Think about the people you love most. Consider how important it is to be with them. Now imagine being separated from them for a very long time, perhaps years. They would be in your heart. You would long to be with them. Your heart would ache, yet you might console yourself with the thought that they are with you in spirit. They would be alive and present in your heart. Perhaps you could exchange emails, talk on the phone, or even video chat with them. Such contact would do your heart good, but it would not compare to their physical presence.
You could not touch or embrace them. You love them so much that, given the chance, you would rush into their arms and, as the song says, “Stop the world and melt with you.” There is nothing that compares with such physical presence and contact. Love letters and phone calls help, but there simply is no substitute for the real, physical presence of your loved ones and the life it brings to the relationship.
Now, consider that, as much as you love those people, God loves us a billion times more. Imagine how he longs to be with us. In fact, he loves us so much that he became a physical, human being so he could touch and embrace us. That’s Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is the incarnation. Jesus is the physical manifestation of God. The lover longs to be with the beloved, not only in spirit, but physically. We can read his love letters. We can call upon him through prayer. We can sense his Spirit in our hearts. But there simply is no substitute for the real, physical presence of your loved one. God wants to “Stop the world and melt with us.” So, Jesus gave us the Eucharist.
Holding the bread he said, “This is my body. Take and eat.” Holding the cup he said, “This is my blood. Take and drink. Do this in memory of me.” And elsewhere he says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you. My flesh is real food. My blood is real drink.” But this is not some gory, cannibalistic ritual. Nor is it simply a “memorial” where we recall valiant deeds of a distant hero. It is a “remembrance” like Passover, which allows every Jew into the experience of the exodus from Egypt. Yet, it is more. It is the fulfillment and realization of the shadow, the prefiguring of the Old Testament Passover. We eat the Passover Lamb of God. It is his risen, glorified body we actually receive. It is how he has chosen to be with us “until the end of the age,” not only in Spirit, but physically. The Catholic Mass makes us present at the Last Supper, the crucifixion and the resurrection. We do more than ponder these events, we are present at them. God, the Great I AM, who is not constrained by time, makes these events present to us because he loves us that much.
The Eucharist is a miracle. The same Jesus that raised the dead, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, gave sound to the deaf, controlled the weather, cast out demons, made the lame walk, walked through locked doors, rose from the grave and fed thousands with a few fish and loaves brings us himself in the Eucharist. He is God. We are not commanded to “understand and eat,” we are commanded to “take and eat.” We walk by faith, not by sight. By sight we see bread and wine (even with an electron microscope). By faith we know it is his body, blood, soul and divinity we receive. It is a “hard saying” if we rely on our human reason and understanding (i.e. “the flesh,” as in, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” or “you judge according to the flesh” (John 8:15)). Hence, “the flesh” profits us nothing. Our human reason and senses profits us nothing. We see and understand through faith by the Spirit which gives life (John 6:63). Jesus’ words are the enlightenment of Spirit and life, not “the flesh” of weak, human understanding. Those who relied on “the flesh” walked away. Those who stayed with Jesus didn’t understand, but they had faith. They trusted Christ.
The travelers on the road to Emmaus witnessed this miracle as Jesus vanished from their sight yet granted their request to “stay with us” (Luke 24). He stayed physically present with them in the breaking of the bread. That’s how they knew him. The lover longs to be with the beloved. There is no substitute for the real, physical presence and the life it gives to a relationship. A relationship doesn’t get any more personal than what the Eucharist offers to the faithful. Jesus said he would be with us, always, until the end of time. He meant what he said. Where two or more are gathered in his name he is spiritually present. In the Eucharist he is physically present. He longs to be with us completely, the way he created us: physical body and spiritual soul. Even the angels, being pure spirit, don’t get that privilege. He loves us that much.