The disciples were spellbound. Rapt. They were barely breathing, held in that place of quiet where they could hear only the sound of their own hearts and the gutter and pop of the candles on the table. If you had asked them later, they would have told you that in that moment, they felt the whole world stop and be still. All was centered on the one holding up a morsel of bread; all time, all space, all of life was contained in that moment. Everything was found in the eyes of the one who said this is my body, and it is for you. The disciples were transfixed, captivated by the one to whom they had given their lives and the bread of life he offered.
All of the disciples, that is, except one. I’m not sure which one, and I’m not sure that it really matters. It wouldn’t have been John, who’d spent the entire meal reclining next to Jesus, his whole being hungry for every word spoken by his Lord. It wasn’t Peter, although after supper he felt more torn up and confused than he had ever been. It could have been Thomas, but Thomas had too much self-discipline to be distracted by his own concerns at a moment like this. It could have been Simon the Zealot, or James the Less, but I’m going to say that it was Bartholomew. The disciples were all spellbound and rapt except for one, and that one was Bartholomew. Let’s say, for the sake of my thought experiment, that this experience was not so unusual for Bartholomew, which is fairly easy to do since we know so very little about him. Let’s say that Bartholomew had always struggled with moments like this, that when the others were ready to go all in, he often found himself holding back – evaluating, second-guessing, wondering what it was that he had missed and why he still felt so uncertain. Bartholomew had always been the one who had trouble with prayer; he was a thinker, and settling into the stillness of the Spirit was not something that came very naturally to him. Watching all of his friends locked in to a holy moment only seemed to make things worse. Why did this seem so easy for them? Why was he the one who always seemed to have another question, who still, even after all this time, wanted more?
And here he was again, sitting in the upper room, watching his friends be drawn deeper and deeper into this moment, and watching himself sitting on the outside. The moment hadn’t started as something that seemed particularly significant. They were eating together, sharing supper in an upper room, at Passover time. The group was tense and quiet; there was a sense that something was coming, although no one, not even Peter and James and John, seemed to know exactly what that something was. The palm-strewn journey into Jerusalem should have cheered them up, but Jesus’ words about suffering and death resounded in their ears even through all the cries of Hosanna. So they sat, each man in his own thoughts, waiting for the food to arrive, waiting for a distraction.
But when Jesus took the bread in his hands to bless it, Bartholomew felt the whole room shift. Suddenly, this wasn’t just a normal blessing before a meal. The air felt charged somehow, and not because of their own anxiety. This was something else, something entirely outside of them. The night pulsed with it, this energy that drew the disciples in like iron to a magnet. Bartholomew felt himself being drawn in, his eyes focusing on the hand holding the bread, his heart yearning for the mystery found there. He felt the power of this presence tugging on him, and he saw his friends give themselves over to it one by one. He saw them surrender; he saw the wonder in their eyes, the gratitude, even the joy. And part of him wanted to surrender, too, to find himself locked in like in all of those other moments of prayer, to find himself without questions, without wanting anything more. He wanted this bread to be enough.
But even as he wished for all of this, he felt objections start to flood into in his mind. Why bread? Why just bread? Why, in this moment of fear and uncertainty was bread the only thing that Jesus could offer? Why not something more useful, why not something more powerful? Why not a grand miracle where truth would rain down like manna upon the heads of all those who spoke lies about them? Why not a platform large enough that they could finally convince the leaders of the synagogue that this Jesus was their Messiah too? Why not a fire to burn in the hearts of the people so that they would all leave everything and follow him? Why not an army of heaven to wipe Rome from the earth? Why not more power, more persuasion? Why not more? This may be holy food, Bartholomew thought, but against the evils of the world, this food was wholly inadequate. It was simply not enough.
The world, our world, is quick to agree with Bartholomew’s objections. When the world looks in our solemn festivals, it sees something incomprehensible and irrelevant. At best, the world – including, let’s be honest, some parts of our own Church – sees the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi as a harmless but slightly pitiful ritual, a devotion run ever-so-slightly amok, a superstition full of sound, and smoky, but signifying nothing. At worst, those same people see our actions this day as woefully misguided. Why bread? Why pay so much attention to this tiny, translucent wafer? Is this the best the Church can do? Is this truly our answer to the heartbreak and evil of the world? Why bread – why not a bullhorn, why not a sword? Why not more?
I will admit that at times I find these same objections flooding into my own mind. Like our story’s Bartholomew I am grateful, of course, for this food, but I also wonder if there could be more. I find myself wishing that God would just come down, now, wielding the power of truth like a saber, cutting down the powers of darkness in this world, turning the hearts of all humankind to the well-being of the poor and the helpless, the widow and orphan, the outcast and the unseen. I wish sometimes that this bread could do more, that the light that shines from this tabernacle would slice through this city, breaking the spell of sin and suffering. I wish that this holy bread would do more, would be more, that it would reveal itself as a power that is undeniable and irresistible, as truly food enough.
But then I hear the words of our Savior come to me, resounding through the noise of my impatience and doubt. I hear the words of Jesus speaking to me and to you, words that have been speaking into the world for thousands of years now. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, will have eternal life.” Whoever eats of this bread, in other words, will be changed. Whoever eats of this bread will live a life transformed, will be bound not only to the everlasting life of God but also to God’s presence with us in the eternal and blessed now. Whoever eats of this bread takes the real presence of Christ into our selves and so is fed, not for a moment, but forever. Whoever eats of this bread is not only refreshed and renewed but also reformed, remade into our true identity – the very Body of Christ.
So why, in this moment of fear and uncertainty is bread what Jesus offers? Because this bread is the most powerful thing in the world. Because, by his death and resurrection, Christ has changed everything, and this bread continues this work. This is my body, Jesus tells us, and so are we. We are his body, and we carry the power of this bread with us as we move from this altar out into the world. We eat this bread, and we become the power of righteousness, the light in the darkness. We become the voice of truth and the face of love. We become the platform for justice and the fire for transformation. We eat this bread and it shapes us from the inside out, changes us into that thing that we have been searching for. We eat this bread, and we become more – more of who God made us to be, more of who Jesus has called us to be, more of who the world needs us to be. For this bread brings Christ close, makes us one, and sends us into the world abiding in him. We eat this bread and become more. And we know then, as Bartholomew came to know, that this bread is truly food enough. God himself is with us. God is within us. Come let us adore the most holy Sacrament.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi, 3 June 2018
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia