In the Old Testament, the People of God brought their sacrifices to the altar of the Lord. The smoke of the offering and the incense rose high in the air toward heaven, filling the temple with the sweet fragrance that reminded the believers of their connection to the covenant of God. Romans 12:1-2 commands us to become living sacrifices, to transform our lives by the renewing of our minds so that we may experience and live out God’s perfect will. We are called to become the fragrance of grace as we witness to the world.
In the Eucharist, we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. We touch the moment when the cross overcomes every sin of humanity. We participate in the once-for-all offering at the altar as we proclaim the death of the Lord. In the Eucharist, we join with the sacrifice of Christ and become offerings to the world, bringing the fragrance of salvation to those who are lost.
Many, But One
In the early Corinthian Church, there was a great deal of division which revealed itself most clearly at the Table of the Lord. Saint Paul was heartbroken that the brethren were turning the Lord’s Supper into a faithless feast. He called for unity at the Eucharist. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
The word for participation is the word koinōnia, a word that implies a joining with, and unity to, the Body of Christ. When we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, we are connected in the most intimate of ways to Jesus and to one another. We experience the eternal sacrifice of Christ—in His body that was broken and in His blood that was poured out upon the cross. In the Eucharist, we bring our many gifts and our individual hearts to the celebration and are joined together as one holy Church.
Meaning in the Mix
When I worked with First Eucharist preparation I had a special ceremony I shared with the children. I would give each child an ingredient used for making the Communion bread and have everyone pour them all into a mixing bowl. I would talk about how, just as many ingredients go into the one bread that they receive on the day of their First Communion, so too do each of us join together in unity within the Church, all adding something to the “mix” of our Catholic faith. This helped to illustrate what it means to become an offering to the One who offers Himself to us in the Eucharist.
God calls us to receive His Body and Blood with purity of heart and mind. Consider these passages:
O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the chalice, after supper, saying, “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
The Bread and the Chalice are the way we taste and see the goodness of the Lord, sharing in His life and proclaiming His death until He comes again on the Last Day. As the seed must die in order to produce the wheat for the bread and the grapes for the wine, we must also die to ourselves in order to become what Jesus calls us to be. Just as the bread must be broken and the grapes crushed, so too must we be broken and poured out in unity with the sacrifice of Christ.
Because we have died and been buried with Christ, we can share in the fruit that is produced. The bread and the wine we share are the fruit of harvest, products of brokenness and of transformation. We too are harvested and brought into His kingdom, separated from the chaff of the world, crushed and broken by trials and surrender, and transformed into a new creation as we taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Because we share in the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are able to produce fruit for the kingdom and a fragrant offering to the world.
Worthiness and Withering
We are called to come to the Table in a worthy manner so that we will not profane the Body and Blood of the Lord. How can we bring the fragrance of Christ to the world if we ourselves bring the stench of sin and the coldness of our hearts to the altar? Consider these passages:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
[Jesus said:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
Do we truly understand what it means to receive the Eucharist? Do we fully discern that our participation in the Eucharist is how we become broken bread and poured-out wine for the world? As we live out our lives, are we letting the divine vinedresser prune away the bad in order to lift up our drooping branches toward the light of God’s grace? Are we drawing from the vine, letting the love of Christ empower us and fashion us into living, fragrant offerings that rise up as a sweet sacrifice before the world?
The Fragrance of Love
How has God dressed you? How have you been pruned? How have you been taught submission and how have you produced the fruit of the Spirit? How are you living out the love that has been poured out into your lives, which we celebrate in the Eucharist? Consider this passage from John’s Gospel:
[Jesus said:] “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:9-17)
Jesus connects life and death, submission and sacrifice. The Eucharist is a proclamation of the death of Christ until He comes again. It is our eternal reminder that we have been chosen to join with Christ and bear the fruit that endures. This is the greatest love that we can experience and show forth to a world in need of this love.
A Garden of Fragrant Grace
We are really God’s garden. We are called to be fruitful and to be fragrant. Look at these three passages:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)