Sunday, June 14, 2009

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi
The Body & Blood of Christ
June 14, 2009

Ex 24: 3-8
St. Michael, Greenwich, Conn.
St. Timothy, Banksville, Conn.

“The people…all answered with one voice, ‘We will do everything that the Lord has told us’” (Ex 24: 3).

The scene described in our 1st reading is the conclusion of a scenario—or from another perspective is leading up to the climax—that you’ve all watched at the movies: Moses, looking like Charlton Heston with a great gray beard, has led the Israelites out of Egypt, out of slavery, thru the Red Sea, to the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses reminds them of all those spectacular events, and he assures them that God promises to remain their protector, their redeemer, their champion (more reliable than Johan Santana or Mariano Rivera) if the Israelites will remain faithful to him, to him alone, as their God. And the people agree: “Everything that God commands us we will do.”

Then Moses offers a sacrifice of young bulls and splashes half the blood of the sacrifice on the altar, half on the people. If you thought it was bad to be splashed with holy water… but there’s a serious theological and liturgical purpose here. The altar represents God (as our altar here represents Christ, which is why it’s treated with great reverence). So God and the people are bound together by blood. They have committed their lives to carry out the terms of their covenant. “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” “Everything” will shortly be detailed when Moses ascends Mt. Sinai and returns with the 10 Commandments and all the other regulations of family life, social ethics, and common worship.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the solemn feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The blood of Christ ratified a new covenant between God and humanity, a new covenant of salvation wrought by God and of commitment by God’s people.

God, in Christ, commits himself to forgiving our sins and adopting us as his children, members of his family, for eternal life. Christ, in the words of our 2d reading, “is mediator of a new covenant [that] those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15).

What do we commit to? Like the Israelites in Moses’ time, to doing what God commands. His commands, in Christ, are 2. One we’re doing right now, for he commanded us, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19), i.e., celebrate the Holy Eucharist, by which he becomes present to us. The Eucharist isn’t a symbol, isn’t a sign: it is our Lord Jesus Christ in his risen body, the same body offered for us on the cross, the same blood shed to covenant our salvation. As Moses sprinkled sacrificial blood on the altar and on the people, we take the real body and blood of the Lord from his altar to our own lips and our own hearts, ratifying our participation in this new covenant of salvation.

The other command also comes from the Last Supper, as recounted in St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus tells the disciples to love one another. The Eucharist covenants us with one another as God’s children in Christ and therefore commits us to one another, makes us—in the ironic words of the murderer Cain—our brother’s and sister’s keeper (cf. Gen 4:9), makes us responsible for one another; or, in the words of one of John Paul the Great favorite expressions, puts us in solidarity with one another.

As God’s people, today we acclaim, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” We will celebrate the Eucharist, which makes him truly present to us, makes us participants in his passion, death, and resurrection. And we will live the Eucharist, treating all our brothers and sisters in the human family, all for whom Christ shed his blood, with love, with respect, with dignity, with honor: the born and the unborn, the young and the old, male and female, native and foreign, black, white, and brown, Christian and non-Christian.
For a beautiful reflection on the Holy Eucharist, see Mary DeTurris Poust's blog Not Strictly Spiritual:

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