Homily for Corpus Christi: the Body and Blodd of Christ
May 29, 2005
St. Agnes, Cincinnati
(Based on Deuteronomoy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58)
Moses said to the people, “Remember . . .”
Moses said to the people, “Remember!” Remember is the most important word in today’s readings.
Remember what? Remember the way God had demonstrated fidelity down across the ages.
In selecting these readings the church is telling us that we can’t really appreciate the meaning of Eucharist if we see it as an isolated event, a thing cut off from the rest of our experience as a people. Jesus himself, when he proclaimed the promise of the Eucharist in John chapter six, had reminded his hearers that “your ancestors ate manna in the desert and they died.” Moses at an earlier place in the story reminded the people of a still earlier time in Exodus chapter 16.
What was the experience they were challenged to remember? The desert. In order to appreciate the Eucharist we need to go there with them — because it is our experience, too.
They had experienced the liberating power of the Lord, escaping in the middle of the night from slavery in Egypt. They had gone through that harrowing experience of being pinned up against the Red Sea and having God part the waters to let them pass; they had looked back to see Pharaoh’s army d\thrashing around as the waters overwhelmed them. It had all been so exciting!
And now? Now they are slogging their way through the arid desert. There is no water even to drink. And they begin to grumble against the Lord.
How easy it should be for us to identify with them, because we have been there. Indeed, we are in the midst of the desert right now. The Christian life is supposed to be about love and joy, but we live in a culture that is a desert for us. Just think:
• We are called to be just. And we live in a society in which people climb over anyone and everyone to get to the top
• We are supposed to be people of compassion, to look out for those being left out, the poor and oppressed, the widows and orphans and underdogs. And we live in a world which tells us to forget about the other guy and take care of #1.
• You parents are trying to raise your children to adult maturity, when they are saturated by commercialism and violence, drugs, and irresponsible sex.
• We are called to teach these young men and women to be honest and not to cheat. In a world where the message is “Why write your own term paper? Just steal it off the internet — or have your parents write it for you and then turn it in over your name.”
• We are supposed to be messengers of peace. In a society which glorifies guns and violence. A people of truth when we live in an atmosphere of perpetual propaganda and lies and spin, in any approach that will help us avoid responsibility for the results of our choices and actions.
We have no water!
It is so easy to act like the Israelites in the desert and blame God for the situations we find ourselves in. “You tricked us! You seduced us with your lofty vision, with the lure of a promised land.” They whine and grumble, as we whine and grumble. They can even get to the point where they imagine they were better off back in slavery in Egypt!
One of the gravest difficulties of the spiritual life is our capacity to forget. The going gets tough and we fall into spiritual amnesia. They are even able to forget those incredibly dramatic events of their liberation. How is it possible to forget the passage through the sea?
And then, suddenly, there is this amazing food. “Food unknown to you and your ancestors.”
But I’m afraid we hear the story of the manna in the desert and see it like some Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas film. A miracle! It’s titillating and spectacular, and it’s on the big screen!
We need to go back into the story in Exodus 16. It turns out that it wasn’t like that at all. It was all about God testing the people. He said he would give them this food in order to find out if they were really listening to him.
Here’s what the conditions were. God promised them that each morning when they awoke they could go out and gather all the manna they wanted. They could easily feed their family; some would need more, others less, and that was OK. The only restriction was that they weren’t to pick up more than they needed and store it up for the next day.
And of course they failed. They followed the instruction for a short while, and then they discovered they could pick up more than they needed and then save themselves from having to go out the next day.
Only they discovered when they opened up their stores the next morning the food was all rotten and wormy.
What was their failure, their sin? You might think of laziness; you might set it down to greed, to the desire to have more. I think their deepest sin was their refusal to trust the Lord. In spite of their experience. He had said the food would be there, every day, but just respect his wishes. And they had to try to create their own security by hoarding.
Living the Gospel life isn’t easy. In the midst of the daily struggle with the desert we can forget our Baptism. We can forget that the Spirit has been outpoured. We can forget the promise that “I will be with you always.” Every day. Till time is no more.
Eucharist is all about remembering:
• Remember: that the body we eat is the same body that hung on the cross; the wine we taste is the same blood which was shed in a brutal murder accepted for us.
• Remember: that if you and I are called to the painful task of love, to die to ourselves for the sake of our neighbor — or even our enemy — it is because he did it first.
• Remember: when we walk down this aisle on the way to Communion there is no distinction between man and women, between white and black and brown and yellow; between rich and poor; between young and old. We all come to the table as grumbling, whining beggars.
• Remember: our faith is not about ‘me-and-Jesus’, it’s about food and drink that makes us become his body — one body, .one spirit — in this world.
• Remember: it’s about appreciating the fact that he said he was not taking us out of this world — out of the desert — but sending us into it.
• Remember: it’s about a promise he makes to us even on the night when he is being betrayed, that we will do the things he did — and even greater than these.
Indeed this is food and drink unknown to our ancestors, beyond their wildest imagining. The finest wheat, the richest wine. Bought at great cost. And then given away for free.
Remember! Remember! Remember!
“I am with you always.” “You have not chosen me, but I first chose you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We pass through a desert but he goes on ahead of us.
He said, “I have overcome the world.” And so can we.