Earlier this year, Martin Scorcese’s realized a decades-long dream of adapting Shuzuku Endo’s novel, Silence, for film. In anticipation, I re-read the book – a long-time favorite of mine – and a tiny little line kicked me in the guts. The narrator, a Portuguese priest imprisoned in 17th century Japan during a wave of harsh persecution of the Christian church there, says this about meeting other Christians in prison:
“I had no bread, so I could not say Mass, so I heard their confessions and we prayed.”
I had no bread, so I could not say Mass…
In that moment, it dawned on me: Jesus is a genius.
In our tradition, we believe that after the resurrection, Jesus is still with us – for real – most explicitly in Holy Communion (the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, etc.). Jesus can show up anywhere, of course – but we know Christ is “in, with, and under” the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We also believe that the church exists wherever the Good News (Gospel) is proclaimed and the sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist) are celebrated. Without the Eucharist, we can’t be the church.
So here’s why Jesus is a genius: In giving the church the gift of the Eucharist (his ongoing presence among us in bread and wine), Jesus has inextricably bound the church to the task of ending hunger and poverty in the world. For where there is no bread, there is no Eucharist (the Meal only works if you eat it!); and where there is no Eucharist, there is no church.
Especially during the season of Lent, when we focus our lives around the Cross through the disciplines of “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving,” we are reminded that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness going hungry as preparation for his life-giving ministry. Jesus joined himself to hunger and poverty in order that God’s life-giving presence would become real among those who hunger. Jesus became Bread for the hungry, and now we, who are called the “Body of Christ,” gathered around the Meal of his Presence – we, too, are given as Bread for the hungry.
We feed hungry people, not because it is the right thing to do, but because in his infinite wisdom, Jesus has inextricably bound our very identity as “church” to the task of ending hunger and poverty.
Well played, Jesus. Well played.