Homily: Feast of Corpus Christi 2018
(Exod 24:3-8, Heb 9:11-15, Mk 14:12-16, 22-26)
1. Today’s feast is a time of great joy and celebration for our college: it is from this feast day that our College takes its name – Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ.
As you entered our college, you might have seen the college emblem or “coat of arms” on our gate, which dates back to the time when the college was founded in 1923. The central image on the emblem is that of a pelican, piercing her breast to feed her young. Traditionally, the image is thought to signify two things: (i) in a time of famine or drought, the pelican feeding its young with its own blood for sustenance and strength; or (ii) if a young pelican was thought to be dead, the pelican feeds the young bird – until its own death – in an attempt to bring its offspring back to life.
It is thought that as early as the second century, Egyptian Christians linked the image with Christ’s sacrifice. After being revived in medieval times, including by St Thomas Aquinas, the image is often used to symbolise the sacrifice of Jesus. (St Thomas Aquinas, for example, uses the image of the pelican to refer to Jesus in his personal meditation on the Eucharist: Adore te Devote. It’s within this same meditation that we find our College motto – “to live by thee.”)
This theme – the theme of “sacrifice” – is found in all of the readings given to us for the feast of Corpus Christi this year.
2. The first reading recounts the ritual of “sealing” the covenant made between God and his people: the sprinkling of the Law with blood to recount God’s promise of love and faithfulness – a promise to be with us always. This is celebrated by our Jewish brothers and sisters each year on their holiest day of the year: The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. On this day, the High Priest enters the most sacred part of the temple and, through prayer and ritual, remembers Moses’ action of sealing the covenant. It celebrates the deliverance and freedom that God gives his people through the wiping away of sins, and God’s faithful and unending presence. It recounts the Exodus; and a God who, full of patience, delivers his people from darkness and oppression into freedom and new life.
3. St Paul then reminds us that God continues to show us, in a radical way, the extent of his love and of mercy. Christ becomes “the perfect sacrifice for us” where we see that it is not only us that offer sacrifice to God, but God, in Christ Jesus, who radically and lovingly sacrifices himself for us. In Christ, the bearer of the new covenant, we celebrate God’s immense, unconditional love – God’s deep desire to be with us in the most personal way possible. As Paul says, “Christ brings a new covenant”: a covenant which shows God’s infinite closeness, love, and mercy. In this new covenant, we not only offer prayer to God, but we receive the ultimate gift of God’s love in Christ Jesus, sacrificed for us to give us the freedom, new life, and closeness that God wishes to give us. This gift totally reverses our expectations: one who sacrifices, though innocent, entirely for us.
4. In the gospel today, Mark’s version of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples is recounted – a meal just before Jesus will enact God’s radical love for us in the sacrifice of the cross. It is at this last meal with his friends that Jesus breaks the bread and shares it; and offers them the cup, which they all drink.
At this meal, Jesus says words that we hear each time we gather for the Eucharist: “take and eat – this is my body”; and, “this is my blood – the blood of the new covenant.”
5. Jesus says to us “take and eat”. In participating in the Eucharist, we share in this new covenant: we become partakers in what the Eucharist celebrates: the abundant love of a God who is forever present to his people. In receiving the Eucharist – in receiving the body and blood of the Lord – the Eucharist becomes part of our lives and our hearts. As we partake in the Eucharist, The Eucharist stirs within us the love that it celebrates: a love full of hope, mercy and freedom. With time, it also stirs us to action – to witness to the Eucharist in our daily lives.
6. At the end of mass today we take part in a tradition which has formal beginnings in the thirteenth century – the practice of a Eucharistic Procession. In this, we give a “public witness to the reverence we have for the Blessed Sacrament.” As you could imagine, the procession, a public event, has taken a lot to organise.
After our short procession in the local streets, however, our procession returns here to the Church; after which we will all depart. In a sense, the procession finishing back here in the Church after mass is in itself very significant: it reminds us that, although today has taken much time, effort, and preparation, the work of witnessing is really just beginning as we conclude our Eucharist and celebrations today. Just as it is at the conclusion of every mass we participate in, the ongoing work of witnessing to the risen Lord in our midst, and to what the “new covenant of his body and blood” means for the world, is really just beginning.
7. Over this weekend our community have all taken turns at praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for various needs around the world. At the same time, the students have visited different groups in Melbourne and have celebrated, with joy and hope, the presence of the risen Lord in our midst in their encounters with others. In this way, we try to link our contemplation of the Eucharist with the action of being the body of Christ in the world today.
8. Jesus says to us “take and eat – this is my body”. In the Greek translation of Mark’s text, the word “body” does not just mean the physical body, but the entire person and self. In sharing and witnessing to the new covenant between God and us, we are invited to bring Jesus to others: the one who bears the good news of hope, joy, and freedom.
This is, in fact, the call for each one of us as we gather today as the Church – as the Body of Christ – the call to be bearers of Jesus to others.
9. Jesus says to us “this is my body, given for many.” Today’s feast invites us to ask how we might bring this good news today to others. This “good news” in a world we know is deeply hungering and thirsting for the freedom, hope, and love that God’s promise brings.
The feast of Corpus Christi reminds us of the heart of our Christian mission: to bring good new to the poor, sight to the blind, and freedom to prisoners. The feast of Corpus Christi invites us to be the body of Christ in the world today.
10. In the prayer of the Church today, St Thomas Aquinas reminds us that through Jesus’ coming among us and God’s covenant with us, we are changed and transformed. St Thomas says that every part of our being becomes oriented to communion with God and others, in Christ Jesus, who we witness to and bring to others. In this way, we see that our mission as the body of Christ is something that fulfils us; something which satisfies our own hunger and thirst for justice, meaning, and truth. In being the body of Christ – in contemplating and witnessing to God’s promise in our lives – we receive the peace and fullness of the kingdom in our own hearts. As St Augustine would say, it is in God that our hearts finds true rest and true peace.
Just a bit over two months ago, Pope Francis published a document on the call to holiness in the world today. In it, he talked about being Christ’s presence in the world today by being “holy”. He said it should contain five things: (1) perseverance and patience, (2) joy and a sense of humour, (3) boldness and passion; and, (4) it should be celebrated in community, and (5) with prayer.
As we continue our mission of being the body of Christ to those who we meet – the mission of bringing good new to the poor, sight to the blind, and freedom to prisoners – we do so with perseverance, patience, joy, boldness and passion: always in community and in a spirit of prayer.