The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Genesis 14:18-20 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | Luke 9:11b-17
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 that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
Of all the things that my priesthood has enabled me to do, of all the times in which I feel most like a priest, it’s when a celebrate the liturgy, the Eucharist, and it’s a two-fold ceremony, as you know. There’s the liturgy of the word, that ritual, and the liturgy ritual of the Eucharist. When I was ordained, I think I really thought in my heart that I was going to be so empowered, and I have been empowered, to use sacraments to minister to people. It was my way of bringing God to people, through a sacrament, but then I realized, as soon as I was ordained, that there was another even, perhaps, more — a bigger responsibility, and that was to do that first part, the liturgy of the word, in other words, preaching. So in a way, when you come to mass, you’re watching a priest do his two most essential things. He is helping you understand the mystery of what is hidden in these stories, opening your eyes to what is true, guiding you to a place of peace and fullness, and then he becomes this mystical character, this Christ figure. We wear special clothes that fit more the clothes that Jesus would have worn, and we go through this ritual, because it’s easy to make it rote for a priest or for the people there, because it’s written. It’s not a spontaneous experience of the priest’s own faith, like a homily is, but there’s something when you go into it and you let it take over. It’s like you drift into a place of reflection, and it’s so sweet and powerful. And then the coolest part of it is you come forward, and you eat this bread. And the fullness of the celebration of the Eucharist is when you also offer the cup to everyone present. So you drink this wine.
You do it, and the words around the Eucharist, around the experience of preparing the community, or how the community experiencing the preparation that the liturgy itself is gives them, it’s so beautiful, because it keeps saying, over and over again — when I was growing up, all these prayers were in Latin, and even when I was ordained, part of them were in Latin, and part of them were English. But those prayers, the meanings of those prayers were always hidden from me as a young child, but they’re so beautiful in terms of saying something over and over again. Before you receive the Eucharist, you are forgiven. You are forgiven. You are forgiven. The reason that seems so important to me is, when I was growing up, the Eucharist was a kind of exercise wherein you were showing God that you had done everything you can to free yourself of sin and imperfection by going to confession, which was not necessarily demanded, but it was considered to be a really wonderful devotional practice. You’d go to confession on Saturday night and go to communion on Sunday, and so many times people wouldn’t go to communion. You’d say, “Why didn’t you go to communion?” “Well, I haven’t gone to confession lately.” So there’s an image of you had to be pure and clean before you could receive the Eucharist, and yet somehow, in the ritual, when you read it, you say, “Wait a minute then. Why all these words about, ‘you’re forgiven, you’re forgiven, you’re forgiven’? It doesn’t say blessed are those who have gone to confession and now come forward.” It fact there are times when a priest will feel obligated to say to a congregation, “Don’t come forward unless you’re totally prepared and have no sin on your soul.” Well, the problem with that is the definition people have of sin. If sin is an imperfection, which it is for most people — it’s our humanity showing itself — it’s almost like saying, “Well, if you’re human and you really need the help of this Eucharist, don’t come unless you’ve got it all worked out,” or something like that.
Really this is food for sinners, for people struggling. The church has always required reconciliation for what we call mortal sin, which is a very, very severe fracture in your relationship with God. It’s not a fault. It’s not a weakness. It’s a well-planned, well-intended decision that says, “I will do a violent, horrible thing to my relationship with God. I will cut God out of my life.” Then you need the prayer of the church to reconcile you. That’s confession, but for most people, at least my experience with confession, is people are not confessing other than their humanity. So I want to talk about that, the relationship between going to the Eucharist, after listening to the powerful images in scripture, and what’s in your heart when you think about what you’re about to do.
The easiest thing to happen is you just do it because it’s time to do it, like you stand when you stand, you kneel when you kneel, you go forward and get the Eucharist, you come back. It’s rather rote and not very conscious, and of course human nature gets into that rut. But no, for it to work, for anything to work, in terms of the spiritual world, you need consciousness, and you need to know what you’re doing. You need to be open to the mystery that is being affected in you at that moment. That’s the way it works. “I know what this is. I believe that this is what it’s supposed to be, and I want what it is that it’s going to offer me. And I humbly receive it, and I’m so thankful for receiving it.”
It’s funny. The word thankful is just so perfect for Eucharist, because there’s nothing else you can say to God when he says, “I have chosen to come and dwell within you. My body, my existence is for you, and this life force that’s in me, I want it to be in you, my body, my blood in you.” How do you — “Oh, thanks.” No, it’s overwhelming when you think about it, and it’s not saying, “I come to you in your perfection.” No, “I come to you in your humanity.” Your humanity, all the stuff that makes you you and me me, the really wonderful gifts that some of us — all of us have some gifts for some way for the good of all those around us, but some are gifted more than others. But if you see your life as itself a gift to the people around you and you understand that what Eucharist is asking you to do is receive this incredible gift, God’s presence inside of you, his life coursing through your veins, which means somehow you as a human being, in your humanity, you carry God into the world.
