Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hungry for Jesus!


One of my favorite movies is a little known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. Every day he goes to a room, much like a courtroom, where they show scenes from his life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and he has to defend his decisions in each of those moments. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. And in Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.

I was thinking of that film because as we make our way through the post-resurrection stories of Jesus, there is a repeating theme you might have noticed. Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal. This is when they exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us?” And how they came to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.

And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!

Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.

This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.

Jesus invites us into a tremendous intimacy through resurrection, and it is all about the body – not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead , but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The resurrected Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity.

Archbishop Tom Murphy was the beloved Archbishop of Seattle in the late 1980s and 1990s. He was a shepherd who loved his flock and was always very present to the people. He had a very close relationship with the teens at one of his Catholic high schools where he essentially acted as their chaplain. Despite his busy schedule, he was always available whenever the sacraments needed to be celebrated for the students. They were his kids and he was their Archbishop.

In 1996, he was diagnosed with leukemia. For the last year of his life, he underwent treatments to fight the cancer which left him in need of regular blood transfusions. His kids saw their opportunity to help this holy man who had done so much for them and organized blood drives so that their Archbishop would have the blood needed for his transfusions. At his last Mass with the teens he said to them, “Since I was a boy, I have always loved the Mass and in particular the Eucharist. I would serve at daily Mass and was always in awe of what took place on the altar. But, I don’t know that I ever fully understood it until now. Today, as I stand here, I’ve got your blood in me and I’m alive today because of your blood. Now I understand the Eucharist.”

My brothers and sisters, this is what Easter is all about. If we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry, it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry or the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. Jesus every day appears on our altar with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; giving you eternal life.

My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins. Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.

May the Lord give you peace.

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