Communion & Commitment
Some years ago, my friend Ray was talking to a young man I knew from when I worked summer camp in college in New Jersey. Mike was preparing to walk down the aisle, and wanted some assurance he was doing the right thing. Ray pulled Mike aside and looked him in the eye. “Before I married my wife Gail, I told her that being the man of the house I would be responsible for making all the major decisions. And as the woman of the house, she would be responsible for making all the minor decisions. That was 35 years ago, and I have not had to make one major decision since.”
Ray passed away last year at 83, close to 57 years of marriage to his wife Gail. Everyone among their family and friends knew their marriage was the cornerstone and foundation of their lives. And I’m sure 57 years of marriage was no cake-walk. If you have been married at least that long, you may know the truth of that, as well you who are nowhere near married that long. I have sat with couples preparing for marriage for 23 years, and it is still a great mystery to me that human beings, self-centered, fickle, superficial, irrational, and impulsive as they can be, are still able to find love and freely commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. Well, it’s not a total mystery. I do know some things. But there is definitely something mysterious going on between people that defies explanation. Still the one thing extremely necessary for a marriage to prosper and endure is the deliberate and sincere commitment each makes to live in a communion of life and love with the other. Faith in God will deepen their communion. But this communion of life and love must be their highest priority or something else will get in the way. It should be more important even than being right all the time.
A lasting and sincere commitment in marriage nourishes communion between the spouses, whose ultimate goal is the good of the other. If husbands and wives were more intensely focused on the communion between them, there is no mistaking the meaning of that second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul acknowledges the mindset of a different time and place. But his instructions for husbands and wives transcend time and place. In their love for each other they should imitate the example of Jesus Christ, who loved and sacrificed himself for his church. When spouses argue about who submits to whom, it’s a clear sign communion between them is weak or broken. Following after Jesus Christ clearly means there is no keeping score.
The covenant relationship between husband and wife is often described in terms of the covenant relationship between Israel and God. So when Joshua gathered Israel at Shechem, a generation had passed since Moses, and many of them had forgotten or had never witnessed God’s mighty works. God once established a covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai. But Joshua thought it was important to remind them of it more often, even every day. Whom will you serve? So husbands and wives need to be reminded of their marriage covenant, and perhaps renew their commitment to each other every so often, not just once a year. And with each renewal comes a deeper knowledge and experience of what that commitment costs exactly, strengthening the communion between them.
Today Jesus tells the crowd not only to listen to his teaching, but also to commit their lives and their very selves to him and his mission. They must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they desire the life of God he wanted to give. Well, it was all too much for them. Instead some of them chose to walk away. “Does this shock you?” It sounds like taunting to me. But Jesus was not about to back down. “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Perhaps he challenged them too soon. You know when a friendship hasn’t matured enough, like when people just first meet, certain attitudes and responses just aren’t there yet. They take time to develop. You would never expect expensive jewelry on the second date. And if you get some, give it back, and leave town in a hurry. If Jesus’ listeners had gotten to know him better first, if they had a closer, tighter connection with him, if they were truly in communion with him, they may have stayed … maybe. That’s why couples newly in love shouldn’t rush to the altar. Whatever brings them together may not be strong enough to keep them together. If communion between them is absent, there is no true commitment either.
And Jesus turned to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” The decision to walk away is the final manifestation that communion with Jesus is broken. Or maybe it was never there. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Simon Peter did not hesitate to declare his commitment to Jesus, and with him the rest of the Twelve. And yet there may have been some in their number who were still struggling. But there’s nothing wrong with struggling. The final break is when you walk away.
Our communion at the table of the Eucharist is more than just about sharing a meal. Jesus tells us that the bread we eat is truly his body, and the wine we drink is truly his blood. Our communion at this table is a declaration of our commitment to Jesus and his mission. It cannot be a half-hearted commitment. There is no such thing. If we do not sincerely believe or even desire to believe what he teaches, how can we possibly commit our lives to him? Our communion with Jesus at the table of his body and blood is the public declaration of our commitment to him, and also the food that nourishes that commitment. If we have no desire to love as Jesus loves, if we do not want to forgive as Jesus forgives, if we prefer instead to live dishonest, self-indulgent, lustful, angry, jealous, selfish, greedy, and prideful lives, the commitment we claim is a big fat lie. And if there is no commitment, then there is no communion either.
We are God’s people and the body of Christ. And our commitment to Jesus is one and the same commitment to one another. In breaking the one bread and sharing the one cup, we declare our desire to live together in a communion of life and love. It won’t be easy. But if we break communion with one another, we break communion with Jesus, too. Last week, a woman came up to me and handed me a response form for our town hall meeting with the architect next month. It had been ripped to pieces. “This is what I think of your building a new church,” she said. And she walked away. How do we come to the Eucharistic table after that? There is no denying building a new church will be challenging. But the process has been open and honest from the start. To walk away is to say that being right is more important than being in communion. How do we restore communion if only one of us can be right, and the other must be wrong?
Rolo B Castillo © 2015