The Sacrament of Ongoing Christian Life
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Cycle C; May 29, 2016
Gen 14:18-20 Ps 110 1 Cor 11:23-26 Lk 9:11-17
Deacon Jim McFadden
During the Easter season, a major concern in the Sunday Scripture readings was how the movement begun by Jesus of Nazareth would continue after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Since he is no longer with us physically, how can our relationship be sustained? These readings show that we can have an ongoing personal relationship with the Risen Christ that is intimate, mutual, unitive, and life-giving. From that relationship flows the possibilities of knowing and loving God and one another in new and more profound ways. Being in relationship with Jesus, we will become Kingdom people. We will listen to and cooperate with the movement of the Holy Spirit. We will radiate the peace of Jesus. We will work for fellowship and solidarity within the Church and the human family.
A major and indispensable element of this process is the Eucharist, which is the outward sign of the ongoing presence of God and the Risen Christ among us. The Eucharist is THE sacrament of ongoing Christian life. That’s why the conciliar fathers of Vatican II taught us that the Eucharist is the “Source and summit of the Church life” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). The liturgy of the Word and Eucharist is where we are renewed in our faith in the triune God, which empowers us to live out our evangelical duty to spread the Good News and to baptize all nations. In the Eucharist, we participate in God’s love in a very intimate way as a community, which spurs us to share this love with others. The Eucharist draws the People of God “into the compelling love of Christ” (SC 10), which sets us on fire with this Trinitarian love. So, it is good and appropriate that Holy Mother the Church brings us back to reflect upon this inexhaustible mystery because the Eucharist is Christ who is Really Present. The Church comes from the Eucharist; so, we’re being wise when we yearly reflect on this sacrament of ongoing Christian life.
The Scripture readings for Corpus Christi reminds us what Jesus did at the Last Supper had a rich history that would shape an ongoing Christian life. The reading from Genesis 14 recalls the earliest history of God’s people. Abraham, the Father of our Faith, is met by an intriguing and mysterious figure, Melchizedek after a military victory. He is described as the King of Salem and priest of God most high.
There’s a lot packed into that brief description. In Hebrew ‘Melchizedek’ means ‘king of righteousness.’ ‘Mel(e)k’ is king and ‘sedek’ is justice. So, he is a just king, a righteous king. But, more than that, he’s the king of Salem, which is the derivative of ‘shalom’ or peace. Salem was also seen as the forerunner of Jerusalem—the city of peace. So, this figure is the righteous king of peace, who’s also the ruler of Jerusalem, the religious epicenter of Judaism.
Furthermore, we learn that he is a priest of God, which means he performs sacrifice, which is what priests do. And, this particular sacrifice he makes involves bread and wine. ….Hmmm, does this sound like anybody we know? A righteous king, the ruler of Jerusalem, the Prince of Peace, a priest performing a sacrifice involving bread and wine. That’s why the Church has found Melchizedek so intriguing because he is prefiguring the Eucharist.
Let’s turn to the other two readings. The reading from first Corinthians provides the earliest description of Jesus’ Last Supper and the Church’s liturgical celebration. We hear “that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup, after supper saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:23b-25).
What is Jesus actually doing the night before he died? He just didn’t gather his friends for a final meal. He did that, but Paul is telling us that that Jesus performed a priestly sacrifice and he did it using the same elements that Melchizedek used: bread and wine.
The institution of the Eucharist carries on the Passover, which took place within the context of the Exodus Experience: the movement from oppression to liberation. Similarly, Jesus’ death and resurrection is a movement from the oppression of sin and death to the freedom of eternal life. When Jesus says, “This is my blood” the sacrificial language is very clear. As priest and righteous king, Jesus is presenting himself as the true and definitive sacrifice. The Old Testament rites were never fully complete, so they had to engage regularly in purification rituals for the forgiveness of sins, but when Jesus’ Blood is “poured out for many,” the sacrifice is definitive: through his death the prophesy of the new and eternal covenant is fulfilled and complete.
When we participate in the Eucharist we are not ritually reenacting the Last Supper at Mass for our purification. Jesus did that; we are redeemed! Amen! We participate in the same sacrifice and receive the benefits of his unconditioned love and self-giving so that we can become givers of self and love unconditionally.
Now, let’s take a quick glance of Luke’s gospel, which is his version of the feeding of 5,000. The way Luke tells the story links Jesus’ actions with the Last Supper and the early Church’s celebration of the Eucharist. Notice the role the Apostles have in this story. They are the ones through whom the crowd experience the life-giving bounty of Jesus. They distributed the food and, most likely collected what was left over into twelve baskets. I think what Luke was showing us is that Jesus provides for his people through the agency of the Church. There is an affirming adage from the Patristic era (2nd—5th centuries): “The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.” Luke’s account and this patristic insight further suggests the intimate and reciprocal relationship between the Eucharist body of the Lord and his ecclesial body.
St. Leo the Great recalled that “our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ aspires to nothing other than to become what we receive” (Sermo 12, De Passione 3,7, PL 54). Brothers and sisters, we must become the Eucharist if we are going to
Every day, may we draw from the Body and Blood of our Lord—that free, pure love which makes us worthy disciples of Christ and witnesses to the joy of his resurrection. That is why the Eucharist is the Sacrament of ongoing Christian life! Amen.