The Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Corpus Christi
4 June 2015
O God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament hath left unto us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 11:23-29
I have had the theological problem of immanence and transcendence on my mind these past couple of weeks...as one does. Well, the actual reason I’ve been thinking so much about the fundamental question of how is it possible for the completely other and unchanging reality and purpose that is the source and destination of all things to be present with in the here and now is because I asked someone to write me a sermon about it as part of my work on the diocesan Board of Examining Chaplains. From the sublime to the academic indeed! We chose to pursue this line of questioning as a way of assessing how this candidate for ordination would be able to make a complex theological issue accessible to people in a way that is clear but not condescending. It is a good exercise.
But of course here, under battlefield conditions, it is more than an exercise. It is, in fact, one of the most important questions we need to face as Christians who both believe that there is some ultimate reality that lies outside and beyond ourselves and this moment, yet who live in a world full of stuff, full of concrete happenings, of events and occasions. If the ultimate reality is God, understood to be identified with Love, and that ultimate reality is intangible, do the occasions of our lives and the other creatures with whom we share this world have significance? Are they connected in some way to that transcendent, ultimate reality? How does it all work? Or are we to look only to things heavenly and see this life as some sort of transient state, an illusion or distraction from the things that really matter? I think you know me well enough to know where I come down. Stuff is important, it has to be.
We have been given the gifts of this world, of our bodies and our senses, of our memory and our imagination. We have been given the gift to conceive of past, present, and future, to look back at where we have been, sense where we are in this moment, and hope for and envision what is to come. The amazing paradox of this reality, as witnessed by history and Scripture, and experienced in our minds and bodies, is that yes, we can affirm in no uncertain terms that while God is utterly other, not human, not male or female, formless, eternal, and that is to say utterly transcendent, the same God, that same Love, is present always and everywhere in the occasions of life, manifested into our reality, expressed into history, utterly available always and everywhere to each and every one of us.
We have been given the ability to see in and through the occasions of this life, in the matter of the world, in the moments of our lives, in the connections we make with others, in our scientific and artistic achievements something larger at work, something that links us with that past, present, and future in a pattern moving us towards the fulfilment of God’s singular purpose which is the reconciliation of all in all with Love itself. We can affirm that in and through Creation—in both the act and fact of creation and through it’s being made alive through the work of the Holy Spirit—the transcendent becomes immanent and God, Love becomes present. It is in this way that everything we see and touch and taste and sense in the here and now matters, has significance, because it has the ability to point us to the divine, to show us that the completely other can become present in any time and in any place. And this is a proposition that all who believe in a God identified with Love, love that can be manifested into the here and now, can affirm.
As Christians, we can especially affirm this reality because of the Incarnation, the event in which God expressed the Word, that Love into history in a specific place at a specific time in the specific person of Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” In Jesus, God united the transcendent reality of Love with the enlivened flesh and bones of a human person who lived, embodied, the proposition that God's love is different from mortal power. In doing so Jesus showed us that Love even defeats, yes, transcends, death. In the person of Jesus and in the incarnation, God affirmed that wherever Love is expressed in to the present moment, God is there in that time and in that space.
Jesus’ followers, those who had experienced in him the presence of God on the earth and in the occasions of life, created an institution founded upon this central notion and in its daily life undertook to enact this reality in those rites and ceremonies we have come to style sacraments. These holy things, these things we have set apart from the elements and actions of daily life—for holy literally means set apart—are also simplest and most basic elements of our existence. Water, bread, wine, oil—the very staples of life—become the means in Baptism, Eucharist, and Holy Unction in and through which God is manifested, Love becomes present, into the here and now. The actions of gift exchange or kissing (as in a marriage) or the laying on of hands (in confirmation or ordination)—the most simple of human actions—are given a significance beyond the moment in connecting the people involved more deeply to each other, the community, and to God, Love’s very self.
The sacramental life in Christian community trains us, as I have said many times, to look for God, to look for Love in the most mundane or quotidian of activities. Whenever we wash or bathe, whenever we become aware of water, we are reminded of our baptism in which we come to share in Christ’s death and resurrection in his life of Love lived in the world and extending into all the cosmos. And whenever we baptise we are pointed to those ways in which life giving, living water are indicative of God’s presence and movement in creation. Whenever we shake someone’s hand or give someone a hug or a kiss, we are reminded of those instances when we have been touched by divine Love and set apart as special, consecrated to a new vocation, or healed in Confirmation, Marriage, or Holy Unction. And when we receive those sacraments, we are reminded that our human relationships, our most human of interactions, those moments when are experience healing are all occasions in which God’s love is expressed into our present moment.
And most classically, whenever we share a meal, whenever we break bread, take nourishment into our bodies, we are reminded of that chiefest sacrament, the one Jesus commanded us to do in remembrance of him, the one the church made its central act of worship, in which Jesus becomes once again specially present with us in the bread and wine that we take into those bodies, transforming us into his very body abroad in the world. In is in the sacrament we share tonight that any meal we eat is made holy and becomes an occasion when we become connected with God and with each other, when God’s very self, God’s very love enters in, becomes present with us and has the power to transform us into that Body of Christ that we constitute tonight in this assembly.
These species, these elements (as we call them), of bread and wine, these simplest of foodstuffs, things that many of us are privileged to take for granted, are transformed into God’s very self. They are the means by which tonight, the divine again enters into this space, infuses our very bodies, makes us something more than ourselves, something bigger, something more eternal than before. The host that I will consecrate, the deacon will place in the monstrance, and that I will carry in procession, and with which I shall bless you, is the outward and visible sign, that all this has happened, that the transcendent God of the cosmos has once again penetrated our plane of existence. We will behold both God in Christ made manifest into this moment and our very selves reflected back at us. The Host is the Body of Christ in every sense and reminds us that we are now brimming with the immanent presence of transcendent Love.
We then are made love bearers out into this night of that which might otherwise be unseen and unnoticed. But we know better, we have been trained, we have practised the sacramental life and we know that the paradox at the heart of our faith is not really a paradox after all. It is the way things go. In this way the theological question of the immanence and transcendence of God is no mere theoretical problem, but the very heart of the Divine identity. The transcendent is strong enough to transform the temporal into bearers of the eternal, to give those things added value and significance without diminishing its earthy meaning. The temporal, too, is strong enough, valuable enough, to point us towards and show us the divine, immanently present with us. We can be assured tonight that God, the utterly other and unchangeable God of Love makes the Divine presence available always and everywhere in and through the stuff of life.
We and everything we see and know has the powers to bear divine Love into the world and we can take on the ministry to which we are all called, which is nothing more, nothing less than to be that love bearer, that love shower, that love giver, to be the very Body of Christ at work in the world doing the work of healing and of reconciliation that will help God in the work of realising the Kingdom of Love that is unfolding about us at this very moment.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Corpus Christi, 4 June 2015
© 2015 Andrew Charles Blume