Homily for Corpus Christi C22 Jun 2019, by Sermons in
The Solemnity we celebrate today, Corpus Christi or the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, dates back to the 13th century, though it celebrates something much older. The word of God did not take flesh in the 13th century just as the Holy Spirit did not begin to exist on Pentecost day; we rather commemorate today the new and everlasting covenant sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ. It is a new covenant because there was one before it.
Both the Old and the New Covenants were sealed with blood; life had to be sacrificed to make the covenants effective. The bible tells us that life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Bloody sacrifices are not new to so many of us in this part of the world; our ancestors sacrificed both human and animal blood. The blood of animals cannot save; every animal and even human blood poured out in sacrifice is a waste. They may be able to achieve some magical results but certainly has nothing to do with Souls’ salvation or our redemption. The only sacrifice that saves is the one reflected in our readings for today.
In the first reading, Melchizedek, King of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought bread and wine. A priest is associated with sacrifice, but this priest of the Highest God was not found with animals for sacrifice but with bread and wine. The New Testament sacrifice was already prefigured in the Old Testament; God already made provision for our salvation even in Genesis. Paul tells the Corinthian Church in our second reading that he passed what he had received from the Lord to them, and what is that thing he received from the Lord? It is about bread and wine again, the bread and wine already presented in Genesis but transformed into the bread of eternal life in the New Testament. Jesus is this bread, and he offers himself for the salvation of the world. He refused to send the people away in our gospel reading because they cannot get the bread of life outside of him, so he made the people sit down and broke bread for them to eat. With five loaves and two fish, he fed about five thousand men, a miracle that pointed to a greater miracle. He fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fish, but today he feeds the world with one loaf; his body.
The Jews were used to animal sacrifice; they sacrifice a lamb in celebration of the Passover feast. But Jesus came into the world to take the place of the Passover lamb (animal) because its blood was useless and ineffective. The Passover feast celebrated the liberation of the people of Israel from the land of slavery, from the hands of the Egyptians. On that night of liberation, the people were ordered to slaughter a lamb and eat the flesh roasted in a particular manner. None was to remain, for it was the Lord’s Passover. This celebration became a tradition among the people because they were ordered to celebrate it forever by God. You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your Sons forever. And when you come to the Land which the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, what do you mean by this service? you shall say, it is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses (Ex. 12:24-27). Every Jew celebrates this memorial, and so, the apostles of Jesus enquired of him where he would want to eat the Passover. They were Jews, and they had to join their people in celebrating their freedom from Egypt. Jesus did not deny his people’s culture; he directed two of his disciples to the city where a man carrying a pitcher of water would lead them to a large upper room, where they were to prepare and eat the Passover meal.
Everything was done as the Lord had directed, and the Passover meal began. And as they were eating, he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing, he broke it and gave it to them. Take it; he said this is my body. Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, this is my blood, the blood of the covenant which is to be poured out for many (Mk. 14:22-24). Jesus changed the meaning of the Passover feast; it is no longer the memorial of freedom from the land of slavery but freedom from the power of sin and death. Jesus offered his body and blood for our salvation; what the blood of animals couldn’t do, he did with his own blood.
At Mass, therefore, we continue to offer the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the world’s salvation. It is a sacrifice made once, and for all; he will never die again. He gave the Church the power to transform ordinary bread and wine into his body and blood as he did himself. He said to the men he had chosen, do this in memory of me (Lk. 22:19).
What we celebrate at Mass is a mystery; the almighty God humbled himself to be present in the form of bread and wine. The moment the Priest stretches his hands over the bread and wine and says the prayer of consecration over them, they become the body and blood of Christ. It is not by might or by our holiness; it is by grace. The Priesthood is a gift; one is called just as Aaron was (Heb. 5:4). The Holy Eucharist is God’s gift of himself to the Church that demands our reverence. St. Paul warns us about this reverence and response in faith: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1Cor. 11:29-30). It is not ordinary food; it is no ordinary drink. It is food and drink that brings eternal life. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (Jn. 6:53-56).
At the Eucharistic table, we celebrate the Passover from death to life. We celebrate the salvation of our souls; we celebrate our oneness with God. We are called and reminded today to become what we eat.