Corpus Christi - Resurrection, live streamed - 2020
The feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, celebrates the gift that God gives us of Jesus; that gift given to us not only in his earthly life, but a gift that continues in the Eucharist, where the Lord Jesus is really present to us, where we have the gift of receiving him into our lives. In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever... Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
When you have the privilege of presiding at the Eucharist over the decades, different parts of the Mass take on a particular richness at one time or another. Over the past year, I have been particularly attentive to the words before communion, holding up the body and blood of Christ before the congregation, and saying ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Blessed... what we receive is a great gift, a great gift. The mystery of God’s presence in our lives through the Eucharist. It is not the only way that the Risen Lord is intimately present to us, but it is a wonderful and beautiful way, for which we should be filled with gratitude.
I am mindful, as I have been throughout the pandemic, that the majority of you listening to these live streamed Masses, are not able to receive physically the body of Christ at this time. But it doesn’t mean that you are not called to the supper of the Lamb; and it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t come to you, that he hasn’t found ways to be profoundly present to you.
This morning I would like to draw on a couple of stories which might be of help to some of you to make connections between the way that Christ comes to us in the Eucharist and our daily lives. The first of those stories, I heard from the now deceased much beloved Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, about an Italian couple without a lot of financial resources, who were about to get married. Their pastor had agreed to let them have a little reception in the church yard. But it rained, so they asked to hold the reception in the church, “just to eat a little cake and drink a little wine and sing a little song” and then they would leave. Reluctantly, the pastor agreed.
So these life-loving Italians sang a little song and drank a little wine, and sang some more songs and drank a little more wine, until the party grew into quite a celebration. Far from joining in, the pastor paced up and down in the sacristy, all upset about the noise they were making. When the assistant pastor came in, he noted, “I see you're quite tense, Father.”
“Of course I'm tense. Listen to all the noise they're making, and in the house of God, for heaven's sake!”
“But they really had no place else to go.”
“I know that. But do they have to make all that racket?”
“Well, we mustn't forget, Father, that Jesus too was present at a wedding.”
“I know Jesus was at a wedding banquet; you don't have to tell me Jesus was at a wedding banquet! But at Cana they weren’t celebrating and partying in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”
I was thinking about this story recently, as I have watched on youtube the first season of a series on the life of Jesus which is being produced these days, called The Chosen, and its depiction of the wedding at Cana. The Chosen tells the story of Jesus, from the Gospels, with lots of midrash - fictionally filling in details which the Gospels don’t give to us, so that we can imaginatively enter into what it must have been like for those who were present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the episode about the wedding at Cana, it draws us into the family of the bride, and her parents, who are hosting the wedding. Many guests come unexpected, and they run out of wine, and you get a glimpse of the tremendous dilemma and the great shame they are about to face. Jesus is wonderfully portrayed - so alive, so loving and enjoying life, full of joy and humour and a goodness that is contagious, and so concerned about those around him. The incredible joy that breaks forth at the celebration after Jesus has discreetly turned the water into wine, gives us a good glimpse into the joy of those who were the recipients of that first of Jesus’ signs.
On this feast of Corpus Christi it’s worth pondering for a moment the connection which the good pastor in Cardinal Martini’s story fails to make - “they didn’t party and celebrate in front of the blessed sacrament” - namely, the connection between Jesus, one who was fully alive and no doubt liked to celebrate, and the blessed sacrament.
The Jesus whose presence we receive in the Eucharist, the Jesus we pray before when we kneel or sit and pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is the Jesus whose life we hear about in the Gospels. One who tells us he is with us in many ways, and that we encounter him in many ways. He is the one who says anyone who welcomes a little child, welcomes me. He is the one who says, with our final judgement in the balance, I was in prison, sick, and you visited me - or you didn’t visit me. I was hungry, thirsty, naked, and you fed and clothed me. Whenever you did this for the least of my brothers and sisters, for the most needy, you did it to me, you did it for me. This is the same Jesus who tells us he will be with us - in prayer, as we seek him, as we live our daily lives with him as the vine and us as the branches, the one who says he will be with us till the end of time. The Risen Lord comes to us in many ways, discreetly, hidden, but real, in our world, the world he entered into, the world he came to redeem. One of those beautiful ways is through the sacraments, and through the Eucharist. One of those beautiful ways is how we can gather in churches or find our self in a quiet place before the Blessed Sacrament to let him love us and transform us there.
The pastor in Cardinal Martini’s story is a caution for us, not to turn Jesus into someone of our own making. You may have heard the saying that God has created us in his own image and likeness, and we return the favour. There is always a temptation for us believers to domesticate God, to turn Jesus into someone who strongly resembles our values, who takes our side in conflicts within the church, whose experience echoes our own. Sitting in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, or preparing to receive the Eucharist, it’s a good idea to hold fast to what we know about Jesus from the Scriptures. It is appropriate in the Lord’s presence to read from the Gospels or ponder his life. And not just our favorite passages. From the encounters we read in the Gospels, being in the presence of Jesus was never boring; was wonderful, life-giving, transformative; but was usually challenging, calling people to see things in a new way, to open themselves to God in a new way, to turn their lives around, to make difficult changes as they are invited to follow him, to be his disciple. His presence summons us to something. He is not with us only to provide us with a comfort zone to which we can retreat when the secular world becomes too burdensome. He is with us to transform us. Again from today’s Gospel, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” He feeds us, nourishes us, strengthens us, and then calls us to work with him, to do our part for the transforming and redeeming of our world.
