The great feast day of Corpus Christi recognises both the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of God’s Church, and that this wonderful sacrament of Christ’s body and blood sustains and enlivens the Church.
The Church believes that at the celebration of the Eucharist that the bread and the wine which we use become, by the prayers of the church and Holy Spirit, the body and blood of Christ and whether you believe that the bread and wine actually become Christ’s body and blood or do so symbolically and remain bread and wine, – you cannot dispute that in this sacrament the material and spiritual become co-mingled in the way that God took our flesh and became man in the person of Christ – both human and divine. In the bread and the wine, we both partake in God’s nature, as well as recognise God’s sacrificial love for us.
As I have alluded to, there is a complex theology around the concept of the Eucharist which, as we have it today, owes a lot to Catholic theologians within the context of the Second Vatican Council like Carl Rhaner and Edward Schillebeeckx who thought afresh about what sacraments were. Rhaner, Schillebeeckx and others talk about Christ himself being a ‘sacrament’ of God’s love. For when God became man, in the person of Jesus Christ, God made himself touchable and knowable in a material way. God, for the love of humanity, became immediate and real and could be known as never before. So, Jesus represents the sacramental presence of God – of an invisible God becoming visible and available for all people to access.
In the Eucharist, we remember The Incarnation, the presence of God on earth in the person of Christ. If this wasn’t amazing enough, the Eucharist goes even beyond this: if we truly believe in the power of the Eucharist and believe that Jesus is made present in the sacrament, then when we receive in the sacrament we ourselves become part of the life of Christ – as we read in our Gospel for today, Jesus says: ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells continually in me and I in them’. As the bread and the wine are transformed in the Eucharist into the body and blood of Christ so we, when we partake of the blessed sacrament are transformed into the body of Christ. St. Paul, as we are all familiar with, talks in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians of the church being the ‘body of Christ’ – and that is no historic reference because it applies to us as much as it did to the church in Corinth, for we who today receive the blessed sacrament also become Christ’s body which is the Church. So, you and I are the body of Christ and we continue the incarnational life-giving work of Christ – we the church become sacramental – sacraments of the presence of the living God in the world.
It is good that tonight that we meet to reflect on, and ponder, the meaning of the Holy Eucharist – it is good for us to recognise that each one of us is the body of Christ gathered together as his church continuing God’s saving work. If we are Christ’s body we must take seriously what that means and entails. It means that we must be transformed people who make Christ known to everyone we meet in the way we conduct our lives.
The church of my childhood, as part of its Corpus Christi celebrations took the sacrament placed it in a monstrance, as we will do later, and then took the monstrance in procession around the streets of the parish. It must have been a curious sight but it was a very powerful sight because the sacrament went from the church and into the world so that all who never came to church could see it. A sacrament is, in truth, no sacrament unless it has an effect on us and upon others. We, in our lives faithfully lived, must if you like become ‘human monstances’. Our Christian witness must not be hidden away in tabernacle or church but must be taken out into our neighbourhood – otherwise no one will be led to, and know, Christ. The Blessed Sacrament will be inert and ineffective rather than dynamic and life enhancing and life changing.
The words of the Collect for today bear witness to this truth when they say: ‘That we may know within ourselves and show forth in our lives the fruit of his redemption’. One of my favourite prayers which was introduced to our liturgy with the ASB, is one of the prayers of thanksgiving after communion, which I am glad to say, has remained in Common Worship. You will, I am sure know it well, and it begins: ‘Father of all, we give you thanks and praise’. It goes on to say this: ‘May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.’
So, let us who receive Christ’s body and blood with joy and thanksgiving pray that we may be transformed into his living body and, by our lives faithfully lived and sustained by the blessed sacrament of the altar, bring hope, life and love to others and be a real and effective sacrament as member of Christ’s body the Church.