That’s the issue. You become his vessel, his carrier of what he brings, and what does he bring? The most beautiful thing is clear in the ministry of Jesus when — what was he so noted for? What was the church so upset about what he was doing? Because he was doing things that didn’t — that were completely out of the church’s control, the temple’s control, and people just got better. They were healed. They just — I don't know. I love that image. He goes everywhere. They were healed. I always thought he did some pretty amazing healings where it was cripples and blind people, but those are all images of the inability we have when we’re caught in an illusion where we can’t work, we can’t get to where we need to get to. The withered hand, we can’t do the work we’re called to do. The opened eyes, we’re not able to see what we need to see. Most especially, one of the things we need to see is how blind we are in certain areas so that we can invite the light of this presence of God inside of us to enlighten us and show us things, but what I want you to feel is not what I used to feel as a child, that I had to be pure and fixed before God would enter into me. That is the biggest misconception I received, partly my fault, I guess, partly it was, maybe, what my parents felt. I don't know. It was never the official teaching of the church literally, but I got it. I get this feeling that, in fact, maybe it was because I had to fast, and you couldn’t have food in your stomach. You couldn’t touch the Eucharist with any part of your body, not even your teeth. You had to just let it melt on your tongue into your empty, clean stomach, and there was even a cloth they would put over your hands just in case a little piece, a particle would touch your contaminated, sinful body. That’s what it felt like, and all that’s gone, thank God, with Vatican Council. We can touch. We can be given it. It’s given to us. We put it in our hand, like in a throne, and we pick it up, and we put it in our mouth, and we can chew it. We can eat it, and we can go — it was impossible to ever think you could ever drink the blood. Only a priest could do that. You go and receive the cup and hold it and drink it, taste the wine. It’s wonderful. It’s sensual.
But the most interesting thing is not that it has all those qualities of what I think God wants us to sense when he says, “I want to come to you.” It’s not like, “I’m just going to dwell as this little mysterious ghost inside of you.” No, “I’m coming to you, and when I come to you, it’s energy.” It’s like energy. I can’t think of anything else. It’s like a full, rich meal in the form of bread, and the image of the wine is so beautiful. And that was always hidden for me, because I was told sin would keep me from going to the Eucharist. I was never told that Eucharist forgives sins. Go to the Eucharist, and you receive forgiveness. Does that mean that’s where you get rid of your mortal sins? No, that’s confession, but you go with your weaknesses and your brokenness and your longings for things to be different. You wish you didn’t have that particular thing that gives you pleasure that you’re embarrassed to death for anyone to know. You take all of that, and you walk up there, and you say, “Enter into that.” And you know what he’s going to say to you? “Thank you, because so few people let me come into them.” Into them means into them, uniquely them, which is their humanity, which is broken and twisted in many ways, and yet somehow, if God comes into a person who has a certain bent, be it a weakness or a strength, he uses that weakness, and he uses that strength as a vehicle through which he can communicate to the people around.
We were created in a unique way so that we would be unique vessels. When God enters into us, he doesn’t become this automatic — we don’t become like robots, acting as if God. No, we are infused with him so that the effectiveness of who we are is so potent, and that effectiveness has an effect on other people. And that’s what changes them, and Eucharist infuses that personality — I don’t want to call it personality. I like it more humanity, our unique humanity, because personality is often something we add onto who we really are. It’s like your persona. It’s like what you put on, but this is you really being you, infused with God, who is the only creative force in the world that can heal and change hearts, and he uses your humanity to be an instrument of reaching those unique people in your circle.
I love when the Eucharist is celebrated in that gospel passage. It’s like we all have this gift to give to each other, this bread and this fish, this nourishment in the Christ figure, in the fish. We all carry that to each other. In that story, everybody is divided up, and you get this feeling, they must have put some down there, but they passed it around. It was all flowing between people, not from one source to everyone but somehow in little groups. That’s the church. That’s the way life is. It’s our circle of friends and all the stuff in it, and if we let divinity into every part of us, even the most unattractive parts of it, those unattractive parts, if we share them with other people, could be transforming just because we’re honest enough to share them. That’s what I mean. It’s infused divinity in our unique, broken humanity. The two are not opposite. That’s what I’m afraid I was taught: our humanity, our brokenness is sort of incompatible with holiness. No, it’s just the opposite. They’re made for each other. So we have to believe in that, have faith in that. That’s the mystery. Otherwise it’s sort of like medicine. I don't know. It’s going to change me. It’s going to make me better. I don’t go to the Eucharist to become holy, in the sense of sinless. No, I go there because I want to embrace my sinless. I want to embrace my brokenness, and that’s the thing to be thankful for. Thank you, God, for enabling me to love me as you love me, amen.
Father, what a perfect name we have given to the gift you have given us, the gift of yourself coming into us just as we are, Eucharist, thankfulness. We thank you for this great gift, and we pray that you would enable us to be Eucharist to each other, that we would have the disposition that you have toward us, and we know that we’re enhanced and empowered to be you if you are dwelling in us. So let us not make this about words but about a reality, about something we can feel and sense and live, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.