The Body and Blood of Christ

Happy Fathers Day! The word “father” or “dad” evokes many memories.  When I think of my own father, I think of certain qualities he possessed (qualities that all good fathers possess): love (he tried to do what was best for us), commitment (he stuck by us), support (he gave us as much as he could), forgiveness (he wasn’t afraid to say he’s sorry), communication (he listened to us, especially around the dinner table), spirituality (we went to church together as often as we could), and we spent time together. So let's thank God for our “dads.” I invite all fathers to stand for our applause.

How many remember Yogi Berra? The legendary Yankees catcher is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I recently saw a book of his titled “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said.” For example, “It ain’t over til it’s over; ninety percent of the game is half mental; You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six.” When asked about a popular restaurant, he said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Finally, a quintessential Yogi-ism: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”  Enjoyable summer reading, Yogi Berra’s book.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving,” thanksgiving to God for the gift of salvation, for the gift of living in relationship with God forever.

First, a statistic.  Of 7.3 billion people living on this planet, over 800 million go to bed hungry every night. In other words, imagine seven people at a table: three load up their plates; two get enough; one goes to bed undernourished; and the seventh goes to bed on an empty stomach. But not only do people hunger simply for bread; many hunger for peace and human rights and truth and God.  Check the media for the evidence.

So what is the role of the Eucharist. The meal table for many is the center of family life. In our global Catholic family, the altar or table of the Lord is the center of our faith community. Think about it.

In some cultures of antiquity,  there was a sense of the sacred around the family meal. Life was sacred, and that which nourished life was, therefore, holy as well. At meals they would remember how God had entered their lives and blessed them. Within the simple ritualistic act of eating and drinking, these families celebrated the mysteries of life; marriage, the birth of a child, and at the death of a loved one, they would proclaim a belief in immortality by gathering around the table and setting a place for the deceased.

There are numerous opportunities in our own lives for such special and sacred meals: birthdays, anniversaries, marriages, graduations and great holiday feasts like Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter. The occasions are as numerous as our imaginations will allow.

The family table is the place where people often gather in love and friendship and conversation; it stands at the center of home. So too the altar or table of the Lord stands at the center of church.

What does the word of God have to say to us on this feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ?

The word takes us back to the wanderings of the Hebrews in the wilderness after their escape or exodus from their oppressors. Moses experienced the glory or presence of God at Mt. Sinai, and renewed the covenant God made with the Hebrews. Here the author of Deuteronomy noted the hunger of these Hebrews: not only for food but for God. And God provided. As we think of their hunger, think of the hunger of so many people today. Moses here proclaims that we need God’s word to satisfy our spiritual hunger as much as we need food to satisfy our physical hunger. As we reflect on God’s care, we might give thanks to God for his care for us.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece speaks about the presence of the Risen Christ not only in the bread we break but also in one another. We are all one human family. The Eucharist symbolizes our oneness with one another. Unfortunately the reality often is the opposite.
In the Gospel, Jesus says that he is the bread of life. And whoever eats this bread, has eternal life. This “I am” saying is one of the seven “I am” sayings in John that alludes to the divinity of Jesus.

The word of God today focuses on three historical moments: the 13th century before the Christian era, the first decade of our Christian era, and 2017. Each is an exodus, a going out.
First, the Hebrew exodus in the 13th century. The escape of the Hebrews was a wonder of wonders.  Their passage over the sea of reeds is a prototype of liberation from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from subjection to redemption. That is why, in the Seder service, faithful Jewish families proclaim: “Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise...and adore the God who did all of these miracles.” Each Seder or Passover meal thereafter becomes a feast of hope for a messiah who will come.

Second, the first century exodus. Paul speaks of a tradition handed on: the saving word he “received from the Lord.” The lamb God ordered the Hebrews to eat prefigures “the lamb who takes away the sins of the world,” Jesus Christ. The bread and wine is the real presence of the living Christ, “flesh and blood,” given for and to us. Jesus' last supper is the beginning of his own exodus or “going out” from this earthly life to his heavenly Father. This passage is marked with blood, thorns, spittle, lashes, and nails in his hands and feet. Hence, to eat and drink is to “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.” Each Eucharist “is a feast of hope which deepens our messianic expectation”: the messiah will come again at the end-time.

Third, our exodus in 2017. In another Johannine passage Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at his last supper and says: “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do.”

The purpose of the Eucharist is to form us into a vibrant faith community. Yes, the Eucharist is the real presence of the living Christ, sacramentally and mystically. But the Eucharist is an empty gesture unless we go out from the table of the Lord to feed the hungry. We are called to go from church to community in order to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, so to speak. To paraphrase an old hymn: Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today...We must be present to others, where they are, in ways that respond to their needs. Then we will experience our own exodus: the messiah will come to us and we will bring the messiah to others. And when this happens, we will experience, like the Hebrews centuries before, a wonder anew.

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