The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

During this past week, as some of you may
know, the Catholic bishops of the United States gathered for our
semi-annual meeting. One of the topics on the agenda was a report from the
committee on that very divisive question that arose almost two years ago
during the election about denying Holy Communion to people, determining
that some people are not worthy to come forward and accept the Body and
Blood of Jesus. Thankfully, the report came to a moderate conclusion, and
there is going to be a very real attempt that we won’t be trying to
exclude people from coming forward to receive the Eucharist.

But if we listen closely to the Scriptures today and try to get a deep
understanding of what the Holy Eucharist really is, we will understand, I
think. The scriptures today reflect the idea that the Eucharist is most of
all the living presence of Jesus. To think of the Eucharist as a kind of
prize that you earn, that you make yourself worthy to receive the Body and
Blood of Jesus -- that’s a very wrong approach, a wrong understanding of
the Eucharist. It leads us to the idea that we put Jesus in the tabernacle
and we worship him and that’s the sacrament of the Body and Blood of

But, again, if we really listen to the Scriptures today, we’ll
understand that what we celebrate today is not simply the living presence
of Jesus under the form of bread and wine, as marvelous as that is. What
this feast really is and what we must do today is make it this -- it’s an
action. The Eucharist isn’t a thing; it’s an action. We have to come, to
gather together as we do on Sundays, as a community of disciples of Jesus
and do an action.

That’s what those people were doing at Sinai in our first lesson today.
When you listen carefully to this account you will immediately see that
the very words that are used here are the words that Jesus uses when he
celebrates the Passover meal for the last time with his disciples. “Moses
came and told the people all the words of Yahweh and his law. Moses read
all the message that God had given. The people listened and replied with
one voice, ‘Everything that Yahweh has said, we shall do.’ ” We come
together to celebrate the Eucharist and the first thing we do is try to
listen to God’s Word, and we should be responding just as those people did
-- “Everything that God says, we shall do.” We make a commitment to
listen, to commit ourselves to follow what God has said. And then after
they had done that, they had the sacrifice and gathered together the blood
of the slaughtered animals.

To us, this probably not a very helpful sign, but if we put ourselves
in the perspective of those people of thousands and thousands of years
ago, blood was actually for them life. Because they could see that when
someone bled, lost his or her blood, the person died -- the life went out
of the person. For them this was a very clear image of life, and so when
Moses took that blood and sprinkled part of it on the altar they had
built, which was a sign of God’s presence, and the other part on the
people, Moses was saying, “We’re making a covenant. The life of God is our
life; our life is the life of God. We are bound together through the same
life.” I’m sure that was a very powerful experience for those people, to
think that God’s life was sprinkled upon them -- the life which was
sprinkled on the altar which was God. The same life was given to them.
“And then Moses took the book and read again, in the hearing of all the
people, and they said again, ‘All that Yahweh said we shall do and obey.’
Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying, ‘Here is
the blood of the covenant that God has made with you in accordance with
all these words.’” And so they had entered into a powerful, life-giving
covenant with God.

At the Last Supper, Jesus does the very same thing. Passover meal, part
of it was to read the scripture, and then Jesus performed the ritual of
taking the cup of wine, and the words that we hear every time we come
together to celebrate the Eucharist, “This is the cup of my blood, the
blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for
all.” What should be our response? When we come forward to receive the
Eucharist, what do we say? “Amen!” Maybe many times we say that without a
deep awareness of what we’re saying. That word means “yes.” So we are
saying in effect what those chosen people said. “Everything that God says,
we will do.” We make a commitment; we enter into a covenant with God. It’s
an action.

Obviously we don’t come forward only when we’re perfect; when we have
no faults or failures or sin, because then we would never enter into that
covenant. And so we come forward as we are. But we also make the
commitment that we’re going to try to listen to God’s Word and follow it;
be committed, enter into a covenant with God through Jesus. A very
important part of this covenant is the fact that Jesus offers it to all.
“This is the cup of my blood, given for all.”

Also at the Last Supper, Jesus took his own cup. Ordinarily at the
Passover meal, every person would have a cup in front of them, and each
one would drink from his or her own cup, but Jesus said, “This is the cup
of my blood,” and he passed it around -- everybody drank from the same
cup. It’s a way of showing how we become one in Jesus. This has a very
important significance I think, and it came up in a way, again during the
bishops’ meeting. If we consider ourselves made one with Christ, with God
in Jesus, through the Eucharist, then we are one with all people of all
times of all places. There are no geographical limitations, no temporal
limitations. Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever. It is the
same Body of Jesus now and always.

How that came up in the bishop’s meeting was connected with the
terrible tragedy within our church -- the sex scandal. I was at a meeting
with one group of bishops who were responsible for trying to oversee our
response to this. As often happens, and maybe you thought this too, some
were saying, “Well, it’s unjust if we have to offer extraordinary
compensation. People today have to pay for the sins from the past.” But
that’s only if you think of the church as kind of a corporation, and we’re
the current stockholders, other people were stockholders before. If you
think of the church as the Body of Christ, doesn’t that make everything
different? We’re the same Body of Christ -- of a generation ago or 10
generations ago. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. And so
we, as the Body of Christ, should be deeply involved in trying to resolve
the crisis that still exists in our church, and understand that even if it
takes extra effort and sacrifice for us to repair the harm that was done
decades ago, because we are the Body of Jesus, and we made this covenant
with God in Jesus, it would be just and right for us to make that
compensation in so far as we can.

Another thing that we need to think about when we say our “Amen,” when
we come forward to receive the Eucharist, is that we are saying “yes” to
the Word of God. What a striking example those chosen people were in the
desert -- “Everything that God says, we will do.” How does God speak to
us? The Word of God is Jesus. And so every time we receive the Eucharist
we say, “Amen.” We are saying “yes” to Jesus, to all that Jesus preaches,
to all that Jesus is, the very Word of God. And we don’t come forward only
when we’re fully healed, we come forward when we need to be drawn more
deeply into the way of Jesus. We don’t say “Yes, I’ve done it.” We say,
“Yes, I will try to listen to the Word of God in Jesus and follow Jesus as
faithfully as possible.”

My hope this morning is that as we celebrate this Feast of the Body and
Blood of Jesus we will remember, yes, it is the living presence of God in
Jesus, under the form of bread and wine, and we will have profound respect
and reverence, but even more, we will remind ourselves that as we receive
the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are saying “Amen” -- “Yes, we want to
enter into this covenant where God is our God, we are God’s people.” Where
we are willing to say “yes” to everything God tells us in Jesus. It’s a
very important and extraordinary commitment that we make. And yes we ought
not to just casually jump forward and receive the Eucharist. No we must
come forward to receive it with a determination to make our “yes”
authentic and real so that we leave our church building, go back into our
daily lives, ready to live according to every Word that God’s speaks, all
of it contained in Jesus.

Amen! I hope everyone will say that with determination and conviction
this morning as we come forward to receive the Eucharist -- the Body of
Christ, the Blood of Christ. Amen. [Congregation says,

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