The word Eucharist comes from the Greek eukharistia, which means "thanksgiving, gratitude."
We opened with a short talk on a Thanksgiving holiday I experienced in Austria while studying abroad. You see, Thanksgiving there was arguably the most homesick time for all of the college students. One had to come face-to-face with the years he or she had spent with friends and family for that holiday, and the realization that it would not be happening this year. The school came to the rescue by proposing a Thanksgiving feast that would be "just like home."
It was far from it.
"At home," turkey is not delivered with fireworks, I receive generous portions of stuffing and gravy (nothing of the like in Austria), I watch football, talk to family, and sleep all day. One turkey for 150+ people didn't go very far. So, most of us had to settle for a processed turkey-loaf with little pieces of pulverized veggie wedged inside. Then, we danced - Thanksgiving Ball style...which was code for "Austrian dancing.: Here, men in short shorts taught us a few native jigs, and the festivities of the night took over.
In the end, that Thanksgiving in Austria was nothing like what I had originally expected - which, I was told would be something like what I experience "at home" - instead it was quite different, more energetic, and ultimately very satisfying. I learned that things don't always fit the mold of my expectations; and if I'm open to the difference, I can actually enjoy the experience. But, we have to be open to the differences.
A similar thing happens in John 6. The crowd of Jews (many of which were Jesus' own disciples), approached Jesus and asked for a sign. They wanted him to give them manna from heaven. See, they knew what manna was, what it looked like, how it happened that their ancestors got it, etc. In short, they wanted a replicated sign - not unlike my desire for a replicated Thanksgiving. They wanted it nicely sliced, easy-to-handle and pre-packaged (they wanted Wonder Bread). Jesus transcended their desire for a sign. Here's how it breaks down:
- John 6:28-35 - I am the Bread of Life.
- Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life come down from heaven. The Jews murmur, and believe he is speaking metaphorically.
- John 6:47-52 - The Bread is my flesh.
- Jesus takes another step, declaring that this bread is his flesh. The crowd begins to understand that he is speaking literally. They question him - how can this be?
- John 6:53-57 - Eat my flesh and drink my blood to have life.
- In order to have life within, partake in this food and drink.
- Note the word choice in v. 57 - Jesus uses the word "feeds." This comes from the Greek word for chewing/gnawing. He was speaking literally to them - the difference between me saying "I want to eat that hamburger," and somebody looking at a little baby and saying, "I just want to eat him/her up!"
- John 6:60-70 - The words I have spoken are spirit and life.
- Jesus challenges the crowd of his disciples to see with eyes of the spirit, not carnally.
- These were disciples who had walked with him and had surely witnessed his miracles. But, they were not willing to follow when they could not see the miracle happen physically before them. They did not have eyes of faith.
- After the crowds depart because of the difficulty of Jesus' teaching, Jesus does not go after them - they had made a free decision, they were not confused. Instead, he turns to those closest to him and asks a question (one that ought to cut us to the heart, one that demands an answer), "Do you also want to leave?"
- Simon Peter answers, "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 a truly beautiful response, as Peter looks out at all he had experienced before encountering Christ. Everything pales in comparison. With Christ there is Life, and Peter professes his faith here.
- I would argue that Peter's position is one of faith in Christ, and Thanksgiving before his life-source.
We believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist - not merely a symbol. Think about what difference it makes - based upon your daily experience - when somebody is really present before you, as opposed to a video chat, like Skype. What difference does real presence make?