Sixteen hundred years ago a Bishop of Jerusalem addressed some converts. On the Holy Communion that they were to receive for the first time. He said, “When you come up to receive, make your left hand a throne for the right. For it is about to receive a King. Cup your palm and so receive the Body of Christ, then answer ‘amen.’ Take care not to lose part of it; such a loss would be like a mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast. Not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer.”
Sixteen centuries later, we gather here to do what the Christians of Jerusalem did and what the Apostles did in the upper room three centuries before that. On this special feast called Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, we shall do what the Lord commanded, take and eat, take and drink. Today in this church, the first century, the fourth, and the twenty-first come together. The details differ, from the supper room to the church of the Bishop of Jerusalem to this church.
But the reality is the same, the basic truth that was expressed simply and profoundly by Jesus. “This is My Body, this is My Blood.” Incredible words that not all could accept. Jesus once told His followers, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.” For many of His disciples, this was too much. They drew back and no longer walked with Him. How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?
Down through the ages great minds have asked this question and have responded with more bad arguments than good. Again, we turn to the Bishop of Jerusalem in his sermon on the Eucharist. He said, “Do not judge the reality by what you see and touch and taste. Judge by your unwavering faith for when the Master Himself has, explicitly said, ‘This is My Body, this is My Blood’ will anyone still dare to doubt?” This is the Eucharistic truth that the bread and wine are really the Body and Blood of Christ.
And, that this Eucharist gives life. St. Paul would echo this when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We become what we receive, Christ and I become one.” What should that say to us in our daily lives, what does this mean? At Graymoor, we have an HIV/AIDS support group in which a member became sick and had to be hospitalized. I set up a group visit and we all met in the city on a hot day and proceeded by subway uptown to the hospital. I thought that I noticed that we were getting some strange stares.
Then I happened to see our reflection in the subway train window. John, wearing a tank top is covered in tattoos with a ponytail. Sue, used to be lady of the streets and has changed her way of life. But not her wardrobe. Max, a Hispanic biker, head to toe in leather and chains. Peter, who is black but has blond hair and myself in a black suit and collar. The hospital visit was very painful because Dennis died while we were there.
As we came out of the hospital, we were all torn apart. Sue suggested we go to the nearest church for mass and communion. I looked behind me and they were all there. After communion, I was amazed to see them sit there holding hands. That group was different in so many ways but united by tragedy. And at that moment united by the Lord in the Eucharist. It was only then that I remembered that John was not catholic, when we came out of the church, John said, “something happened in there, I feel so close to Dennis and it feels so good that we are together. I’m not scared anymore.”
He just made his First Communion and already he got the message. They had become what they received, the Body of Christ. Ask some questions and after receiving the Eucharist for so many years, has it made a difference? Or has it become mundane, ordinary? Do I prepare to receive this gift, think about it?
Or do I just get in line because everyone is doing it. Does it make a difference in my day to day life? Again this week when we receive the Lord the Minister will say, the Body of Christ. I invite you again to say “Amen, Amen.” Amen….yes, I believe in Christ is present and Amen to my commitment to become what I receive. Come forth in wonder and gratitude for such a great gift and recall the words of the Psalmist, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
As the world returns to the “new normal” and we slowly recover from the fears of a global pandemic, let us remember that the Son of Man gave us His Flesh to eat, His Blood to drink, and St. Paul who reminds us that we become what we receive; Christ and I can become one. Let it provide us with tranquility and inspire us to embrace the new way of the world.
Today as you come forward to receive your Lord and Savior, can you say to Him, “This is my body given for you?” Can you echo the words of Mary, “Be it done unto me according to your word?”