Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
[Scripture Readings: Deut 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58]
If you were going to a fancy dinner or banquet there are certain things you would expect. Certain minimum expectations such as clean table cloths. You would be rightfully shocked if the table cloths were spotted or blemished. Also, if this was a formal affair you would want the clothes you wear to be spotless — no wrinkles. There are certain occasions that call for the best, no spots, not blemishes and no wrinkles. Now this is only for the most special occasions. We might be asking for trouble if we expected our daily life to be spotless and wrinkle proof. Or worse, if we demanded our personal life to be spotless—perfect. We are just not capable of living this way. In fact it is not healthy to expect it of ourselves. It is a mark of a mature person that they can incorporate into their personality the blemishes of human nature and be at peace about it. Owning our whole self means not denying our wrinkled and blemished self. This is good psychology.
If we translate this principle into a theological statement we would say, we are redeemed sinners. These words fall easily off our lips, but it is not so easy to reconcile sin and grace in our life. It is not easy to find the balance between guilt, repentance and forgiveness. We would much rather bury our guilt and focus on grace. How can the experience of alienation and reconciliation exist in the same person?
The first reading this morning can help us find an answer. It was taken from the book of Deuteronomy—the story of the sojourn in the desert. Deuteronomy presents this forty year period as an ordeal, a test. “Remember the long road by which the Lord your God led you for forty years in the desert, to humble you and to test you and know your inmost heart,”. The prophets on the other hand saw the forty years in the desert as a golden age when the people were very close to God. “I will lead (Israel) into the desert and speak to her heart,” says Hosea, . Then the priestly authors of the Book of Numbers present the desert time as a punishment, . We might ask, “Which is it”? It can’t be all three. But it is. The desert sojourn was all three to Israel. It was a time of testing, a time of punishment and a time of intimacy with God.
Just so is our life. We combine a lot of seemingly contradictory elements into our personality. We love and we hate, we sin and repent, we are humble and we are self serving. We are not one dimensional people. This is why the Church keeps us honest by beginning each Eucharist with a confession of sin. Confession, however, is not an end in itself, it leads to communion which in turn leads back to community.
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi highlights the last two movements. Communion and community. If we put it in terms of the desert period we would choose the prophetic model. The desert as the place of communion with God. The time when God led the people daily and fed them and cared for them. The Blessed Sacrament is our time with God in Jesus. It is the only time in the year when we process with the consecrated host around the grounds of the monastery. In some parishes there is a procession through the streets of the neighborhood. It is as if to say Jesus is with us, guiding us and leading, present with us not only in Church but in our everyday life. Jesus in the Sacrament of the altar is the communion that comes after confession.
Confession, communion, community, the Eucharist unites these three moments in our life. The second reading declares, “So we, although there are many of us, are a single body, for we share in the one loaf,”. Communion in the one body of Christ makes of us one community. This is what distinguishes pagan temples from Christian churches. The temples of antiquity were places where the deity lived. Christian churches are where the community worships. The assembly is the sign of the body of Christ. Since we receive the same bread which is the body of Christ we though many are one body in Christ.
The Gospel spells out the moment of communion. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person,”. Each Eucharist is a completed offering and receiving. However, we are not complete. We are in formation, being built into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. Jesus lives in us and we live in him. We can ask with Nicodemus how this can be and Jesus will give us the same answer, “Unless you are born of the Spirit you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven,” .
Each day at the Eucharist Jesus is born in our hearts—he in us and we in him. Day after day we grow into him, we become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit until our life passes completely into his life at death.