THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – YEAR B
At this time of the year, colleges and universities vie with one another to engage the best known and most engaging speaker to deliver the Address to the Graduates at their Commencement Exercises. We are not at a graduation ceremony here, but we are coming to the end of another pastoral as well as academic year. And thanks to our Catholic Lectionary, we have managed to engage not one, but three of the most widely read authors in the world to speak to us about the Sacrament of the Eucharist which we celebrate on this feast of Corpus Christi, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Each speaker will address one aspect of how the Eucharist deepens and promotes our discipleship.
Our first speaker is Moses. The subject of his address is the Eucharist and solidarity. “When Moses came to the people and related all the words and ordinances of the Lord, they all answered with one voice, ‘We will do everything that the Lord has told us.’” With one voice. Not individually, not one after another, randomly, not haphazardly; but with one voice. And then Moses knew that they were ready to enter into the Covenant that God was offering them, to become his people, called to accomplish his purposes, ultimately to give birth to his Son. The blood of that Old or Former Covenant was a powerful foreshadowing of the Covenant to be sealed by the shedding of Jesus’ blood and recalled each time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Just as in Moses’ day, so at each Eucharistic celebration, we respond to the doxology, “Through him and with him and in him,” we do so with a unified “Amen.” The Eucharist reminds us that we are all in this together. No one of us is alone and isolated, without friend, collaborator, helper. No one with whom we share Communion can be regarded as different, unacceptable, less worthy. We are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all around the world putting ourselves at the service of peace, of justice, of compassion, of the Kingdom of God.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wishes us to reflect on the Eucharist and leadership. “When Christ came as high priest of the things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands… he entered once for all into the sanctuary…with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” We Americans have a great fondness for pioneer, trailblazers, leaders who have no thought of their own safety, much less personal gain. Jesus is the most daring and effective pioneer and trailblazer of all, willing to risk the passage through death in hope of opening up a new way into eternal life. And he did it at great cost to himself. Therefore, he has proven the authenticity of his leadership; and we are reminded of that heroism beyond heroism each time we gather for the Eucharist.
We are facing a grave crisis in leadership today in many spheres, and on many levels. As we reflect on whom we can trust to lead us into the future that God has prepared for us, as Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, the constant reminder of Jesus’ leadership – and of our solidarity under that leadership – is provided each time we break the bread and drink the cup.
Finally, today, Jesus speaks on the topic of the Eucharist and hope. “The pledge of future glory is given to us,” St. Thomas wrote in his famous hymn, O Sacrum Convivium, O Holy Banquet. The Eucharist has been about hope since the two disciples went into Jerusalem, hoping against hope that they would indeed meet a man carrying a water jar, and that the master of the house would have everything ready to celebrate the Passover. Towards the end of that ritual meal, as Jesus declared that the wine in the cup he was passing around was actually his blood, the blood of the Covenant, he added, “I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Jesus harbored no illusions about what lay ahead of him in the coming twenty-four hours; but he was confident that he would drink the fruit of the vine new.
The Eucharist has been celebrated in times of persecution and during war years. It has been celebrated clandestinely in concentration camps and by the pope in refugee camps. The Eucharist has sustained martyrs, saints, heroes and heroines, and ordinary disciples struggling with illness and death and bereavement. But it continues to be celebrated; and whenever and wherever it is celebrated, hope is renewed and hearts are strengthened to face the future.
In the end, St. Thomas Aquinas sums it all up. O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.