Homily for the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ
June 2, 2002
St. Agnes, Cincinnati
(Based on Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Ps 147:12-15,19-20; 1 Cor 10:16-17; John 6:51-58)
What is the most important expression or word in today's readings?
There are a lot of potential choices, the readings are so central to our life as Christians. You could pick "one body" or "one loaf" or "my flesh for the life of the world"or "living forever". They are all rich, all worth praying over. Much food for our spiritual life.
I'd suggest that we think of the very first word in the speech of Moses we heard from Deuteronomy. I wonder if you still remember what it was?
Moses is saying to the people that they won't appreciate their real situation, where they are and who God is, unless they remember. Further on in the passage he says, "Do not forget."
When the people heard that word their imaginations would be filled with their experience. It would all come back to them. Their story, what they had gone through.
So come with me now, back into the story which preceded this moment. Into their story. Because it is our story.
Where are they as they listen to Moses' words? In the desert. They are in harsh place, where there are serpents and scorpions, trudging along under a brutal sun. There is no food, no water. They are dying of thirst and hunger.
And what had happened just prior to this passage? Moses had been up on the mountain talking with the Lord, and all they saw was lightning; all they heard was thunder. There was no word from God. And so they grumbled. They grumbled at God and they grumbled at Moses and Aaron. They complained about god's ways of dealing with them.
And they say an amazing thing. "Maybe it would have been better if we had never left Egypt! You led us out here to die; we were better off as slaves" -- an word that surely evokes powerful emotions for many in this church. Better off as slaves? They were even prepared to reject the gift of their liberation. Yes, we were slaves, but we had food in our bellies! They have forgotten. They have forgotten the whole experience of being slaves; captives making bricks for their oppressors. It's all backwards: what Egypt means for them now is "flesh pots". We had pots of meat to satisfy our hungers.
So Moses has to take them back through these past 40 years. He recalls God's unfailing fidelity, even as he tested them with afflictions. What was the test? To see whether they were still committed to keep the covenant God had entered into with them.
And isn't that where we are as a church today?
We have all these sad revelations of the past three months. Painful realities we would rather not have had to hear. I was stopped by a man on the street downtown last week, and he said, "Father, I am so disappointed in my church and its leaders. I haven't been able to go to church for six weeks. I will come back but I haven't been able to." Disappointed; disillusioned. What a telling expression: we are being dis-illusioned. There is a side of us which would wish we never had to hear these ugly things. We wish we were back in Egypt. In the dark. In a world which was an illusion, a game of make-believe.
But our God is a god of truth, a light. And the light of those deeds is like the painful glare coming off the desert sand and hurting our eyes.
We're hungry and thirsting for the way things were -- the way we thought they were, the way we wanted them to be. We're afraid for the future of our church and so we grumble. We grumble at our fallible leaders, at our God. And all the while our God is testing us, to see if we know where our center is. Whether we had lost our center in those wonderful pageants, all those high ceremonies and vestments and cathedrals. God is asking us to remember what makes us who we are: the continuing, never-failing fidelity of our God to the covenant God chose to initiate with us.
I the Moses story we hear that God was angry; God was tempted to end the whole thing. God said to Moses, "look, let's forget this people of yours and I will build a new people with you at the center." It's my favorite illustration of genuine prayer in all of Scripture, when Moses doesn't take the bait and instead says to God, "Oh no, these are your people, not mine. I'm holding you to your word and your promise. You can't go back on your word."
And so God relented and when they awoke in the morning, there was this amazing stuff they had never seen before. And they cried, "Manna?" What is this? (That's what the expression 'manna' means.) This food was really a substance deposited on the leaves of plants by insects of the area; it becomes a kind of edible crust. They were in a new place, a new geography they had never experienced.
When we consider the Eucharist we too must say, "What is this?" What is this 'Body of Christ'?
And Jesus tells us. It is 'my flesh, for the life of the world. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will live forever.' Forever.
And surely that means they will live today. Eucharist is not a thing; an object to be looked at. It is food to be eaten, drink to satisfy our thirst while we continue our mysterious and difficult journey of faith. The body of the Lord who wants to live in us, even as we taste the desert. It is now food, now life, now strength.
It is God's promise that wen can face the whole truth, that we can face truth with a capital T, The truth of who God is and the truth of who we are. That we are all a sinful people; that our weak leaders are no more holy than those they lead; that they are like us human and like us fallible, and like us want to hide from the shame of their failures. It's the promise that we don't need the illusions we thought we were so important. Because our center lies somewhere else. In the reality that we are a people fed with the Lord's own life.
Jesus says, "Fear not, I have overcome the world." And you will be my one body, you will overcome the darkness.
Just look b ack over your story and remember.