The Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Corpus Christi
Thursday, 31 May 2018
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
This past Sunday we celebrated the Holy Trinity. I talked in my sermon about how the Trinity, not named as such in Holy Scripture, is a theological explanation for the reality of God we experience in and through our faith, that is to say, our active, lived, relationship with God. We experience God as one. We experience God as three. We know these three are one, interconnected, in constant relationship with each other. Our doctrine of three persons in unity of substance is the result of our work of meaning making.
The feast we celebrate today is something very different. Today we celebrate the Body and Blood of Our Lord. It is the most concrete of feasts, highly scriptural, with us from the very beginning. Now of course, I am not trying to pull the wool completely over your eyes. As Anglo-Catholic as I am, I freely admit that the feast of Corpus Christi originated in the twelfth century and only became universal after the promulgation of the Papal Bull, Transiturus, in 1317. In England, of course, it was suppressed with the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer and did not come back into Anglican use until the late nineteenth century. Even today it is a curiosity outside of high church circles (or New York), legitimised in our current official rites only by tradition and the existence of the set of Eucharistic propers, “Of the Holy Eucharist,” rubrically stated to be particularly appropriate for Thursdays.
When I say this feast is both foundational and Scriptural, I am saying that what we are doing here today is not simply commemorating a theological idea that has been worked out using logic and Greek philosophy, but rather it is the very core of our lived, experienced life as Christians. Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus shared meals with all whom he encountered. He did this is small groups with his friends. He did this with crowds numbering into the thousands. He did this on the night before he was handed over to suffering and death. He did this after his Resurrection. Each time Jesus broke bread with us, he made himself known, understood as one with God. Each time Jesus dined with us, we were fed with more than simple, nourishing food. Each time Jesus ate with us, we became untied with him and with each other.
In fact, that we were to continue eating together in his name is one of the explicit instructions that he left us. At that last meal he ate with them before his crucifixion, Luke tells us that he “took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper.” Jesus commanded us that we should gather at table, remember him, make him present again with us through this powerful act of memory, give thanks, bless bread and wine, and take that substance into ourselves so that we, like the bread and wine, might be transformed into Christ’s very Body.
John's Gospel uses rather visceral langage to describe this when Jesus says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” At the same time, John, with his strong focus on interconnection, on all the ways that God is related to us and we to God, makes it clear, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” It is about our becoming one with God, at one with God; atoned.
The same theme is picked up by Paul: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is on bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Unity, oneness, interconnection with God and with each other is what we receive when we participate in this meal, this activity that is at the core of our lived faith.
What we celebrate and enact ritually and ceremonially today is multivalent. We celebrate Jesus and his presence with us, a presence that transforms us and the world. We celebrate the Church that Jesus left, us, those people, united with Jesus in the meal they shared together, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and impelled out into the world to continue the work of love and reconciliation that Jesus inaugurated and then codified in that Last Supper. The work of the Church is nothing more, nothing less, than the expansion of God's inclusive love that is achieved in our work of cooperating with God in the unfolding of the Kingdom. The work of the church is the movement in and through time and space of the Body of Christ, united with God and with each other, breaking bread, and bringing God's love into a world that sorely needs it.
The procession we will make in just a little while, although we do not make our way out into the streets, encapsulates this idea We, the Body of Christ, carry in procession the Host, the piece of bread, where we locate and make a focal point of God’s very presence among us. We go forth from the altar and show Christ and ourselves, both the Body of Christ, to a world crying our for love, for God’s comforting, encouraging, presence, a presence that also calls us to account and expects that we respond to love with love. In the Eucharist we behold, we see both God and ourselves. The procession each of us will make out into the night expresses the same reality.
The Body of Christ we celebrate tonight isn’t a theological idea that helps us make meaning of God and ourselves. It is the reality that sits at the core of who we are, how we relate to God and to each other, how we experience life in the world. We are called to Eucharistic lives, lives of thanksgiving, in which the Body of Christ we take into ourselves at the Mass becomes manifested in our words and deeds, individually and collectively. In a way we can use the theological explanation of the Trinity to help us make meaning of this and understand our relationship to this Eucharist better. We are each unique, special in our own way, unlike anyone else, and yet we are united with God and with each other in a circular dance, a movement of interconnection, in and through the Eucharist that turns us into one Body. “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Let this Eucharist we celebrate, share, and see tonight unite with God and with each other and send us forth from this place knowing that we are loved and that so prepared, we are able to better undertake that other commandment Jesus gave us, that we love God and love one another.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Corpus Christi, 31 May 2018
© 2018 Andrew Charles Blume