*A Reflection by Victor Lee Austin from his book, Losing Susan: Brain Disease, The Priest’s Wife, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away
Think about the Eucharist. The people come together and offer themselves to God. The symbol of that self-offering is the bread and wine that is placed on the altar. In the early church, each person would have brought some bread and wine, and it would all have been gathered together, some of it being placed on the altar, the rest being set aside to minister to the poor…
That bread and wine on the altar is then transformed, by means of the eucharistic prayer, into the Body and Blood of Christ. And then that sacramental bread and wine is given back to the people.
In short, in the Eucharist we give ourselves to God, and God accepts our gift and makes it better, and then gives our selves back to us. In this exchange of gifts given, received, and returned, we become once again the Body of Christ.
This is a much more positive way of understanding the dynamics of love. It begins with us, and it ends with us, and we don’t die in the process. Yet in that eucharistic prayer there is death: the “remembrance,” which is the making efficaciously present of the self-sacrifice of Jesus, his own death on the cross. Right: we go to church [service]; we make our offering, which symbolizes our self-offering; we receive the sacrament, which is our own offering transformed into Christ; and we go our way rejoicing. But in the midst of it is death, and the only reason the Eucharist “works,” the only reason, that is to say, that we have the joy of our life, is because of that death in the middle.
When Jesus the Son of God receives the Father’s gift, he freely gives it back. The gift is his own being, but it is also his relationship with the Father. He cannot be himself apart from that relationship. To be himself, Jesus gives himself fully. And in the world of human beings in which we actually live, to give yourself is to die.