Solemnity of Corpus Christi at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, is a reminder to us of a key requirement of being a disciple of Jesus Christ: self-sacrifice. And it is a reminder of where we get the power to do that.
Blood is the symbol of life. In essence, to sacrifice oneself is not to deprive self of life, but to offer oneself to a higher life; to prove to self ones love and loyalty to that higher life.
The reading from Exodus tells us that a covenant was made. The Greek word for covenant has two meanings, both used in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. One meaning is “to will” as in to bequeath or give away. We do this when we vow ourselves to a particular way of life, baptismal, marital or monastic. Occasions to do that in a way-of-life touch the deepest part in a person. It is often experienced as the shock of a novitiate event or as a “the honeymoon is over” experience in marriage. It is sealed by a holocaust, a total offering so that nothing is left. In Moses’ time this was done symbolically by sacrificing an animal. Today one sacrifices her own ego and does it on the installment plan! This is why we vow fidelity. It affirms our love and loyalty.
The second meaning of covenant is “treaty”. It binds God to the people and the people to God by the keeping of the commandments, particularly to “love one another as I have loved you.” That means going as far as Christ Crucified did in seeking the good of others. And that loyalty is the essence of being a follower of Christ. Hopefully, it connects us and forms us as a community.
Why would anyone engage in this radical form of self-sacrifice? I don’t know why anyone would…I just know why I did. And I think every woman here, in her own nuanced life-experience, knows why she did. Each of us finds it impossible to put into words that deep experience that makes this calling valid. It happens in depths of the heart that we didn’t know we had. But knowing the sister next to us has that same deep conviction will hopefully connect us and form us as a community, as an expression of the Body of Christ.
For me it was an experience of God’s mercy. It was a profound, life-changing experience. This is not unusual; in fact, it seems to be pre-requisite. Before God gave Moses the commandments of His covenant He told them to “take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the place of slavery.” Some form of this awareness is the backdrop of every monastic and spousal call. If one doesn’t know that he or she has been saved, then—at least for the men—monastic communities deteriorate to a “good ole boys “club. “Truly seeking God” does not connect them as a community, as the Body of Christ.
We are attracted to the self-sacrificing, self-emptying Christ. Today we gratefully celebrate His self-giving in the Eucharist. The bread and wine give themselves entirely to the recipient. It is there that we get the power to give of ourselves in spite of ourselves.
Solemnity of Corpus Christi at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Gen 14:18-20, 1 Cor 11:23-26, Luke 9:11b-17]
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and theologian, once told this story to illustrate how Christ came to win our love. Long ago there was a handsome prince seeking a maiden to be his wife and queen. One day while passing through the poorest area of a distant village he looked out the window of his carriage and saw a beautiful peasant girl. He immediately fell in love with her. But how could he win her hand without forcing her love?
He could command her to be his wife. But the prince wanted her to marry him freely. He could put on his most splendid clothes and drive up to the front door of her hut in a carriage drawn by six white horses. But if he did, he would never know whether the girl really loved him or his wealth. So, the prince came up with another solution. He put aside his royal garments and moved into the village, entering not with a crown but in the garb of a fellow peasant. He lived among the people and shared their poverty, hunger, and hard labor. Soon he met the young maiden but did not tell her that he was really a prince in disguise. She laughed with him, grew to love him deeply, willingly became his bride, and to her amazement, also his queen.
That is how Jesus, our true prince, “preferring to do nothing without our consent in order that our love might not be by compulsion but of our own free will,” (Philemon, 14), laid aside the royal garments of his divinity. He was born in a stable and raised in the poverty of Nazareth. He did not tell us right away who he really was. We grew to love him and, to our amazement, he revealed that we would be sharers in his heavenly kingdom and his divinity.
But there is something missing from Kierkegaard’s story about how Jesus came to win our love, namely, how much Jesus suffered for us. The life of a Jewish philosopher named Moses Mendelssohn can help us here. This wise grandfather of Felix Mendelssohn, the great composer of symphonies and concertos, is called a Jewish Socrates because of his brilliant mind. However, he had a physical handicap. He was a hunchback. As a young man he fell in love with the beautiful daughter of a prosperous banker. Mendelssohn visited the banker and asked to marry his daughter. The father hesitated, and then said, “The truth is, she is not attracted to you because you are a hunch back.” Mendelssohn was crushed. However, one day he asked to talk with her. She agreed but avoided looking at him during their conversation. He said many nice things and then casually asked if she believed that some marriages are made in heaven. “Yes,” she said. “Well a strange thing happened to me,” he replied. “When the time came for me to be born, the angels announced that you were to be my future wife. But, alas, they said you would be a hunch back. Then I cried, ‘Oh no, Lord! Let her be beautiful. If she is a hunch back she will be the object of jokes and people will shun her. Please, let the hump be on my back.’ And that is what happened.” She looked at Moses Mendelssohn with astonishment and was deeply moved by the depth of his love. She saw him in a whole new way, and willingly became his faithful, loving wife
So also, when Jesus sought to win our love, he saw how we were bent over from the weight of sins pressing upon our shoulders. There was no way we could ever be beautiful by our own power, so he lifted the great hump off our backs, and took our burden upon his own shoulders. He suffered so that we could be beautiful. We saw God in a whole new way and fell in love with him.
But there is still something missing from these allegories of Christ’s love for us, and that is the death of Jesus. Unlike Kierkegaard’s handsome prince and the life of Moses Mendelssohn, Christ died to win our love. When he took the weight of our sins upon himself, he stepped into harm’s way, and willingly endured the consequence of our sins, death itself. Now, how could we become one body with him whom we love, after he died and ascended into heaven?
Not long after World War Two, French Canadian Catholics planned an unusual memorial for their soldiers who had stepped into harm’s way and laid down their lives for family, friends and country. They went to a battlefield in France where so many had died and they sowed the field with wheat. At harvest time they gathered the wheat and made unleavened bread. Then they offered this bread in the Eucharistic to become united once again with their husbands, sons, and brothers, who are alive in Christ Jesus.1
When Jesus stood in harm’s way, and death robbed us of his presence, Jesus made death itself harmless by his resurrection, and then gave us the greatest gift of his love, his presence in the Eucharist. By changing bread and wine into his body and blood, Jesus is now present throughout the world for all time. In the Eucharist we can be united every day with the living body and blood, soul and divinity of the risen Jesus whom we love.
There is one more allegory to tell about Christ courting our love by his incarnation, his suffering, his death, and the gift of himself in the Eucharist. When Christ put himself in harm’s way, it was our own deeds that delivered the death blow. All he wanted was our love, and we put him to death. Now we love him, but we also weep for the harm we did, like the World War Two veteran who wrote this lament in 1964: “Though twenty years have died, it is always this morning that I [see] your handsome face of child-smooth cheeks, and eyes maiden blue. Did you see my trembling? Did you see before we spent our bullets dutifully, each upon the other, and mine bought your breath? Still now you sleep; and I long for the swift night, and a place beside you, [an end to my] constant tap of weeping.“2 When we have fallen asleep beside Christ, he will wake us and lift us up. He will reach out to our own child-smooth cheeks and wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will see him no longer under the appearances of bread and wine, but face to face, and we will kiss him whom our souls love.