Feast of Corpus Christi
FEAST OF Corpus Christi/THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Exodus 24:3-8 | Hebrews 9:11-15 | Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Oh, God, who in this wonderful sacrament have left us a memorial of your passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your body and blood, we may always experience in ourselves the fruit of your redemption who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
IT’S not difficult today to pick up a popular piece of literature that may be on The New York Times, and maybe it’s a report of some kind or some sociological work. Often you’ll find authors saying things like, “Well, reason is really the most important thing. Our minds and this notion of a god is, well, let’s face it, kind of ridiculous. The stories of the Old Testament are probably stories borrowed from other different traditions, and the Bible itself is filled with contradictions,” and on and on about looking at it all logically and as if it was supposed to be presented in some kind of perfect way. But the interesting thing is — I read a line the other day in a book, and it said, “There’s no proof that there’s something natural in human beings that longs for a relationship with something like a god.” And I just thought, “Now, that is really an interesting statement to be reading in a book.” There’s not much more about anything in that would say, “And of course I can prove that.” Nothing in the human heart that longs for truth or beauty or wholeness or oneness with something greater than self. I just know. No one can take that from me. I know that is in me, and I can’t say that about anybody else, but I can certainly say that about me.
When I ponder about the beauty of this world that I see, when I listen to stories of people in the news struggling to live together as communities, as different races and countries, I hear this kind of wearisome struggle that we’re always trying to get to something closer to the truth of who we are. So in a way, the notion in me of a God, is that longing I have for something that tells me inside that there is more to me than what I am now aware of, that I’m on a journey that has meaning and purpose and connection with others and that there is a movement toward truth, toward love. Another way to say that is we’re moving constantly in a direction where we’re leaving behind lies and illusions and entering into reality. The reality is that you and I have a particular nature. When we live according to that nature, we find peace, harmony, oneness, joy. When we work against it, there is pain, separation, anxiety, fear, anger, shame.
So who is that person we’re struggling to be? What is universal in it all? There is one thing that scripture points to very clearly, and that is, we share the nature of the one who created us. If we share that nature, then we are like him. He is like us. In fact, if there is anything that is clear from the Old Testament to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, is we see this God revealing himself as one like us. In fact, even in the beginning, has a short temper and destroys his enemies. But it seems clear that from the beginning, that when God reveals himself, He wants us to see us like him. He wants us to see him like us. There’s got to be some kind of connection between us. What is very, very interesting to me about this revelation that God has with the human race depends on two things — how much he reveals , and then how much we’re able to take in. How capable are we of understanding the fullness of this message? If you believe in evolution, as I do, that means the evolution of human consciousness, that we’ve become more capable of understanding mysteries as we grow and mature. An adult who has pondered and wondered about mysteries is more likely to understand and enter into them, maybe not understand them in the literal sense of figure them out, but they can surrender to them much easier than someone who’s just beginning the journey.
The thing that is fascinating about the story of salvation history is it comes in two parts — an old part and a new part. So there must be something in this work of moving from unconscious to conscious, from just sort of living in the present without any reflection to beginning as we are called to be as human beings, reflective people, wondering, pondering, entering more fully into what life is. Sometimes we say it’s so ideal just to be that naïve, childlike figure. Well, there’s something about being childlike in a world that’s very complex. It has something to do with being in the present moment. It doesn’t mean being unconscious.
So what I want to ponder with you is this feast focuses on the most intimate way that God could ever describe his relationship with us, and at first it sounds even kind of unnatural. “I want you to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” I don’t know any god that’s ever said that to anyone. What’s interesting about that image is it is loaded with meaning, and the literal is more perplexing than anything else. How can you do this? It’s like when Jesus told Nicodemus, “You have to be reborn or born again.” He said, “Well, how do you crawl back in your mother’s womb?” That’s the normal way the mind works, logically, but the message of God, the message of the truth is not going to be received by the mind but rather by the heart. If you know enough about science, you’ll know that the heart is much more than just a pump. It is an organ that has the capacity to think and reflect and remember. It can even override the will. When it’s convinced the mind to do something, the heart can talk it out of it. Change the mind.
