THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Atop the screen surrounding our altar there is a marble and mosaic panel that used to be on the front of the altar before the church was turned around in 1995. It depicts the scene described this morning in the Book of Genesis: the meeting of Abram with Melchizedek, that elusive King of Salem and Priest of God Most High. Those two personages make an appearance in many churches; and in each case, whether in painting, or mosaic, or stained glass, Melchizedek is performing his only recorded deed. As Abram and his troops return from battle, Melchizedek meets them with gifts of bread and wine. Apparently that simple gesture of hospitality is charged with an enormous, although not immediately obvious significance.
In the Gospel today the Twelve perform a similar gesture of hospitality, though they lack Melchizedek’s spontaneity as a host. Faced with a hungry crowd in an out of the way place, the Twelve at first try to get rid of them. “Dismiss the crowd,” they urge Jesus, all the while thinking of the small picnic hamper they have brought along for themselves. Jesus will not let them off the hook so easily. Instead he gently pressures them into a reluctant act of hospitality that puts their small meal at risk. After all, what are five loaves and two fish in the face of such a huge number of hands outstretched in need. Yet in Jesus’ hands and with his divine blessing, they suffice and more than suffice.
The importance of Melchizedek comes into sharper focus. Our generous hospitality to one another, especially our care for those in real need, calls down God’s blessing on human beings. More than that, our hospitality is a sacrament of God’s hospitality. “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers or sisters, you did it for me.” Our hospitality is our way of feeding God and his way of feeding us.
There is, of course, a risk that we can be over-generous and wind up with less than enough for ourselves. But Jesus will not allow us to shirk responsibility for hungry crowds in our world today. And while many of the saints have performed daring, even foolhardy acts of care for the poor, sick, hungry, and homeless, I cannot think of one who died of starvation.
St. Paul recalls for the Corinthians and for us that Jesus has given us the ultimate act of hospitality. Like Melchizedek, he blessed and offered bread and wine to his apostles at the Last Supper, but not before pronouncing them his own body and blood. Here, too, a risk is involved – one infinitely greater than that taken by the Twelve with their precious loaves and fish. Jesus had to risk everything because his act of hospitality could only be performed at a Last Supper where he would offer a body to be broken like the bread in his hands and a cup filled with the covenantal blood of a sacrificial victim. The Eucharist is the remembrance meal of the death of him whom God has raised up to new life, the foretaste of the meal we are destined to share only after we have first tasted death.
We are now in a season of celebrations and barbecues, of graduation parties and wedding receptions. The Feast of Corpus Christi assures us that in our festive eating and drinking, in our accepting hospitality and extending it to others, we are not alone. The triune God, the God of over-flowing life and extravagant generosity is among us in our joy and merriment.
He does, however, ask two things. First he asks that we never become callous to the plight of the genuinely hungry people in our world, and that even if it means risking a bit of our abundance, we feed him in them. Secondly he asks us to accept his hospitality as he calls us around the altar so that he can feed us the Bread from Heaven that contains within itself all delight.