Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi (literally the Body of Christ), a day set aside in the church year to thank God for the gift of the Eucharist. And on this day, when we are once again permitted to receive in both kinds – both bread and wine – if we choose to – it seems more appropriate than ever before.
The feast of Corpus Christi began in the 13th Century when a Roman Catholic nun received a vision of a bright full moon, with one dark blot on it. God told her the moon represented the brightness of the celebrations in the church year, and the blot remained because there was no celebration for the beginnings of the Eucharist. She shared this with her friend, who conveniently went on to become Pope, and this celebration was added to the church year in 1264.
This morning’s gospel reading tells us, repeatedly, that Jesus’ flesh and blood is real food and drink; it nourishes, builds us up, satisfies us, and that is the foundation of our holy meal.
In each mass we are invited to come to this altar hungry. In it we are physically and spiritually fed – given food for the journey. But here’s the thing, as we consume the Christ, so we discover we become more hungry, not less. We become hungrier, because our encounter with Christ causes us to see there are people in this world who can’t fill their cupboards or family’s bellies today, even in this neighbourhood. And as we are fed, we become hungrier to help others; because the world is hungry – physically starving, and emotionally, mentally and spiritually hungry too. So, in this sacrament we are satisfied, AND we are made hungry, hungry for justice, because this food and drink is for us, AND it is also food for our neighbour. We are fed here so we might go and feed others.
What begins here as fruit of the vine and work of human hands becomes for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We don’t know what God chooses to do here on this altar. But it is enough to know something awesome happens and we get to witness it, hold it, eat it, drink it, and be part of it; together, in communion. And as this heavenly food, this piece of Jesus, enters our body, so we must choose what we will do with the energy it provides. What will we do when we leave here, with the Christ living inside us? How might it change us? How might we change the world?
In our NT reading, we heard ‘as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death…’.
We share in Christ’s death; we share His human brokenness and recognise our own brokenness; We acknowledge some things Christ died for still exist, here and now, and that’s not ok; we proclaim death. But we also proclaim the end of death; we celebrate life. Life in abundance, for eternity. This is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all people. ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up’, Jesus says.
Proclaiming death, gaining eternal life; all in this sacrament, in one morsel of food, one sip of the cup.
And we approach this altar, entirely inadequate; Lord I am not worthy to receive you, we pray. Of course we aren’t, none of us are. But in this divine mystery, in this sacrament we are transformed. We don’t simply become ‘me on a good day’ when we leave the rail. It’s much better than that! As we eat real food and drink from heaven, get this; we are changed into Corpus Christi. We each become the actual body of Christ. We take the Christ into our bodies and then we leave here to go into the world, changed. And that is the most profound truth of this feast.
So, I know it sounds like I’m saying the mass is the solution to world hunger and poverty; that it brings eternal life in the face of death and suffering; that it will transform our lives, as well as those around us. I know it sounds like I’m saying it’ll change us into saints, despite our unworthiness; that it’s the best thing this side of heaven and we can’t live without it. I know it sounds like I’m saying that. I am.
Our meal here is our superpower, our power to change the world. And whether we have the tiniest crumb, a mere morsal, or the full banquet, we each have more than we need. More than enough. Enough and some to share.
A few years ago, I read an exceptional book called ‘Take this Bread’. The author, Sara Miles, writes about her first encounter of the mass. Sara was a staunch atheist, photographer and journalist. A new church opened in her neighbourhood and won awards for its architecture, so she went along to take photos. Before she’d finished, a service began, and she wanted more photos so decided to stay. In this service, everyone was invited to receive mass and Sara didn’t want to be rude so she held her hands out. She put the body of Christ into her mouth and had a lifechanging experience. She says ‘in that moment I knew I was eating Jesus, called the Christ. He was indisputably in my body as if I’d swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh’.
She goes on to say, “I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine… [and] it changed everything… Eating Jesus, as I did that day, to my great astonishment, led me to a faith I’d scorned, and work I’d never imagine. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer but actual food – indeed the bread of life.”
That, my friends, is what we have here. It is often our best kept secret. But it is everything. It is life. And so, today, as we return to the common cup – as we are invited, once again, to both eat AND drink, I invite you, in the name of the Church to come to this altar as if for the first time and become, together Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ, in this place. Amen.