Eucharist as a Sacred Meal

By FATHER TED STOECKLEIN
Assistant Director, Office of Priestly Vocations

From the beginning of creation, human beings were designed to live in an easy unity and fellowship with God and all creation. Sin shatters this experience of unity. It divides and scatters us. Yet God does not want to leave us in this lonely, alienated and ultimately deadly state. God, throughout history, set forth a plan to gather us back to himself. Part of this story of reunifying us to himself takes place with the development of “Sacred Meal”.

As the story goes, in the garden, God created everything good and God intended to feed his creatures with all that was good. God offered an abundance of food to share, to enjoy and to make humans flourish. But instead of being content to receive what God offered, Adam and Eve grasped for what was not given to them. This fall from grace is described as an action of disobedience by eating “forbidden fruit.” This temptation and fall dealt death instead of life.

Throughout the Old Testament, stories illustrating hospitality and meals shared consistently accompanied God’s saving action. From Abraham and Sarah encountering the three men on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, to the yearly celebration to the Passover, the practice of sacred meal grew up and came to fruition at the Last Supper.

In the 25th chapter of Isaiah the Lord makes this promise:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples; a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines… He will destroy death forever.”

Though brought about through the tribes of Israel, the promise is given to all people. God promises to gather all human beings back into right worship and right relationship with God.

The meal that is given in the event of Passover is primary in development of sacred meal. The Passover meal was a recovery (however imperfect) of the easy unity and fellowship of the Garden of Eden. It was God hosting a banquet at which his human creatures share life with him and each other. God established the Passover meal as a sign of his covenant with his people Israel and as a prefiguring of the Eucharistic feast. In the fullness of time, Jesus gathered his apostles around the Passover table and instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Not limited to, but including the feast of the Passover, in the New Testament many meals with Jesus described the elements of this restoration of life with God. From the feeding of the multitudes, to dining with Pharisees, to dining with Martha and Mary...these meals were shared with sinners and saints, sick and healthy. Those who dined with Jesus represented many of the intensely divided groups of people at that time. The meals shared with Jesus were marked with themes of abundance, healing for the sick, forgiveness and reconciliation for sinners. These meals tell the story of God gathering back to himself all who had been scattered.

I am embarrassed to admit that until recent years I had been woefully ignorant of the Eucharist as sacred meal. I’m sure they covered this stuff in seminary, but in all honesty, it did not resound with me at that time.

I remember taking part in a workshop about 15 years ago. The presenter of the workshop instructed us to draw or describe what a typical meal was like in our homes growing up. The people at my table described details such as the shape of table, who sat where, how the table was set, how the food was distributed, and what kinds of conversations were shared. I remember them having a good time reminiscing about their childhood dining experiences. I also remember looking at my blank paper. Honestly the only image that came to my mind was sitting in front of the TV after school eating Fruit Loops and watching Gilligan’s Island.

The way we live our home lives has an enormous impact on the way we experience Eucharist. One thing I have begun to encourage families to do is to commit to having at least one meal per week together. No electronics, no newspapers or other distractions…look each other in the eye and talk to each other. Explore creative ways to interact with your family. Find something that works for you and don’t forget to enjoy it. Hopefully these “sacred meals” will in some small way carry over to your celebrating The Sacred Meal, the Eucharist.