A man once painted the Last Supper in a way that was never before done. In the painting, Jesus and the apostles were gathered around the dinner table which was bare. There was no bread or wine. The Last Supper re-enacts the Israelites’ Passover Meal during which a lamb was slaughtered and eaten as a prelude to their liberation from slavery. So, the absence of the bread and wine (that take the place of the sacrificial lamb) seems to make the painting an inaccurate depiction of the Last Supper.
The man explained that his painting was in fact most accurate because, during the Last Supper, Jesus wanted the apostles to know that He Himself was the sacrificial lamb that would obtain freedom from our slavery to sin. He wanted us to be hungry and thirsty, not for the bread and wine, but for the reality they make present: Jesus Himself.
I remember that painting because since the pandemic began, many of us felt deprived of our right to attend the Mass and receive Holy Communion. But perhaps such deprivation had some benefits, foremost of which was, we began to hunger and thirst for Jesus who gave up Himself as a sacrificial meal for us sinners.
As always, Jesus can do the unthinkable. It was not enough for Him to make God visible, credible, audible, and tangible. In the Last Supper, God became edible.
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) celebrates this truth. Jesus offered Himself to us as food because, what better way for Jesus to make Himself and His memory linger in our heart than to offer Himself as food? He knows that as long as we are alive, our hunger and thirst will not dissipate.
Also, Jesus offered Himself as food to remind us how the simple act of eating provides lessons on how life arises from death, the flower from a dead seed, the phoenix from ashes, eternity from time. Like all food, He died to give us life. As He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6: 34-35).
If we come to think of it, many of the things we cook or eat have to die. What we call food is actually another living being that died when we butchered, sliced, boiled, steamed, broiled, baked, or barbecued it. Hastily wolfing down food dishonors both the human effort to prepare it and obliterates the memory of those creatures that died on our behalf.
This is why I like watching culinary shows on television. These gastronomic extravaganzas somehow rectify the adverse effects of junk food and soft drink commercials that sell pre-packaged, ready-to-eat, or microwavable food. They make us regard eating from the perspective of efficiency, economy, and speed..They reduce us to animals whose main reason for eating is survival.
These meticulously prepared cooking programs on television show the rituals that accompany food preparation. Come to think of it, if we scrutinize everything that goes with cooking, we realize that every action or gesture is not only functional but is expressive of meaning or significance. We can only discern such significance if cooking is ritualized, thus preventing it from becoming a daily chore or burden.
It’s the same with eating. The meaningful rituals that accompany a meal are lost when we eat junk food while slouched on the sofa, or ladling food from paper plates and disposable containers, using plastic fork and spoon. Eating this way may save us money and time, but it reduces eating into mere feeding. Fast food saves time and meets our hunger for “fuel,” but they shortchange the deeper significance of a meal.
We become what we eat. Since the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, it must really be food for the gods. By receiving it, we become like God.