Last week we spent time trying to get our minds and hearts around the concept of the Trinity—One God in Three Persons. I suggested that a better way to understand our God who gives prodigally to us is through the heart. In understanding the theology of Corpus Christi, which is, The Body of Christ or as the feast is now more formally titled, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but for simplicity, we will stick with the more familiar, Corpus Christi; I would suggest that again we try to leave logical thinking and reasoning behind and enter this mystery too through our hearts.
Three years ago, I used a story about my Dad to help us make sense of this mystery of physical presence and I’d like to repeat that here today as a good model for us. My Dad died in 1986, 30 years ago in August. For the last year and a half of his life, he lived at Lake Winona Manor on the first floor in Room 105. In those days; it was called the C &R Unit—the C & R stood for Convalescence and Rehabilitation. It’s curious when I think about it now—he was not convalescing, nor was he being physically rehabilitated; he was dying the slow death of people with emphysema and congestive heart disease.
Even though he couldn’t get physically better, the rehabilitation that I saw going on for him was in a spiritual way. For the first time in his life; he was given the opportunity of time—time to reflect on what was really important in life and I believe he grew closer to God, to Jesus, his brother, as a result. He also made it his mission to know who his “neighbors” were in the Unit and to be as kind as he was able, to them.
For all intents and purposes, Room 105 became my Dad’s home for the last year and a half of his life—this was where I went to spend time with him, to reflect on all that life had been for us and our family. After he died, in the first weeks of grieving his loss; I had the strange sense that if I wanted to see him; I could go to Room 105 and find him. Intellectually I knew this was wrong, but on the heart level, it seemed right.
In relationship to this feast, it strikes me that Jesus, in giving us the Eucharist, may have been on the same wave length—using it as a way to remain close once he was no longer physically present. The bread and wine doesn’t look like Jesus, but it is Jesus, just the same, in our need to have him close—still a part of our lives. Just like room 105 had become the place where I could find my Dad, the Eucharist is the place where we can find Jesus in a tangible way and be comforted and strengthened by that presence.
We might ask in this line of thinking if the Eucharist has purpose other than comfort. I believe that Jesus always meant for the Eucharist to be a starting place—the place to receive our strength and then move on into our world, pick up the pieces of life and carry on with all that he taught us—to share all that he gave us with the world of people that we meet each and every day.
In my preparation for this homily today, as I was reading and praying over the Gospel, it came to me what a gift Jesus gave to the people gathered and he started from something so small, a few loaves and fishes. It struck me that if we each took seriously our mission and call to be his followers, what great things we could do in this world, starting from our small places, our own “loaves and fishes.”
Jesus no doubt intended that we would see and feel his presence within the community here gathered, because if we don’t or can’t see and feel him here, then we can never truly know his presence in the bread and wine either. In fact, Karl Rahner has said that the presence of Christ in the community gathered precedes the possibility of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements. It would seem, we can’t have one without the other!
In addition, Edward Schillebeeckx stresses the importance of seeing Christ’s presence as ultimately not toward the bread and wine, but toward the community. He goes on, “If participants want to understand the Eucharist as sacrament, they should understand themselves first as the Body of Christ.” In this sense, as a wise person once said, and a paraphrase, the Eucharist is really not a static word, a noun, but an action word, a verb, and not to see it this way misses the main point of what the Eucharist is all about.
I always struggle with this homily each year because of those who receive it and wanting to be true to what many of us learned in our growing years concerning transubstantiation, yet wanting too, to stretch us a bit past that notion of worshipping Jesus’ gift of his life in the elements of the altar to moving us out into the community and seeing, truly seeing his body and blood in the faces and life experiences of all we meet each and every day. My fear with the older theology of transubstantiation is that it has the tendency to plant us in front of the tabernacle, the altar, instead of the community.
Indeed, the Eucharist was always meant to be a starting place, not an ending place. This is why we say at the conclusion of our liturgies, “Let our service begin or continue!” And, just like Room 105—at some point, I needed to re-engage in life, to come to terms with my loss, to carry all that my Dad meant to me into my life going forward—he would continue to live on now through my life and my siblings’ lives—through our families—every time we remembered him and chose to live out what he taught us. When I perform funeral liturgies I always remind the grieving families that they honor their loved one best when they carry on in their own lives what their loved ones taught them about right living.
For Jesus’ followers, all of us, it is all about fulfilling his mission. Jesus has called all his followers to be his presence in their communities—for us specifically, to see his presence in the greater family of our world—to do all that we can to see that Jesus continues to have a body; eyes and ears, mind and heart in our world. And we will continue to need the comfort of the Eucharist, the strength of the bread and wine blessed, the unity of the community where Jesus truly becomes present by our collective words and gives us the strength then to take him into the wider community.
In our first reading from Genesis, the old is tied to the new—Melchizadek, an ancient king and priest, in offering bread and wine prefigures Jesus’ offering of his body and blood, his life in its entirety to God for us so that we might know how to do the same.
In the Gospel from Luke, Jesus takes the opportunity of a very large group of physically hungry people to teach his apostles and disciples a greater truth—that he will always be with us to care for all of our needs—to show us primarily that we are loved and that no matter what befalls us, our God will be near. The feeding of the 5,000 exemplifies the prodigality of our God’s love for us—our God is wasteful with love. We read, “They all ate until they were full; and when the leftovers were gathered, there were twelve baskets full.” Again, we marvel that he began with five loaves and two fish!
Jesus is always teaching us a greater truth—I have come into this world to live your life, to share my life with you—the very life of God! I have come to show that you can begin with seemingly little and do great and wonderful things for my people—for my body. Each of us makes up Christ’s body—we are his flesh and blood for our world. When we partake in the Eucharistic bread; we are transformed into Eucharistic bread for that same world, Diane Bergant says. When we partake of the Eucharistic wine; we become the lifeblood of Jesus, following his example in service, in sacrifice, for our sisters and brothers. We give Jesus the greatest honor and glory, along with the Creator and the Spirit, not in our worship of the bread and wine on the table as an end in itself, but in giving honor, respect, mercy, love, working for justice for the “bread and wine, body and blood of Jesus” in our world. We honor and praise what the words of consecration do—making Jesus fully present in the form of bread and wine, signaling the next step for us—of taking his flesh and blood into our world through our bodies which become with our reception, Eucharistic bodies.
And of course, it doesn’t happen by magic—we must make a conscious effort to live our lives in such a way as to continue his life of love and service in our world. We see the “wasteful” giving of love to the 5,ooo—we are expected too, not to just give when convenient or give what is left-over, but to give in abundance, “wastefully”—generously.
It only makes sense rejoicing over the goodness of our God in Jesus if it compels us to give likewise. We may not physically be able to meet every need—but we can be a listener, a supporter, a friend to all. If we can’t help, perhaps we know of someone who can—maybe we can right a wrong by making others aware—writing a letter, standing up for the truth when we hear the lies that incriminate our sisters and brothers.
The feast of Corpus Christi holds great significance for each of us if we allow its deeper message to arise to the light of day. Each time we say the words here, celebrating that Jesus is fully present within our community; we recall the covenant that our prodigal God made with the People of God from all time—a covenant made perfect in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ—our Brother and Friend. We, as his body and blood now, for our world, must move into that world and let our service begin!