Years back, I was ruffling through some old files when I came across this picture:
After getting over the initial “awww” moment, I was surprised (pleasantly so) to note the date of the event written at the back of the photo: February 14, 1988. How fittingly perfect that the Lord chose to give Himself to me for the first time on Valentine’s Day! The day of hearts, of love; for that is what the Eucharist, (more than any other Sacrament, I believe), is all about: the Greatest Love.
Just this week, I experienced something that brought the truth of sacrificial love closer to home. My two kids and myself had somehow caught a really bad intestinal bug. My eldest son fell ill first, with vomiting and tummy ache, but quickly recovered after a day or two. Then mother and daughter developed symptoms almost at the same time: our 1-year-old was vomiting all over the place, and I was going to the bathroom every 10 minutes, first with really bad watery diarrhea, then later that evening I was vomiting as well. We both couldn’t hold anything down, fluid or solid, prompting us to bring ourselves to the ER. As we both somehow stopped vomiting once we set foot in the hospital, we were sent home on instructions to continue taking oral rehydration salts as needed, to be taken in sips only, as not to trigger another vomiting episode. On our way home, I was lamenting what an exhausting, weakening ordeal that was (going to the bathroom >10x in one night can do that to you). My husband Peter reached out to hold my hand and said, “It’s over, you can rest.”
It wasn’t, and I couldn’t.
As soon as we got home, our baby girl was vomiting again. We were careful to give her sips, which was much harder than I thought. By 3AM, my little angel was hysterical, begging us to give her milk, or even the electrolyte drink we were giving her (in tiny, pitiful sips). The whole time I was holding her, trying to calm her down, I was trying not to feel the tingling sensation in my arms and legs, myself very weak from all the fluids lost (I was still going to the toilet frequently well into the next morning). I was crying myself, and praying so hard for God to take away whatever was distressing my baby. Please make her better, please make her okay…and the whole time, I was willing myself to overcome my own aches and pains. I couldn’t afford to feel sick, not when my baby needed me so badly. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, take on the sick role, no matter what I was feeling. All I could think of was that I needed to be here, with her, and not sick in my own bed.
“No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13
The simplest way to explain the Eucharist is to say that it was done, given, in LOVE, the greatest love, of the Shepherd for His flock. All of us are weak; we get hurt, we experience despair. Becoming human, Jesus subjected Himself to the same, and yet, the night before His Passion and Death, He didn’t allow Himself to be consumed by the injustice, the agony of it all. His mind and heart was filled with love for His disciples, how He didn’t want them to feel alone. He needed to be with them, in the closest, most intimate way, dwelling inside them not just spiritually, but physically as well. His love told Him, tells us, that this is where He needs, wants, to be: with us, filling us, keeping us.
I’ve said more than one time that should the thought of joining any other Christian church enter my mind, I need only think of the Eucharist, and immediately those thoughts are dismissed. I cannot leave the Church, because I cannot leave the Eucharist.
And years before I could even begin to understand the immensity of this gift, God already knew the language He would use to speak to me–that of love. Which is why on Valentine’s Day, 1988, for the very first time, I received Him, Body and Blood. And every communion I’ve received since then is me coming before Him, telling Him I need and want Him, in my weakness and in my despair. And Him giving Himself to me, telling me my heart is exactly where He wants to be.