Which came first? is an ancient line in an ancient riddle. This weekend, first things come to mind. It is the most beautiful weekend of the year, as the seasons announce life coming back to the earth, and our children present themselves to receive for the first time the Author of Life Himself. It is the time of First Holy Communion.
This is a great and glorious instant in the lives of our first communicants and their families, but that very first-ness brings both excitement and promise – promise of more, promise of second and third and beyond. There is a lot of first-ness to be found in our relationship with Jesus.
The first thing the Church did, back before she even knew herself to be the Church, back when she became the Church, in fact how she became the Church, was to celebrate the Eucharist. The disciples who had encountered the risen Lord on the first day of the week, then again eight days later, continued to worship God on this new day in a new way. Not with Sabbath-worship on the seventh day, but with thanksgiving to God, and the breaking of the bread, on the first day.
The Sacred Scriptures describe this first action of grace and therefore themselves clearly come later. Communion with Jesus is the root and foundation of the Church, first when He passed through locked doors to say and give “Peace to you,” then as the Apostles anointed with the Spirit took bread and did this in memory of Him, saying, “This is my body.”
It is clear that to be the Church, to live the life of grace, we need that communion – our bodies united with this glorious body. It has to come first, before anything we do can be “what Jesus would do.” Before the doing, before the imitating, there must be something else, first.
This firstness is not, of course, something that the Church could make or take, but that Christ himself must and did give. The firstness of the giving is essential to the communion, for it cannot be earned or bought or won. Communion is necessarily something that is received, and the first foot forward is that of Him who gives. Look at the faces of the children who come forward. They bring nothing but their receptivity to what they will be given, to Him Who gives. They return having received, their eyes alight with the gift to Whom they give their own flesh.
The first giving of flesh we celebrate as well this month, as we mark or devotion to our mother Mary, who gave her flesh to Him who became flesh to dwell among us. This first giving is the first first communion, as God Himself, the Eternal Word, took flesh, and dwelt in the tabernacle, the Tower of Ivory that is His most pure mother. For the unique response to the giving God is also to give, which makes room for that great first giving. No one has done it better, but we all strive to imitate what she did, to give our flesh to be one with His flesh, to renew what she did first.
It is my hope that giving these first Communions to these receptive and rejoicing communicants is to kindle not nostalgia for what was and will be no more, but delight and desire for what we are to be, and do. Not only I, but parents, and grandparents, neighbors, friends, and cousins, all watch and see and smile, and know for a moment the momentousness of this meeting, the union of heaven and earth in an innocent soul.
It is my hope that this also be their desire, and mine: to enjoy that same moment, not the firstness, but the communion. That desire itself is a gift, given freely and without prejudice, given to all who would receive, who would take the gift by giving themselves, giving their flesh to Him whose flesh gives life; to know, to enjoy, to experience this same second that comes second, flowing forth from the gift of God, who came first.