Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity of
Corpus Christi
June 10, 2012
Ex 24: 3-8
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
Fr. Jonathan Parks. Photographer unknown.

“Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his’” (Ex 24:8).

Our 1st reading this morning shows us Israel and the Lord God sealing a covenant between themselves at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  God has just delivered Israel from slavery and from the might of Pharaoh’s chariots; he’s guiding them thru the desert toward the Promised Land where their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob once dwelt and are buried; he undertakes to continue to defend and guide them.

For their part, Israel undertakes obedience:  “We will do everything that the Lord has told us” (Ex 24:3) thru his words to Moses:  the commandments, the rituals, worship of YHWH alone, etc.

If you’ve ever read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you probably remember that Tom and Huck became blood brothers, cutting their fingers with a knife and mixing their blood, and committed themselves to stand by each other.

That sharing of blood is an ancient idea.  A solemn blood ritual concludes the covenant agreement between YHWH and Israel.  Animals are slaughtered and their blood collected.  Blood represents the life of the creature, and the Hebrews treat blood with extreme reverence because God alone is the author and master of life.  Now, half of the blood of the sacrifice is “splashed on the altar” (24:6), which represents God:  God is solemnly bound by this covenant, bound by his own life’s-blood, as it were.  The other half of the blood is “sprinkled on the people” (24:8), affirming God’s life upon them, binding them to the Lord with a blood connection—and cleansing them too, for in the rituals of the Law blood is a purifier.

The ritual of sharing blood joins the 2 parties, YHWH and Israel.  They become partners, or we could say, blood brothers.  The reading doesn’t mention it today, but the oxen sacrificed on the altar would have been eaten by the people—or at least some of them—so that both parties to the covenant partook of it, parts of the oxen being given over to YHWH by being burnt, and the rest consumed by the people.  In fact, 24:11 (3 verses after our reading) affirms that “after gazing on God, they [Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders] could still eat and drink,” which, presumably, refers to the sacrifice.

This same sharing happens thru the blood of Jesus, the blood of the new covenant that the Lord has made with us in accordance with is words, that he would lay down his life for his sheep.  Shed on the cross, his blood makes of the cross an altar.  Offered to us in the cup, it “sprinkles” us, linking us to the altar-cross, binding us to the Father, making us a new Israel, mingling Christ’s blood with our own, cleansing us of our sins.  And we eat the flesh of the sacrifice that’s been offered to God on the cross and is offered to us from our own altar.

In this new covenant, the Father undertakes to save us from the slavery of sin, from the oppression of eternal death—“cleansing our consciences from dead works” and “promising an eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:14,15).  We promise, in our turn, to keep the words of the Lord—starting with a living memory of Jesus—“Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19)—but living out the words of Jesus, adhering to his teaching by loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves—a teaching we were reminded of at Mass just last Thursday (Mark 12:28-34).

To love the Lord our God and him alone with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is, like Jesus, to center our lives on the Father:  in our worship, in all our decisions, all our activity.  It’s to acknowledge him as the sovereign master of the world, and of ourselves in particular—not a symbolic and essentially powerless sovereign like Elizabeth II* but a sovereign with power and authority over us:  the Lord who created us, loves us, pardons us, demands loyalty of us, and dispenses justice to us.  We’ve come from his hand, and he created us to return to him—in Christ, in love.

To love our neighbor as ourselves is to keep Christ’s new commandment, linked to the Last Supper and thus to the Eucharist, even if St. John doesn’t place the Eucharist there.  All who partake of the Eucharist are our sisters and brothers, for we all share in the sacrifice of the Lord’s body and blood.  Even those who don’t share in the Eucharist have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and so have a destiny to become God’s children.  Many of them act more like God’s children than some who partake of the Eucharist, as we know, because they honor God implicitly or explicitly and practice love of their neighbor—keeping a covenant they may not even be aware of, as St. Paul writes to the Romans:  “When the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law.  They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts” (2:14-15).

Well, we know and acknowledge Christ, and thru him we strive to honor the Father; by his grace and power we strive to love one another—grace and power we draw upon in the Eucharist, which is his eternal covenant with us, his lasting commitment to be with us, to strengthen us, to assist us in the long process of living out our Baptism, the process of becoming truly God’s children, washed in water, cleansed in blood, made one with Christ our blood brother by sharing in the sacrifice of his body and blood.

            * Who this past week celebrated her diamond jubilee with much national fanfare and adulation.

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