Having received from Jesus, we are expected to give something in return - not to him but to one another. Often the Eucharist doesn't produce the effect it is meant to produce - unselfish giving of oneself in the service of others. There is a danger for us that in receiving the Eucharist each week, it becomes routine, that we forget why we come.
The Eucharist is the greatest gift on earth, it is Jesus himself. The body and blood we receive is that of the resurrected Jesus. In receiving the Eucharist, it is not so much about us doing something for God, but rather the Eucharist is God doing something for us. The graces that we receive in the Eucharist are countless. In receiving the Eucharist God enters into us in a very special way, he unites himself to all that we are. More importantly, we are given nourishment and strength to carry on Christ’s mission. This is the reality of the Eucharist.
'This is my body, given for you ... This is my blood, poured out for you.' Yet it seems to have little effect on some people. In today’s world, we do not see enough people who pour out their lives in the service of others. The people who eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation are called not to just come and receive, but also to receive and go. Go forth and be the hands and feet of Christ.
For the Jewish people, remembering was not a mere recalling. It was the making present to each generation the saving events of the past. In the same way, the Eucharist is the making present of Christ's body and blood, it is a proclamation and a memorial of his life-giving death. Each time the Priest extends his hands over the gifts and prays the prayer of consecration, the sacrifice of the last supper, of the cross, occurs again before our very eyes. Each time is made present, the very presence of Jesus himself.
The Eucharist is the heart of everything, and it can never be separated from the washing of the feet. The two realities are linked - being in communion with Jesus so that we can be in communion with others.
It would be a pity if the Eucharist became just a ritual, an empty ritual. Jesus gives himself to us here, so that we in our turn, may give ourselves to others.