Medicine of Heaven
Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, I tell you, the bread of God is that which comes from heaven and gives life to the world. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” – John 6:32-34, 51 excerpts (NRSV)
Early Christians thought Jesus was talking about Communion in this passage. Of course, at this point in the story there wasn’t any Communion: he hadn’t given us that gift yet. But our forebears read it back into Jesus’ words anyway.
They’d experienced Christ’s Body as truly life-giving. They even spoke of Communion as medicine for what ails us. They believed that partaking of the Bread would heal the frail human condition. To approach Communion was to be diagnosed, admitted, treated, and released to a new regimen of health, body, mind, and soul.
Communion also vaccinated you against the estrangement that destroys human solidarity. Being in communion with the Healer and all our convalescing siblings in the church staved off deadly infections like hate and greed, like an oblivious and evasive life.
Communion was also a foretaste of the full health of the life to come. Exactly what such a fully wholesome life would be like, no one knew, but it had to be at least something like this: the beloved as one in the Beloved, feasting.
But the most important thing was how you knew Communion medicine was taking. The church’s body was getting well when it found itself tending the bodies of others, when it put its own body on the line.
Which is why examining ourselves and confessing has traditionally preceded Communion. It’s a wellness check, and if it shows we’ve been indifferent or hostile to our neighbors’ bodies, the prescription is clear: we need to come to the table again. And again. To take the Medicine that heals us, then go and do otherwise.
Medicine of Heaven, if we’re indifferent to our neighbors’ bodies, prescribe more time at the table, another dose of you.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.