Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
Carmelite Monastery - Eldridge, IA
June 1, 1997 - Rev. Edmond J. Dunn
Theology Chair, St. Ambrose University
"We will do everything that the Lord has told us" That is what the people shouted as Moses related to them the words and commands of the Lord. "All that the Lord has said we will heed and do." Then we are told in today's first reading from the Book of Exodus, that Moses took the blood of young bulls and sprinkled it on the altar and then on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant - the agreement which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his." And the people answered with one voice, "We will do everything that the Lord has told us" That was the response of the Israelites to Moses; it is, and must be, our response to Christ. Follow me now as we look at the new agreement made by Christ - the new covenant, the new testament.
In the second reading of today's liturgy, from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are told that when Christ came as high priest he entered the sanctuary -- the holy of holies -- the presence of God -- not with the blood of goats and calves as Moses had done, but with his own blood. In his giving up of his body and blood to the Father for us -- his sacrifice -- he established a new covenant, a new agreement, a new testament. No greater love that this, that one lay down ones life for another.
Before his death, before he poured out his blood so that it was sprinkled on us -- at that last meal he had with his disciples -- the last supper -- you know as well as I: He took the cup; gave thanks; gave the cup to his disciples and said, "Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood; the blood of the new and everlasting covenant; it will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven."
Moses sealed the old covenant by sprinkling on the people and on the altar the blood of sacrificial animal offerings. Jesus sealed the new covenant, the new agreement, the new deal which he made with us and his Father -- not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood. He gave himself for us.
Last week we celebrated the feast of the Holy Trinity -- One God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- a mystery to be approached, not a puzzle to be solved. Indeed it is the greatest of all mysteries -- God, one yet three. A relational God in the very depth of being. Today we celebrate another mystery. Closer to us, perhaps. At least in a way we can get more of a grasp of it: Corpus Christi -- the Body of Christ -- the feast in which we celebrate the mystery of the second person of the Trinity becoming one with us; taking on a human body. He humbled himself to share in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity. God -- who knows the number of the stars and calls them each by name; God who (so to speak) holds the world in the palm of his hand, who fashioned us humans from a bit of star dust and breathed into us a living spirit; this God takes on flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood of our blood. Corpus Christi -- the Body of Christ. Are we foolish, are we naive to claim that God became one of us? Jesus, born of Mary, one like us in all things but sin?
And as if that were not enough, we believe that the risen Christ still is with us. For he took bread, he blessed it, he broke it, he gave it to the disciples saying, "Take and eat; this is my Body." Corpus Christi. And afterward, giving them the cup which he said was his blood -- his very life principle which sealed the new agreement, he said, "Do this in memory of me." And so we do -- each week, each day, here, as we gather around the altar to ratify once again the new agreement that God, through Christ, in the Spirit, has made with us. We proclaim as the Israelites did of old, "We will do everything that the Lord has told us." We, recalling what Jesus did, bless, break and give the bread which is his body -- Corpus Christi -- Body of Christ. And we respond, "Amen!" I believe it. I accept it. I affirm it. I'm with you Jesus. You know many years ago Father Madsen, who directed the boys choir at the cathedral, said that he asked one of the young choir members what the word amen meant. "You bet your boots!" came the reply. Not bad. Not bad at all. The Body of Christ. Amen! You bet your boots!
Body of Christ. Jesus really present -- present in a unique way in the consecrated bread and wine -- holy communion. It is suprising at times how our faith in this wonderful mystery is deepened, made more meaningful for us. Think of what it means to have faith in Christ's presence; to be able to say "Amen" to this gift of faith.
I remember once, many years ago, when I was a student at the University of Iowa, that at the daily mass which was held in the Quonset hut chapel, many young couples would come with their children. On one occasion just before the consecration, when things get especially quiet, and parents are whispering to their little ones that they must be very still because Jesus is coming, out of that silence, at the elevation, came the voice of a little child, "Dat Jesus?" One could imagine an anxious parent nodding and at the same time attempting to quiet the child. Then a second time, but with more confidence, "Dat Jeee-sus!" Then as if the child could be restrained by no human agency, he or she shouted, "Daaat Jeee-sus!!"
At that moment it came over me that the child saw as well as I did. To have a tiny white wafer held up by the priest and we can ask, "That's Jesus?" And that reassuring whisper of a parent, "Yes, that's Jesus." Through the centuries, from that meal the night before he died, we have had whispered to us through the family of the church, "That's Jesus." "Amen. I believe."
My dear sisters, in a few moments we once again will bless, break and give -- Christ's Body -- Corpus Christi. And by receiving that body we ourselves become members of Christ's Body. We once again ratify the new agreement which Christ made with his own blood. He has told us to celebrate this meal in his memory, and so we do. When you receive Christ's Body and Blood in a few minutes, and when you respond "Amen," think of what your amen means: "We will do everything the Lord has told us to do." Quite an undertaking, isn't it.
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