Body and Blood of Christ C – 29 May 2016 – A Beautiful Church
On the feast of Pentecost I referred to a first century architect who said buildings should be functional, stable and beautiful. I proposed then that the holy Spirit energizes us to act as a functional church. Last week, I suggested that, as part of a divine triangle, you and I can help make the church more stable. Today, I ask you to imagine with me the church, the mystical body and blood of Christ, as something beautiful to behold.
I have a large collection of images depicting the last supper where each artist provides slightly different insights about that meal. Parishioner and iconographer Jennifer Richard-Morrow quotes the artist Edgar Degas, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
One picture I have shows Jesus distributing hosts to the apostles who are kneeling down! Another depicts the twelve men seated around the table dressed in chasubles like the ones priests and bishops wear today. Neither painting provides us with a credible clue about what may have happened at that last supper.
The last supper painting by the late sixteenth century artist Tintoretto offers a more reasonable insight.  One sees not only twelve disciples but women and maybe children as well! I like this visual catechism because it suggests that Jesus gathered with disciples, family members and those who prepared and served the meal. It was a chavurah, a small group of like-minded Jews similar those who assemble today to share communal experiences. (Note: Actually, those gathered for the last supper were most likely seated at a triclinium, a three-sided table.)
Scholars believe that Paul’s letters like the one we heard today provide sophisticated interpretations of the last supper. In Paul’s 1st century churches the meals were modeled on Greco-Roman banquets that ritualized social bonding. According to authors Smith and Taussig, Paul placed special emphasis on the power of the meal “to break down boundaries and create the kind of solidarity that should characterize what the church was to be.” 
Over time the understanding of the last supper as a boundary breaking experience developed into a sacrifice offered by priests for the people who watched. The eucharist became an object of personal piety and eventually emerged as a unfortunate signpost that separated Catholics from other Christian denominations.
The Vatican Two Ecumenical Council helped us recover the sense of the eucharist as a sacrament of unity (SC III, B, 26). It is less about individual piety and more about the common good. Richard Rohr writes, God’s basic method of communicating is not through the saved individual, the rightly informed believer, or even personal careers in ministry. “The body of Christ is our Christian metaphor for this bonding.”
God communicates through all of us. One gets this sense in the Tintoretto painting. In the Mannerist style the artist used light and shadows to frame a beautiful supernatural atmosphere where the real and unreal, the world of the spirit and the perceptible world, can no longer be distinguished. It suggests that the heavenly place we long for is right here, right now. The world may not look like that so we have to finish this painting.
The beauty found in Tintoretto’s last supper is similar to the appeal of today’s gospel. Thousands gathered hungry to hear Jesus’ message. He charged his disciples to provide real food for them. He did not do it himself and the servings were not meager. They were bountiful because the people shared with others what they themselves brought to the event.
The body and blood of Christ is a celebration of the beauty of the church when all members bond by working together, by sharing what we bring to and receive from this sacramental event. The words “do this in memory of me” refer not only to a sacrificial meal but everything else Jesus did in his life — feed, heal, anoint, bless, forgive, save, love.
I am thinking about our food panty (here at St. Vincent de Paul Parish) as an expression of a response to this mandate of Jesus. It is where heavenly food and drink mix with groceries. Brendan Byrne puts it this way, the primary job of Jesus’s followers is to “minister the hospitality of God,”  How beautiful is that?
So there you have it. Our church is functional, stable and beautiful when you and I recognize the gifts of the Spirit given to each of us to strengthen the divine triangle. When we can do that much together we will be seen as a church that makes beauty and grace tangible and real for all.
- The Last Supper by Tintoretto can be seen in the Basilica Di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venezia
- Smith, D. and Taussig, H. Many Tables: The Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today. (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 1990) 69
- Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 85