Body and Blood of Christ (June 18, 2017)
The readings for this year’s cycle, [Year A], used to be the only set of readings for about 400 of the last 440 years on this Sunday. Ancient church liturgists tried to pick the very best readings from the bible. These are what we just heard today as we celebrate the solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ.
One curiosity of John’s Gospel is that five of the twenty original chapters of his Gospel are devoted to the Last Supper. And, yet, there is zero mention of bread or wine at the meal. Why? Because John had written extensively about Eucharist back in his magnificent chapter six.
In today’s gospel from chapter 6, we heard: “if you do not eat of the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John does not use the ordinary word for “eat” in this last verse; he uses the Greek verb trogein - to tear with the teeth, to gnaw. The strongest, most vivid language! And, he uses it four times in this section for emphasis.
The earliest church communities understood these words to be literally true. The bread and wine really becomes the body and blood of Jesus.
In ancient Judaism this would not have been so strange as it sounds to us. Back then, there were two sacrificial practices: first, there was the holocaust, the total incineration of the animal -- asking for divine acceptance. The second practice was called a “sin offering” to achieve at-one-ment with god through the shedding of blood. While the whole animal was offered to God, a portion of the flesh could be given to the priests and the rest could be given back to the worshiper who could then feast on it. Since the animal had been offered to God, something of god was thought to dwell in the offering. Therefore, the worshiper left the feast with a sense of God within. So, there was a Jewish precedent for divine presence and food.
I’d like to make two points: one, theological and the other, personal.
First: this miracle of bread and wine changed into body and blood was later given by catholic-theologians the fancy name “transubstantiation.” There are some who find this unacceptable. Real presence is just too “unscientific” for them. But, when we stop to think, is it any more difficult to accept that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ than to accept the fact that broccoli, French fries, and chocolate ice cream become the body and blood of you and me -- using the fancy name of biologists: “assimilation”?
Assimilation is accepted as a scientific fact. Transubstantiation is rejected by some in spite of the biblical evidence in John’s Gospel.
Second: if we really believe that this particle, this sip, is really the body and blood of Jesus, why are we not more awed than we are when we receive our lord?
Do we need to take time to remind ourselves of the magnificent miracle, the awesome reality of Jesus coming into you and me at mass with a fervent amen when we receive our lord and then take time to “be” with Jesus, to speak with him . . . And to listen?
The Eucharist is not about some “thing” to be “received.” It is so much deeper. It is mutual presence, at-one-ment, the relationship. This is the personal aspect of Eucharist. It is a giant step beyond the second kind of Jewish sacrifice, the sin offering. We have personal encounter with him and we gradually change in the encounter. The encounter changes us. We eventually live Jesus.
Jesus draws us to a deeper level of spiritual truth and life. He also tries to wean us from spiritual baby food, the “things” of religion. Childish practices that, at an earlier stage, were all that we could manage, today, they would keep us undernourished. He cultivates our spiritual taste for the awesome,
And, he bluntly tells us those who eat live; those who don’t, die.