So what I’m looking at is we have this mysterious thing called the Eucharist, which is the fullness of the message of God, and it came, again, as I say, in two parts. The first part, I think, relates mostly to the mind and the second to the heart. The Old Testament is pretty clear. It’s based in justice. It’s certainly a much higher level of consciousness than the primitive, anti-life dispositions that human beings often fall into: envy, destruction, rage, war, abuse, using people, taking from people, lying. That’s part of our lower nature. What’s interesting is, when we begin to grow out of that we enter into a world of reason, and that seems to me pretty much what the Old Testament is talking about — being reasonable. The first covenant that God makes with the human race is the covenant of Abraham, saying, “I will take you to a new place. I will take you out of slavery, into a place of freedom.” That’s almost like saying, “I’ll take you out of a place where you cannot grow, cannot become who you are to an opportunity to do that.” Then along with that comes a covenant with Moses. That is, “All right, we’ll get you to this place, but when you’re in this place, there’s something you need to do. You need to do what I tell you to do, and I’ll make a covenant with you. If you do what I ask you to do, I’ll stay there with you, but if you don’t do what I ask you to do, I’m going to leave you.” And that’s the covenant with Moses. It evolved eventually into a deeper covenant where he said, “Actually I won’t leave you. I’ll stay with you. So I’ll be faithful to you even if you’re unfaithful to me, but if you fail at any of these things and don’t do that, — you’ll be separate from me. I’m there. I believe in you. I trust in you, but there’s a separation. You’re outcast. You’re separate.” That’s the Old Testament. Do what you’re told, or be excluded, and most of us still live there. It’s crazy. Most of us still live there in our relationship with God and each other. Harm may do something really terrible to me, and I will not forgive you, and I will reject you, and I’ll never be a part of you. If you haven’t had somebody attack you like that, you don’t know how powerful that is to the human soul and how it can frighten us to think that we did something that destroyed something good. It’s our fault, we’re rejected, and it leads to depression, anxiety, fear.
So there had to be a new covenant, something more, and so this new covenant comes into effect when this man/God enters the world, and he decides that he’s going to change the very nature of the covenant. He changes it so dramatically and so completely that it’s so hard for us to grasp it and to stay with it. He knows — at least we knew, in the Old Testament, that the way you were able to regain God’s favor was to sacrifice something that you had, your own, to give something back to God to try to win him back, to win his favor. If you stopped doing what you did and you win his favor back by offering something and you went through a ritual of an animal being offered and blood being exchanged between you and the offering that went to God, there was this chance of reunion always in that Old Testament. However, it meant you had to do something to fix it. Then somehow God knew that that was not enough, and all that did was put tremendous pressure on human beings that, once they failed, they had to come back and figure out a way to make peace with a God who rejected them. It didn’t do much to endear God to people. God wasn’t really as capable of doing as much for them as he really wanted to do — save them, love them, keep them close to him, especially when they were lost.
So what do we have? We have this new covenant. Instead of making up for our sins by offering something to God — God offered himself. It’s hard for me to kind of grasp that in its fullness, but this is what I want you to hear if you can. This thing called redemption, this death of Christ, this experience of God giving his life for us creates an environment with God where never, ever should we ever think that we’re not forgiven. I don’t care how serious, how horrible, how terrible, anything we do, it is not in any way, shape or form a thing that separates us from God, because what he’s done is this new covenant, is giving to human beings a new avenue of staying connected, and it’s called forgiveness. We underrate it all the time. We think, “Oh, please God, forgive me, and I have to do something to get your favor back. I have to do better or something.” That’s the part that I can’t get over having such a hard time to grasp. What does it mean to be forgiven? It means there’s nothing that ever limits God’s ability to give, to love, to awaken, to care for, to continue the process of unfolding his nature that’s hidden within us, and that means there’s no such thing as a sin being a problem with God. But the church and parents and all of us have a hard time giving people that kind of freedom. “Wait a minute. You mean the sin isn’t going to ruin everything?” No, it’s not, in terms of relationship with God. What it does ruin is, if you fear sin, if you fear the effects of it to the extent that you think it harms your relationship with people and with God, then you’re going to be drawn to one of the greatest side effects that is devastating to a person who tries to keep their life as clean and fixed as they can. It’s called hypocrisy. You become a hypocrite. You start lying to yourself and to others. You cover your mistakes, and you act as if you’re someone you’re not. Until you see yourself in the worst possible light, until you see that and love yourself as God loves you in that moment, then you can’t understand this gift of the new covenant. It’s not something you can move into from the world of justice — this world of mercy without grace. I swear, you can’t. I’ve tried it most of my life.
It’s only been in the last years of my life that I really believe that I really see it, I really feel it, and the most amazing change is that not only do you feel it and feel the joy of never, ever thinking you could harm the relationship you have with God, but when someone else does something to you, you have the same feeling toward them. There’s nothing you would want to do to exclude anyone that has harmed you. Protect yourself from them? Yes. Harm them back? Cut them out? Never. That’s what we take in our body every time we take communion, the nurturing strength of building a sense of our integrity and our wholeness in the midst of our sins, and at the same time, knowing that this blood that was poured out for us changed everything when it comes to mercy taking over justice. Without that, we still live in the fear, shame, and the anger of underdeveloped brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.
Father, your heart, it resonates love. This blood, life force of forgiveness is your greatest gift. Awaken hearts everywhere, men and women who are afraid of this great gift for fear that it does invite us always to break open all the things inside of us that we hide, that we feel are too awful, too unacceptable. Let us be as merciful toward ourselves as you are toward us, and as we enter into that merciful world, we will find mercy for our brothers and sisters and bring peace and life to one another. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.