There are several reasons why our Sunday celebrations must be revered. Firstly, they receive their sacredness from the representation of Christ’s sacrifice in our real time and space so that we may offer ourselves to the Father along with Jesus’ torn flesh and poured blood. Yet, here is another significant reason for the sacredness of the ritual that we reenact and the pressing need for us to draw meaning and consolation from our heavenly Father: our pain, our grief, our tears, our anxieties. Every Sunday, as a Community, as one Body, we feel the need to identify with whoever experiences so much pain as to have bitter questions and anguished remarks to address to God much the way Job does. (cf. Job 7:1-4, 6-7)
Our readings and Eucharistic celebration can be considered a template of this sharing of predicaments. We share in the pain and joy of our brothers and sisters and, in Christ, all those who are in need of healing and comfort are entrusted to the care of our heavenly Father. And the Father, then, reacts to our common pain and ailments by touching us through Jesus, through his Gospel, through his good news. Before seeing evidence of this Eucharist as God’s response to our pain, we ought to see it as an opportunity for “being” and “acting” as the Body of Christ that we are.
Last Sunday was a case in point. Most of us had only minor tragedies, bearable pains to bring to this altar. Thus, we could act as Paul acted: we became weak with the weak, (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22) we shared in the sadness of families that hurt, or wept with families that have lost their loved ones to cruel ailments or senseless violence. But, at the same time, we also must have felt the obligation to preach Jesus’ love, to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of God’s care for all his children.
Well, considering the level of pain and suffering still present all around us, I join you in wondering how good a job we might have done preaching the Gospel; but, at least, Jesus knows that the intention was there. Now, if we remember that at every Eucharist we make present the ultimate service of Christ on the cross and his washing his disciples’ feet, we can see how Paul considers his sharing in the pain of others and his words of hope and comfort to them as “service” to be given free of charge. (cf. 1 Cor. 9:18)
But, in Christ, the Eucharist is also the Father’s answer/reaction to our pain. Using the passage from the the Gospel of Mark (1:29-39) as our template, we may see how the most comforting aspect of each Eucharist is the fact that it shows God’s infinite compassion.
Notice, if you will how Jesus, intentionally, breaks the most sacred law of the Sabbath, in order to grasp us by the hand and lift us up from our infirmities. Notice also how, through the Eucharist, he leaves the place of worship (Synagogue) and enters into our private home. Finally, notice also how the community immediately informs Jesus that one in the family, in the Community, is ill. This is the service of caring.
And the response from God is quick in coming. Peter’s mother in law, once touched by Jesus, retakes her place in the Community. Here again, Jesus breaks the law of decorum and touches a woman to whom he is not related. Such is God’s love for us in Christ.
Some scholars also point out that many, at that time, frowned upon women who would serve men at table. Once touched by the Eucharistic Bread, once healed of our ailments, once freed of our demons, we are expected to wait on the table of our brothers and sisters. We are to do so even if our type of service might raise some eyebrows. Such is the pressing need for loving care that we encounter.
Clearly, we are expected to serve, to wash each other’s feet as our Master does every time we assemble for the Eucharist. And this obligation supersedes anything else. However, it doesn’t mean that once we hold within our heart God’s love given to us through Holy Communion, we are to spend ourselves in continuous and total self-giving.
We can easily become swamped by awareness of a lot of pressing needs for service, for preaching the Gospel of Jesus, for washing people’s feet. If we are not conscious of our limits we could burn ourselves out. Jesus, once again, gives us the example of a balanced availability for service. Before his total self-giving on the cross, before his ultimate service, he “paced” himself. Actually, his very human nature imposed its limits on him: he would tire like everybody else. His dedication and enthusiasm could carry him also so far. Jesus rises up early and gets himself “recharged” in solitude, and quiet prayer before the Father.
In conclusion, we might have found out today how to live each Eucharistic celebration in a new perspective: the perspective of sharing in the pain of others, of knowing of God’s loving response and of imitating Christ in serving those who are in pain. Yet, we also must strike a balance between our willingness to serve and our limited human energies. These energies can be restored only by prolonged periods of genuine prayer in solitude and intimacy with our Father.