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Come to the Table: A Homily for The Feast of Corpus Christi

By Sr. Doreen, SSJD.

Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34 Psalm 116: 10-17 I Corinthians 11: 23 – 26 Luke 22: 7-20

This feast day found its way into the life of the Church around the 13th century, proposed by St Thomas Aquinas, and according to folklore history in the company of many very interesting people, including a group of woman led by a Juliana de Cornilon, a 13th century Nobertine Cannoness and the history of that time.  It was felt that it was important to create a feast day focused solely on the joy of the Holy Eucharist – as Holy Week and Maundy Thursday in particular was surrounded by so many other events.

So today I would like to invite you to this day – the Feast of Corpus Christi – in the Invitation words of the Liturgy  for Holy Communion from the Iona Community:

“Jesus was always the guest.  In the home of Peter and Jairus, Martha and Mary, Joanna and Susanna, he was always the guest.  At the meal tables of the wealthy when he pled the cause of the poor, he was always the guest.  Upsetting polite company, befriending isolated people, welcoming the stranger, he was always the guest. But here, at this table – today – he is the host.”

We heard the prophetic words from Jeremiah:  God saying “this is the brand-new covenant that I will make with your ancestors when the time comes.  I will put my law within them – write it on their hearts! -and be their God.  And they will be my people – it wasn’t to be like the old covenant.

As they are eating the traditional Passover food and drink, renewing the covenant God has made with Moses, Jesus makes a significant religious change in Passover theology.  Instead of renewing the old covenant, Jesus establishes a new covenant with his followers.  He transforms the Passover meal into the Lord’s supper.  Jesus shows them a ritual they can re-enact again and again to reaffirm the new covenant.  It is designed to provide them with a continuous supply of food and drink for their spiritual health and growth.  It is a totally new kind of nourishment.  The bread that Jesus gives is not just food for the body, but food for our hearts and our souls, bringing everlasting life.  It is the gift of God’s very own self, coming to us and never leaving us – with us always.  This is my body – it is Jesus saying “This is me, my very own self, broken for you.

The wine that Jesus gives is not just drink for the body, but for our hearts and our souls, bringing everlasting life.  It is the gift of God’s very own self, coming to us and never leaving us – with us always.  This is my blood – it is Jesus saying “This is me, my very own self, laid down in love for us.  This sustenance nourishes them with the fullness of life.

To take this bread and this wine is to receive God into our lives and into our hearts, making us one with God – it is a Holy Communion – a communion of mutual and everlasting love.

As human beings one the most precious things we can give one another is our complete understanding and support, each day and each moment as we are able, with all our perceived limitations included.  As we make this simple here-and-now contact with one another, we share real embodiment.  Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when, in breaking the bread and sharing the wine the night before he died, he said, “This is my body, this is my blood.”  Jesus may also have been directing the disciples back to simple, human concerns:  the need to feed someone who is hungry, to visit someone who is sick or in prison.  Jesus pushes us beyond an introverted spirituality to consider everything in our dealings with others – by feeding, by caring for each other.

The Jewish Passover meal looks backward, commemorating a past event – the exodus from Egypt.   The Lord’s Supper looks forward.  It is not focused on the past.  It is all about the future.  As Christ’s body grows it will need sustenance to keep progressing.  This is what Jesus envisions during that supper – Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper to bring the necessary nourishment of his body and blood into their regular meetings as they share this divine food with each other.  It is the means of continuing to grow into the fullness of life (salvation) and to be transformed gradually to become more like Jesus in mind and heart, to continue to bring the kingdom of God into our world and our life together.

St Paul in the 1 Corinthian reading understood the Eucharist’s future purpose – the continual need of eucharistic nourishment.  We heard St Paul telling the people how the Lord’s supper was so centrally important, and that they were to be drawn to it again and again until the end of time.  It is to nurture the health and future of the people of God in this world.

It is not simply a reminder of a past event, Jesus passion and death, but a call to us to focus also on the future life of the people of God.  On the cross Jesus words “It is finished” – this is a triumphant statement of the completion of his earthly work, but it is only the beginning of God’s much longer evolutionary work of building the kingdom of God on earth – something we pray for several times every day in the Lord’s prayer … your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

For St Paul and also with St Augustine the idea that each time we celebrate the Eucharist, it is another Christmas – God in whom we live, who is at home with us, is born again each day on Earth – on the altar during the Eucharist – this is the great mystery of the Lord of the universe.  In the Eucharist – as the bread and wine are held up – God is saying to us “this is me, this is my very own self which is given and broken for you.”   God has come to earth to become one with humanity – Jesus is sharing that vision with his friends as he speaks to them on that solemn night – as he speaks to us today.

We – the Christian community – must go, I believe,  through many stages of evolution of consciousness before the human family can renew the face of the Earth in love.  It is an ongoing journey of learning through many ups and downs along the way.  Jesus recognises the ongoing need for growth in his followers.  So, Jesus provides food and drink for the long journey to fulfillment.  St Paul recognises this in the 1 Corinthian reading when he tells the people “to keep on doing this” nourishing yourselves with his body and blood in your assemblies until the end of time. 

Jesus paints a totally different picture of God and God’s kingdom – a God who is welcoming, forgiving, loving – a God who is present, nearby, all around us.  In the Eucharist , God becomes totally immediate and accessible within our own bodies and minds.  God’s love becomes intimately available.  This is the mystery and the joy of the Eucharistic gift.

A new covenant was made – God became flesh and blood in order to bring divine love to life.  It is a covenant in which God agreed to do everything.  When we hold up the bread and the cup and offer what is in it as the food and drink of love and forgiveness – “Here”, God says,  “the gift of Myself, it is my gift to you, let my life become your life, through the food and drink of this covenant.”

Barbara Taylor makes the following comment, after saying that we do not live for ourselves alone:  “Inside of us, God rides our bloodstreams straight to our hearts where the covenant is written:  I shall be your God and you shall be my people.”

And indeed we become the Body of Christ –

and as St Teresa says:

“Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes.  You are his Body – Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

In joy and thanksgiving for the gift of the Holy Eucharist, I would like to end with the Festival Preface from the Iona Liturgy:

“Since you have called us, since you have kept a place for us, since your face lights up when we sit at your table,
Gracious God, how can we keep from singing?
When deep down … despite the contradictions, we know, we sense, we believe that life is good; when one of your words rings truer than ever before, when in one unexpected moment we are given a glimpse of your kingdom, Gracious God, how can we keep from singing?
In this community where prayer has been made for many years, in this community where so many different people have found their common bond in your call and purpose, in this community where the walls are waiting to echo your praise, Gracious God, how can we keep from singing?”

Therefore with the Church, the Body of Christ, throughout the world, with the Church, the Body of Christ, on the other side of time, with those who once praised you here and have now joined the closer harmony of heaven, we sing the song of your everlasting praise:  Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.

And with the Psalmist there is no response but to also ask:  What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me?  I’ll lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God!  I’ll pray in the name of God; I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with God’s people.