“What happens when you go do communion,” I once asked an eight year old preparing to receive the sacrament. “You get Jesus,” he replied. Ninety nine percent of Catholics would give essentially the same answer. That raises an interesting issue.
During his lifetime Jesus told his disciples that he would always be with them. Whenever two or more of them gathered in his name they could count on his presence. The gospels said that after his ascension he accompanied the disciples confirming their preaching. Within decades after Jesus went to be with the Father, Paul wrote to Christian disciples that they along with risen Jesus constituted the body of Christ on earth.
In addition to Jesus’ presence in the daily life we speak of the Holy Spirit being with us constantly, guiding our efforts to discover and cooperate with the will of God. He not only works with us but he inspires the good work of every human being.
At every moment, of course, the Father is giving us, as he’s giving all creation, our very being.
It is central to our faith that God immerses himself continuously in our daily lives. Given that, what do we mean when we say that we “get Jesus” when we receive Communion?
Sacramental presence is a matter of meaning, not mathematics. Jesus gave himself to us as bread and wine is to make his nourishing presence real for us in the long, exhausting work of the Kingdom. As he faced the harsh consequences of his own life of dedication, he promised to nourish us when we face ours. The Bread and Wine that is the presence of Jesus is not the banquet of triumph but the sustaining nourishment for struggle.