It is quite possible that going to Mass becomes something we do on Sunday, something we respect and reverence, but which doesn't really touch our everyday struggles and joys. We see it as the real presence of Christ, but again, we often see it separate from its origins - when the night before he died, Jesus took the bread and gave it to his disciples, took the cup, said this is my body and blood, broken and poured out for you. In today’s second reading, from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” Receiving the Eucharist draws us into a unity grounded in Jesus allowing his life to be broken and poured out for us. Our ‘amen’ to that is a willingness to share in his being broken and poured out for others, in our daily lives. Our ‘amen’ is saying yes to doing so in communion with the body of his disciples, with the church. We don’t call it ‘communion’ for nothing. It is communion with God and with each other. We are one body.
The second story I would like to share draws this out a little more. It is about St. Oscar Romero, who as you probably know, was an archbishop of El Salvador in the late 1970's, at a time when his country being torn apart under a military regime.
A scene from the film Romero shows a Salvadoran village which has just been invaded by the military, and the church turned into a barracks. Archbishop Romero enters the church and says he intends to remove the Blessed Sacrament. A soldier pulls out his machine gun and opens fire on the cross and tabernacle, and Romero is thrown out of the church. In the square outside the church, a large crowd has gathered - the poor, the lame, elderly, children, those to whom the church belongs, those whose village the military has just invaded.
Romero musters his courage and walks back into the church, past the soldiers, and on his hands and knees, starts to gather the consecrated hosts which have been scattered by the gunfire. The soldiers order him to stop, but he refuses, until they fire at him, and eventually drag him outside a second time, while he clutches onto the communion hosts in his hand. The people are watching intensely, moved by his determination.
He starts to walk away, then looks at the people, and changes his mind. Slowly he begins to walk towards the church, yet again. An elderly lady with a cane moves to walk alongside him. Another joins, then another, and soon it is a long procession. At first the soldiers stand blocking the door, but Romero and the people continue to walk. The soldiers realize that they would have to kill them all - their own people - or to give way, and they do give way, and let them enter.
When they are inside the church, Romero addresses them, saying: “We are here today to retake possession of this church building, and to strengthen all those who have been trampled down. You should know that you have not suffered alone. For you are the church. You are the people of God. You are Jesus in the here and now. He is crucified in you just as surely as he was crucified 2,000 years ago on that hill outside of Jerusalem. And you should know that your pain and your suffering like his will contribute to El Salvador's freedom and redemption.”
It is a powerful scene, and it’s not just about courage. It’s about a connection which Romero makes, between risking his life for the body of Christ present in the Eucharist, and risking his life to preserve the dignity of a people, every bit as much the body of Christ.
If our faith is to be more than marginal, if the Eucharist is to be a well-spring from which we draw living water, then we must somehow learn to make connections between the breaking of bread in the Eucharist and the suffering of people around us. The Eucharist binds us to Christ and to one another, binds us through the cross, through God’s embrace of human suffering. It binds us to all who suffer, and to our broken world. It binds us to God’s way of restoring wholeness and healing to the world, by giving of ourselves. To receive the Eucharist is to confirm again and again our desire to lives as disciples.
To those who are participating in this Mass through live stream, the invitation to receive Christ anew into your lives, to open your hearts to his calling, and to confirm again your desire to follow him, that is as real for you as for those who will today physically receive the Eucharist.
Friends, there is life in this path of discipleship. There is brokenness, and sorrow, there is the cross in this. But the Lord himself will be with you us, and we will know at an ever deeper level that we are loved by God. And we will come to know the paschal mystery is not only an article of faith, but we will be caught up in that mystery, we will be able to go into the darkest places and not fear, for we will know that there is a light which casts out all darkness, there is a hope which conquers every despair.
Let’s conclude with one of the most well-known texts on the Eucharist in our Christian tradition, from St. Augustine, who addressed catechumens with these words, so fitting on the feast of Corpus Christi: “Would you understand the Body of Christ? Hear the Apostle (Paul) saying to the faithful, ‘But you are the Body and the members of Christ.’ If, then, you are Christ's Body and His members, it is your own mystery which is placed in the Lord's table; it is your own mystery which you receive. It is to what you are that you reply amen.... Be a member of the Body of Christ, and let your amen be true. Be what you see, and receive what you are.”
Whether or not you are able to receive the Eucharist today or not, the Lord himself invites us to be his body, to receive him anew, to live deeply the life he gives us, and to let ourselves be broken for others.
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