Corpus Christi (B)
Today we are celebrating Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ, thanking God for his gift of the Eucharist. Addressing the young congregation in Corinth, St Paul defined the church in this way: “Think of us,” he says, “as servants of Christ and as stewards of the mysteries of God.” By the ‘mysteries of God,’ Paul meant the sacraments; so today we are celebrating the gift to us of these Holy Mysteries, and especially the sacred mystery that is the Eucharist.
God’s gift of himself in the Eucharist is inseparable from God’s gift of himself in the incarnate Word, Christ Jesus, who lived and died as one of us. We know that at a certain place and at a certain time in history, God gave his only begotten son “in order that the world might be saved through him.” In the Eucharist, God ensures that that gift of salvation was not something offered just that once, but is offered to us again and again in the Mass, the action of Holy Communion. Jesus saves! What does that bumper-sticker slogan actually mean? It means in and through Jesus, the Word made flesh, God invites us into a life shaped no longer by separation from God, but by communion with and in God’s eternal life.
We are ‘saved’ as our lives begin to be shaped by Communion rather than by separation. Remember the old list of the ‘capital sins’: greed, pride, wrath, sloth, envy, gluttony, tec. All these things are ‘sin’ because they turn us inward upon ourselves. They shape our lives therefore according to the belief that what I have defines what I am – and that sets up a system of competition and exclusion, fear that resources are scarce. In sin we act on the belief that I am my own private property, something I possess for myself. Sin thus separates us one from another. And what separates us from one another separates us from God, just as what separates us from God, separates us from each other. To believe that Jesus saves us from sin is to proclaim that Jesus invites us to share in God’s life, so that our lives might be shaped, no longer by what separates us, but by our Communion in God, Holy Communion.
Jesus saves, because by his life, death, and resurrection – by his sacrifice – he made himself the bridge joining our lives to God’s communal life. Jesus saves, because that bridge was made by his flesh and blood. Because God partook of our material life, God has made it possible for us to partake in his Spiritual life. Jesus saves because in the Eucharist, he offers us that bridge of his flesh and blood again and again: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life . . . (for) those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” These are surely some of the most difficult words ever spoken! And yet in them Jesus promises us in the most incarnate way possible what he promised his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Usually, the question of salvation gets framed in terms of something very individual, of whether or not I will go to heaven. We tend to think of heaven as the place where, when I die, I will go with all the other souls of saved individuals. These views tend to suite our politics of individual-responsibility and our economics of private property; and I suspect that is why they have hung on so persistently in the mind especially of the Church in North America. But if Christ came for the sake of Holy Communion, does it make sense to think of salvation as purely individual? What God has given us to understand in and through the gift of the Eucharist is that, just as Jesus became who he was by not grasping divinity for himself, but “emptying himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil. 2:6-7), so our own being is defined and given not by what we have, but by what we give. I become myself, in other words, only as I Love and participate in the community of love. I become who I truly am as I give myself – to God, to my neighbour whom God loves, and to the world which God creates and nurtures. I am, we are, individuals only in and through Holy Communion.
This is difficult for us to understand. We have been taught to think that we can give only what we already have – and so the first order of the day must be to get things, to accrue wealth or power etc. to myself. But through Holy Communion, God instructs us otherwise: we become who we truly are only as we give ourselves away in love. The story of the widow’s mite is an excellent example of this. The widow who had nothing was singled out by Jesus, was counted by God – was ‘saved’ in other words – as she gave from what she did not have rather than from what she had. To give from nothing, you see, is to live in faith: it is to proclaim in one’s actions: ‘it is not what I have, but what God provides that gives me life and makes me who I am. It is grace.’ To know this, to live by this faith, is salvation and Holy Communion.
All this may sound very theological, but it is also very practical. The Eucharist is at one at the same time both a gift from God and a sacrifice to God. As our ‘sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,’ we offer gifts of bread and wine and water, representing the most essential things for the sustenance of our bodies. These are as it were our widow’s mite for in them we acknowledge that what makes our life possible, full, and whole is not what we have to give, but we give only what we receive from God’s hand. We come to the altar, holding out our hands as mendicants, as one’s who have nothing except what God gives us to give, to receive the bread of life. And as Christ makes his body to dwell in our body, his blood in our blood, so we are united, all who partake of this bread, as one body. This is Holy Communion: All in Christ and Christ in all and all in all. Hallelujah!
Finally, we are sent from this place with the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Our Holy Communion spreads out in time and space. We are to love, to give ourselves to God and to one another and all whom God puts in our way. For that is eternal life – that service, that self-giving, is salvation.
So it is fitting that on the day we celebrate Corpus Christi that we honour Alana as she retires from long service heading up the Altar Guild. It is fitting not only because the main focus of her work and the work of the Altar Guild is to ready the altar and sanctuary for the celebration of Holy Communion. But it is a good day also and especially because she has given so much of herself to this work of love; and in that love God’s salvation has worked in and through her as grace, which we have all received. And so we give thanks to God for Alana today, and pray for the continuing stewardship of the mysteries of God here in this place. It is these gifts that make us who we are.