Homily for Corpus Christi

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Corpus Christi.  A feast celebrating the feast.
Thanksgiving for the Eucharist itself.
A recognition that the Body of Christ, the Church,
is in constant need of nourishment.

A feast of the church which didn’t become part of the calendar
until the 13th Century,
but it recognises something that was fundamental to the Church
from the very earliest of days.
That there wasn’t a feast before this time is for the same reason
that John’s Gospel has no Last Supper account like the other three:
its reality and experience and symbolism permeates the whole.

Eucharist…  The breaking of the bread has been,
from that evening on the road to Emmaus,
central to the Church’s common life.
Jesus used the breaking of bread, the feeding of multitudes,
as a parable of God’s goodness, of God’s hospitality, and of community itself.

The Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper
is the centre of the life of the Baptised.
While undervalued or sidelined by some traditions,
it is with Baptism the common thread of all who call themselves “Christian”.
The whole Body of Christ.

This is where we encounter the God who is beyond our language,
beyond our thought and our imagination.
Yet placed into our hands as free gift and Saviour,
tangible, present, incarnate.
Somehow in this mystery we meet in the particular,
this unleavened bread and this watered wine,
the absolute, the infinite wonder of God.
Like the Children of Israel we might ponder this manna.
Manna:  literal meaning: “what is it”?

What are we doing here?
We are touching a holy mystery, certainly.
We are, at our Lord’s command, remembering.
Anamnesis is the Greek word,
and it is what essentially all traditions within Christianity agree on
as at least part of what the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is about.

We are remembering.
But we are not merely in this present moment
calling to mind what has happened –
as we might remember childhood, or last week –
but we are re-membering –
participating in the embodying again in our action and presence,
Christ.  God among us.  God incarnate.

That most holy and wholly improbable and impractical thing we believe –
that God, that same God who created and sustains the universe,
that God reaches out to us and meets us in human form,
embraces our experience,
meets us here in elements as common as bread and wine.
And that by being aware of this presence, by anamnesis
and the work of the Spirit, we somehow enter into the mystery of God.

So, what does it mean for each of us, day by day, week by week,
to receive the Body and Blood of Christ?
This I would not presume to know.
St. Augustine in the 5th century said
“It is your mystery, the mystery of your life
that has been placed on the altar.”

Yet something draws us to this Sacrament, outwardly bread and wine,
but inwardly nourishing us where my and your need is.
An inexpressible expression of the God of the universal and the particular.

We are, simultaneously, in the Eucharist, in and out of time.
One with the whole Body of Christ – called literally Corpus Christi –
the Church living and dead.  The Church yet to be.
As we take the Sacrament
we are touching promise, presence and hope: past, present, future
to the One who holds all things together.
We tell the story of our salvation, in our Creation and our calling,
in Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross for our salvation,
in the knowledge that God nourishes and transforms our lives still, in the Spirit.

Christ, present in the Eucharist, makes all alive to him:
in life and in death and in life yet to be,
in fortifying us here and in foretasting heaven,
within these walls, and into the whole world,
in common wine and bread, broken and shared
in sacred symbol of hospitality, solidarity, sustenance and feast.

Dom Gregory Dix, English Anglican Benedictine, wrote 60 years ago:
[He] told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning
‘for the anamnesis’ of Him, and they have done it always since.
Was ever another command so obeyed?

For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country
and among every race on earth, this action has been done,
in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need
from infancy and before it,  to extreme old age and after it,
from the pinnacles of earthly greatness
to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning
and for criminals going to the scaffold;
for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat;
for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation
or for a sick old woman afraid to die;
for a schoolboy sitting an examination
or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
in thankfulness because my father did not die…
because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
…  for the settlement of a strike;   for a son for a barren woman; …
while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;   on the beach at Dunkirk; …
tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
furtively, by an exiled bishop
who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc —
one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this,
and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month,
on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly,
across all the parishes of Christendom, the presbyters have done this
just to make the plebs sancta Dei — the holy common people of God.

This very morning I did this with a set of texts
which has not changed by more than a few syllables since St Augustine …
used those very words at Canterbury … in the summer after he landed in 598.

Yet ‘this’ can still take hold of a man’s life and work with it.

May we, women and men, members of the Body of Christ,
know that for ourselves,
as we receive and adore Christ in the Holy Sacrament.  AMEN.


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