When we come to Christ in the Eucharist, we do not “eat him up, we love him so.” Christ is not diminished or weakened or hurt when we receive his body and his blood. When Christ shares his body and his blood, life awakens. Life increases. Life flourishes. Life grows. Life, and more life, like a baby growing daily in the womb, eyes opening, limbs moving, heart beating. We do not “eat him up”; rather, we share in Christ’s life. Like a child linked to her mother by the live and pulsing, nourishing and sustaining umbilical cord, we are linked to Christ. In Christ, as a child in his womb, we live and move and have our being.
Melissa Musick Nussbaum, National Catholic Reporter, Nov. 15, 2011
Eucharist, the word that Christians use to name the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, is derived from the Greek word eucharistia. This term can be translated as "thankfulness" or "the giving of thanks." It is a both a condition and an action. When believers gather at the table of the Lord's Supper, they are at once expressing gratitude for the gift of God's life within them, and they are handing on the life of God to one another. When they partake in the ritual meal they acknowledge with thanks their very being, which is a pure gift, and they render back to God what God has given them.
How different from the practices that pass for thanksgiving in the world we have made. How often do we as a people mouth platitudinous words of thanks for things that were not given to us, but that we have taken by force? How often do those pious-sounding expressions of thanks conceal anxious sentiments of relief that we have held on to our ill-gotten gains for one more year? That we have protected our unmerited privileges without being caught? That no one has yet been bold enough to call us out for our greed or demand confiscation and just redistribution? While, on the other hand, the very things that come to all as absolute gift -- air, water, warmth from the sun, food and medicine from the earth -- these things no longer summon from us a spirit of humble gratitude.
Think also of how we act upon the people, places, and things for which we are "thankful," or which we are relieved are ours, or at our disposal. We contain them. We display them carefully beyond reach. Or we consume them. We exhaust them. We "use them up." Is this the "giving of thanks," or the taking of thanks?
When Christians celebrate the Eucharist, they are bidden to keep in mind that what they offer and share is not of their own making and not for the taking, but only for the asking in great humility. When Christians receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, the food and drink are consumed. But the gift that they receive of God in Jesus Christ is not in any way diminished. It is enlarged and enriched.
We gain many goods, through and in and with the gifts of the God who creates, sustains, and redeems us. But of these goods we genuinely receive but a few of them as God's gifts. For God's gifts cannot be ultimately contained by any one. The body of Christ, blessed, broken, and given for all, is the ultimate and eternal thank-offering to God. It is a sign for the world of how we are to be disposed to the goods of the very-good creation, to the good of one another, and to the all-good Giver of being itself.
We can truly receive only what we give. Let us learn to see what has been given freely. Then let us become free givers of thanks.