In Scripture we hear those words which stand at the center of today’s feast – “This is my body”, “This is my blood.” These words have echoed down through the centuries and will continue to the end of the world. Here in the most unique, continuous and particular way Christ is present to us, His Church. Not by our effort but by His gift – Christ is present in order to nourish and to strengthen us. Here, we receive the very life and love of God. The mystery of the Eucharist is beyond our comprehension and it is a mystery in the true sense of the term; not a puzzle to be figured out in order to then be discarded but a mystery to be lived and appreciated.
But as we reflect today we must remember another key component to this reality of the Eucharist; not only is Christ present in the Eucharist but He is present as a “broken body” and as blood “poured out”. Christ is not present in just any manner in the Eucharist but ultimately as a friend who gives his life for those whom he loves. To have a true awareness of the Eucharist means to be aware of this reality – Christ broken and poured out. And to live as a disciple means to receive this amazing grace and to strive to live the same reality as our Eucharistic Lord – to be broken and to be poured out for others. This is what fulfills the Church’s adoration of the Eucharist.
The Church guards the concreteness of Jesus’ words and venerates his body and blood in the bread and wine, so that He can still be encountered today. We could add that Jesus is not present in the bread and wine in just any way; he is present there as a “broken” body and wine “poured out”, that is, as the one who passes among men and women and does not save himself but gives his entire life, to the point of dying on the cross, until “blood and water” come out from his heart. He held back nothing of himself. He kept nothing for himself, to the very end. That broken body and that poured out wine are a scandal for each one of us and for the entire world, accustomed as we are to living for ourselves and holding back as much as possible of our lives. The bread and wine that are shown to us several times during the holy liturgy contrast with our love for ourselves, with the scrupulous attention we give to our bodies, and with the meticulous care we take to spare ourselves and avoid commitments and exertion. Nonetheless, they are given to us and continue to be broken and poured out so that we might be freed from our slaveries, so that our harshness may be transformed, our greed crumbled, and our self-love scratched. As the bread and wine draw us out of a world turned in on itself and condemned to loneliness, they gather us together and transform us into the one body of Christ. (Quote from Bishop Vincenzo Paglia)
Saint John Chrysostom once wrote, “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not disdain it when it is nude. Do not honor the Eucharistic Lord with silken vestments, while outside of the church you neglect that other Christ who is naked and afflicted by the cold.” As disciples, we try to live these words, we know we fall short and we pray for forgiveness. Here we pray the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as the risen Lord (his glory hidden) attempts to go a separate way. “Stay with us, because it is almost evening.”
The story of Emmaus (which is a Eucharistic story) reminds us that Christ has made himself humanity’s companion on our long journey through history. Christ walks with us – each and every one of us and us as Church. We are not alone. Christ is among us to comfort, to instruct, to correct; and when we fall short, to forgive. In this awareness of the Eucharist and in this awareness of our own frailty and weakness the most honest prayer we can utter is “Lord, stay with us, because it is almost evening.”