Sunday, June 02, 2024

Preparing For The Food That Tenderises

Solemnity Of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 115 (116): 12-13, 15-18; Hebrews 9: 11-15; Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

Picture: By Sara Cervera on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you like kiwifruit? I recently watched a documentary that taught me something about kiwifruit that I didn’t know before. Not only can it be eaten as food, it can also be used as a tenderiser. In the documentary, some kiwifruit was mashed into a paste, and then spread onto a thin slice of meat. After just a few minutes of coming in contact with the fruit, the meat could be pulled apart very easily. Along with this amazing tenderising power, there were two other things in this experiment that I found striking. The first is the way the kiwifruit took effect. It’s possible to tenderise meat by pounding it violently with a mallet. But the kiwifruit worked in a much more quiet, hidden way. On the surface, nothing seemed to be happening. It was only later, when the meat was examined, that it became clear how tender it had become. The second is how some preparatory steps had to be taken, for the experiment to work. The meat had to be sliced, the fruit mashed, and then left on the meat for some time… Tenderising power, hidden effects, and preparatory steps. Today, our scriptures tell us that the Body and Blood of Christ has these same three characteristics.

In the first reading, the ritual actions performed by Moses at Mount Sinai have a clear tenderising effect. Together, the teaching of the commands of the Lord, and the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificed animals–first on the altar, and then on the people–result in a softening of the people’s hearts. Causing them to agree to observe all that the Lord has decreed. Making them more acceptable in God’s sight. Drawing them into a tighter communion with and in the Lord. And this tenderising process takes place in a quiet, hidden way, in the hearts and lives of the people. Also, to facilitate this process, preparatory steps had to be taken earlier, which include the washing of their clothes (Ex 20:14ff). All so that the people might be led more fully by God, out of the slavery of Egypt, and into the freedom of the Promised Land.

Tenderising power, hidden effects, and preparatory steps. We find these same three characteristics in the actions of Jesus in the gospel. By sharing a ritual meal with his disciples, on the evening before he suffers, Jesus gives them, and us, something to remember him by. A way to recall, and make present again, his deep love and selfless sacrifice for us. So that, amid the often troubling, traumatic, soul-hardening experiences of life, our hearts might still remain tender enough for us to continue submitting ourselves to God. As the second reading tells us, the blood of Christ… can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God. The Eucharist has the power to keep us from being enslaved by various obsessions and compulsions–such as with work and money, status and luxury–and to enable us to live in the freedom of the love of God.

And this tenderising power of the Eucharist often takes effect in a quiet, hidden way. For example, in Luke’s gospel, how do the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus come to recognise the Crucified and Risen Christ, when he breaks bread with them? Could it be it was because their earlier experience of the Last Supper had tenderised their hearts in a hidden way? So that after suffering the trauma of the Lord’s Crucifixion, they were better able to experience the comfort of his Resurrected Presence. Motivating them to reverse the initial direction of their journey. Away from the darkness of despair, and back into the light of hope (24:30-33). Isn’t this also what we believe can happen to us, when we gather for the Eucharist? Through the repetitive, seemingly boring, actions we perform every week, we believe hidden changes take place within and among us. Gradual transformations that may become clear only later, perhaps in moments of crisis.

But for this to happen, important preparatory steps need to be taken. Like what the two disciples in the gospel were sent to do. As well as all the work that goes into our own celebration of Mass every Sunday. From the greetings we exchange, to the songs we sing. From the clothes we wear, to the items we use. From the postures we adopt, to the procedures we follow. From the prayers we boldly offer, to the Word we reverently receive and proclaim… And whether we serve in the sanctuary, or participate from the pews, don’t we all need to do our part to carefully dispose our hearts and minds and bodies for worship? Such as by prayerfully reading in advance the scriptures assigned for that Mass. For just as the kiwifruit has to be mashed, and the meat sliced thin, so too do steps need to be taken to make the Divine Presence more accessible to us, and our hearts more receptive to God.

Sisters and brothers, if the Body and Blood of Christ is truly offered to us both as nutritious food, and an effective tenderiser, then what can we do to better prepare ourselves to experience its benefits more fully at every Mass?

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