In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring has the task of escorting the One Ring and destroying it in the land of Mordor. Along the way, they receive various helps and challenges to their journey. On one stop with the Elves, they are blessed with various gifts from the Elven queen, Galadriel. One of the most interesting gifts that they receive is food. They are given lembas – which in the Elves’ language means “way-bread,” or “bread for the journey.”
Lembas has the remarkable quality of being extraordinarily sustaining. One bite can fill a man’s stomach, and an entire “loaf” is enough food for an entire day. It strengthens the Hobbits who have to take the Ring into the evil land; they are encouraged and refreshed after eating it. The Elves advise the travellers to eat only a little at a time, when they need it, and it would sustain them for the trip.
Now, Tolkien was a devout Catholic. Does this lembas remind you of anything?
Indeed, this “bread for the journey” reminds me of the Eucharist – which is our Bread for the journey through life. We take a little at a time, and this spiritual food nourishes us in our struggles and provides strength to live as Jesus Himself taught. The Eucharist is not just incidental to our faith journey; it is central and absolutely necessary.
The feast of Corpus Christi is more than simply pointing to the Bread and Wine that we share. It is a celebration of God’s life-sustaining Love that Jesus came to show us. When He gave the Church the Eucharist, it the True Bread come down from heaven. It was foreshadowed in the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert. It was established as the New Covenant that Jesus would affirm through His own sacrifice on the Cross – a Covenant that overrides and perfects all other covenants.
But why this memorial? Could Jesus have had us remember Him by wearing a pin, or getting a tattoo, or hanging some emblem from our rear-view mirror? Do we have to eat this little wafer or sip from that chalice? Why this Little Meal that we share?
Jesus gives us the Eucharist as food for our journey. It is meant to be “way-bread.” Therefore, we need to see our lives as journeys nourished by this Bread. Jesus wants us to take strength from Him, and through this sharing in the sacred meal, we are empowered to go forth on our journeys – perilous and plain – to witness to His life in us. The Eucharist is “evangelical fuel.”
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews recognizes this when we hear, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” It is this “worship of the living God” that drives away evil; it reveals the might of our Lord and invites others into relationship with Christ.
The celebration of this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ must remind us that we are pilgrims – journeyers. We have a homeland to which Jesus calls us, and He befriends us with His love and feeds us with His very self. As we journey, we have this Gift of Jesus that strengthens us. Additionally, we are called to invite others to this feast and to share in the Gift that Jesus offers.
Receiving Communion – taking this great Gift of God’s love – should not be some static moment; it should not be just the result of my getting in line at church. Rather, it is an encounter with Jesus Christ Himself – Who speaks to us in the depths of our hearts and Who sends us to share life and love with others. On other words, receiving Communion should never be “inevitable” – as if we deserve it for coming; receiving Communion should be “intentional.” It must remind us that we are called to live as Jesus lives; that we must go out and share our relationship with Him in a real way.
Christ knew what He was doing when He gave us the Eucharist. Solemnly, He commanded His followers to “do this in memory of me.” As intentionally as Jesus shares Himself with us, so too are we to intentionally live out our relationship with Him as His disciples. Our “Amen” upon receiving Jesus in the Eucharist should be our renewal of our commitment to follow Him, and to give ourselves as He gives to us.
Today, as we receive again this “Bread for the journey” – our “way-bread” – we recall Who lays out that “way” before us; and we thank Him for giving us the strength to walk it with faith.