It’s a good weekend for a cookout. As expected, with no surprise, the hot weather came out of nowhere. Florida’s weather traveled up to Massachusetts. Either way, it’s a good three days to have a cookout somewhere in this weekend time frame. To enjoy the food we find delicious and fulfilling. Doing so on Memorial Day weekend when we remember our loved ones who have entered eternal life. We’ll all be joining them soon.
So what we have here on Memorial Day weekend is the combination of food and eternity. A weekend of eating hot dogs and hamburgers, while placing some flowers in memory of family members and friends who have gone to their eternal reward, we pray. If we’re ever going to have a secular holiday match up time-wise with the Feast of Corpus Christi, then I would say we have perfect timing this year.
Corpus Christi, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is also a remembrance; “Do this in memory of me,” by way of food and everlasting life…”For my flesh is true food,” the Lord says elsewhere in John. It’s interesting to think that, from a theological standpoint, that what many of us will do this weekend is a copy and a shadow of Jesus’ free gift of himself to each of us. To match up our chosen activities this weekend with the words of Christ regarding the Eucharist. The eating, and the remembering of our loved ones in eternity by visiting their resting place in a cemetery, has a much deeper spiritual meaning than what we live on the surface.
I’m not saying that when you eat that loaded hot dog with mustard, relish, onions, sauerkraut, and whatever else you can fit in the bun, that we should say, “This is the Eucharist.” Because it isn’t. Just like in the Gospel, where Jesus has his own cookout, separating them into fifties, feeding them bread and fish. That’s not the Eucharist. But it is a shadow of the Eucharist in that Jesus is the One who commands his Disciples to feed the hungry crowd. As always in his public ministry, he’s setting them up for later on when they will feed the members of the Church the Body and Blood of their Lord.
If Jesus sends the crowd away, like the Disciples want him to; “Dismiss the crowd so they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions.” If the Lord gives in to their request at this time, then they will also send people away in the future when it really counts. And that’s not what the Church does. If anyone goes away from the Eucharist, they will leave on their own, like so many sadly have done.
However, in this Gospel, Jesus has a set of eyes for his future gift to us. By keeping the crowd there, the Lord teaches us to stay put, because the food gets better. A million times better.
So how is Memorial Day weekend connected to the Eucharist and what we believe about seeing our loved ones again? Listen to the words of St. Paul today: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Every time we process forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the fullness of the Eucharist which is received in the reception of the host, or the Precious Blood alone. Every time we receive the Eucharist our actions of receiving and consuming proclaim the death of Jesus. I bet most of us didn’t know that. “Is that one of the statements I’m making when I’m receiving Communion?” Yes, it is. You’re proclaiming the death of the Lord. Not embarrassed by it. Proclaiming it! Why would we want to proclaim anyone’s death? It sounds morbid and distasteful. It sounds really strange, this language of Paul.
But this is why the Eucharist is so unique, and such a heavenly blessing for us Catholics. Because when we consume the Risen Lord, we can brag about his death. It’s easy to brag about our accomplishments. Or the accomplishments of others. I’ve heard more people brag about David Ortiz this year than brag about the One who died for them on the Cross. Brag about his death. Because his death led to his resurrection. When the Eucharist is received with the eyes of faith, then we can boast in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has removed the sting from death.
This is the deeper meaning of eating hot dogs and hamburgers, and whatever else you like to grill, and remembering our loved ones on Memorial Day weekend.
The actions we go about performing, actions that correspond to the meaning of secular celebrations…if those actions build up our families and communities, if those actions give us hope, if there is a pure and holy satisfaction experienced in those actions, then there is always a deeper meaning connected to our Christian faith.
So the actions of eating at a cookout, remembering those who have died and gone before us marked with the sign of faith, planting flowers, spreading some mustard, slicing the steak, placing a small American flag at the grave of a parent or relative who is a Veteran, or even one who is not a veteran…all these actions that symbolize Memorial Day, are actions that invite us to look at and recognize what happens at this altar. Where death becomes life; where the one Son of God brings the food of salvation to the world; where the food we consume will raise us to the gates of heaven; where the sorrow of death becomes the joy of eternal life; where the community of believers eat from the same menu, just like in the Gospel, they all ate bread and fish; where Jesus feeds us his very self.
“Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus commands them. It’s like he’s telling them, and us, “See the deeper meaning with all these thousands of people. Let’s have a Memorial Day cookout. Gather them into fifties. Feed them. Let’s talk about how death has lost the game. And know that all these actions point to something much greater.”
It’s a pleasant reminder that a shadow of the Eucharist we receive is found in the routine of daily living, most notably Memorial Day.