The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (B) – June 6, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
What Are We Doing Here?
On this feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we’re given a very beautiful set of readings which help us to meditate on the very depths of the action we perform each and every Sunday when we gather for Mass. Sunday after Sunday we come to the Mass. And for some of us, I’m sure, we come without a very clear understanding of why we do it.
Growing up, I remember the only reason that I could produce for coming to Mass on Sunday was, “If I don’t go, it’s a very serious sin.” That’s it: guilt. Guilt is what my reason was for going to Mass, for celebrating the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew that the Eucharist was the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. I knew how special it was to be able to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. But to be honest, after a while, even that became sort of ancillary. Sunday mass became a time to see friends, pray a little bit, maybe get some good advice—but usually just checking-off a box so I didn’t have to confess missing Sunday Mass.
But as I got older and (by the grace of God) as I began to grow in my faith, the Eucharist—”going to Mass”—became a sort of gym membership. I would walk in, sit down, not acknowledge the presence of any one, and go to Mass. This was me and Jesus time. This was my spiritual training time, my time to become holier by receiving that magic vitamin for the soul, the Eucharist.
But my dear brothers and sisters, as I hope you’ve begun to deduce for yourself, this is all a bit misguided; this isn’t what’s going on. Unless I missed a part of the Gospels, Jesus didn’t say at the last supper, “Unless you do this every Sunday…,” or, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it. This is the super magic bread that will make you holy.” No. He said, “This is my body.” And he said, “This is my blood. The blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
An Action, Not a Thing
What I’m getting at is this: the Eucharist is not a thing, but an action. The Eucharist is the action of Christ offering himself completely to the Father. The Eucharist is the form given to us by Jesus Christ himself at the Last Supper in which his sacrifice on calvary, his complete and total self-offering to the Father for the forgiveness of sins, is made present even to this day. The Eucharist is the way in which we can offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus. In fact, the Eucharist is calvary: Christ loving us to the end, Christ literally shedding his blood as a sign of the extent God will go to be with us, to bring us to himself.
Think for a moment of the image of the blood we heard about so much today in our readings. In our first reading, the blood was sprinkled on the people as a sign of the covenant, of God’s desire to make the people of Israel His very blood-family. In our Gospel, Jesus speaks of the “blood of the covenant.” Before Jesus, the blood of the covenant had been a sign of sacrifice, of life, of healing, and of renewal. Christ takes on this sign, and in his death on the cross, offers himself to God as a sacrifice, and his very blood becomes the source of life, healing, and renewal of humanity. It is the blood of Christ which is the blood of the new and eternal covenant; blood which was poured out for you and for many.
In the Eucharist, it is this very blood, covenantal blood, which is present on the altar. As Jesus Christ himself said, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Blood which is not shed as some sort of masochistic thirst God has for blood, but as a sign that God will be and has been faithful to His covenant with humanity: a faithfulness which reaches even to the point of shedding blood. And why? Why shed his blood? Because of that simple desire God has had for us from the beginning: God wants us to be with him forever; God wants us to share in his very life.
And We Can Participate In that Action
The Eucharist is not a thing, though, remember?! The Eucharist is an action. When we come to Mass we are not just receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, no. We are participating in the life of Christ; specifically, we are participating in his complete and total self-offering to the Father. It is this action, this action of offering everything to the Father and that offering being transformed, that Christ made possible.
At baptism we were all baptized into the Body of Christ. And as members of this Body, we all have the distinct privilege of being able to offer our very selves to the Father with Christ. Just as the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to be offered, we can offer our very lives: our struggles, our suffering, our joy, our sorrows; we can offer our pain, our fear or frustration, our hopes and desires. Everything. We can place it all on the altar. And just as the offerings of bread and wine are given back to us transformed, transformed into the very body and blood of Christ, everything else that we place on the altar as an offering is given back to us transformed.
What Is Holding Us Back?
And so the simple question is: what is holding us back from placing it all on the altar? What is holding you back from offering it all? What is it you are holding on to? What is it that you are afraid to offer? What would you rather hold on to because it is more comfortable to hold on to it than it is to place it in the hands of Christ?
My dear brothers and sisters: there is so much we hold on to, usually because we are afraid of what it will look like when it is transformed by the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection and given back to us. But that’s exactly the point: if, through the hands of the priest, we can offer bread and wine, and they can be given back to us as the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ himself—if they can be given back to us as the very source of our salvation—if we believe that, how can we not also believe that everything else we place on the altar can be transformed by that same power, the power of his death and resurrection?
Perhaps we’re afraid that they will be handed back to us as the cross that will unite us more closely to Christ. Perhaps we’re afraid that the suffering or fear we offer will be given right back to us. Perhaps; perhaps so. But if the Eucharist allows us to accomplish the work of salvation alongside Christ, what greater action could we do? Why not offer it all to him? Christ wants to be with us forever, and left us the Eucharist as a promise and a means of this.