SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI-2021)
Readings:Exodus 24:3-8Psalms 116:12-13, 15-18Hebrews 9:11-15Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Embedded in my childhood memories is the recollection of the possibility of becoming “blood brother” to someone. While there were no Sharks or Jets in my neighborhood, most young boys carried very small pocket knives, knives never capable of inflicting great damage, but knives capable of making a paper-cut like slit on the end of a finger, oozing enough blood to be blended with that of another. The combining of those two sources of blood, probably not the most hygienic of things in these days of epidemiological awareness, made it possible for two unrelated boys to become “blood brothers.” I cannot recount whether there were any privileges associated with such an action; it was just something young boys did in lieu of television, tablets, smart phones and computers.
Today’s Solemnity of Corpus Christi is all about blood, and the simple ritual just described above, is not unlike the ritual described in our first reading from Exodus, for it was a sort of “covenant” with one unrelated brother. In the Book of Exodus, the blood from several “young bulls,” whose lifeblood was reluctantly given in a sacrifice to the Lord for peace, surely flowed more generously than a paper-cut, for it was splashed on the newly constructed altar and then sprinkled on all the people. The stain of that blood would remain with them nearly forever (since they had no Oxy Clean), and it would remind the people that they were now part of a covenant with the God who had done such great things for them. The blood represented God, for the animals killed were sacrificed to Him. On their part the people promised to “heed” what God had already asked them to do, and Moses reminded the people that “this is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of His.”
Our second reading from Hebrews, our ‘bridge’ to the gospel, reminds us what happens generations after Moses’ actions in our first reading. Christ came into our world, passing through the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” of human flesh, in order that He might obtain for us our “eternal redemption,” not “with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood.” Christ, Hebrews tells us, is “the mediator of a new covenant,” a final, once-and-for-all covenant, that will never be replaced.
We see the covenants of Moses and that referred to by the author of Hebrews, reflected in the account of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples. Jesus had reached His final destination, Jerusalem, and the time with His closest friends was getting short, yet Jesus desired to celebrate a covenant meal with His disciples, in celebration of the last Passover that He would celebrate in this world. The evangelist Mark reminds us that the “Passover lamb” had been sacrificed, a descendent no doubt of the lambs whose blood stained the door posts of faithful Jews centuries before their exodus from Egypt. Jesus’ blessing of the food was surely not unique. So ordinary was it that the two disciples on their way to Emmaus recognized Jesus by His blessing of food. But Mark’s account of what Jesus did is unique, for in short order He will be the lamb that is slain on the cross. On this night the bread offered up “is His body,” and the cup that is shared “is His blood,” for it is the body and blood of the “new” covenant, “which will be shed for many.”
What a precious gift we have in the Eucharist, for in the celebration of this sacrament we all become “blood brothers and blood sisters” of the God who shed His blood for us on the cross that we might have eternal life. Christ has allowed us to enter into a special and permanent covenant with Him, and every time that we have the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist, we are reminded of the cost of our discipleship, and reminded of what our side of the covenant involves – hearing and acting on Jesus’ words and actions.
If our celebrations of the Eucharist do not change us for the better then there is something wrong with the way we celebrate. If the Eucharist doesn’t result in a greater thirst of justice for all, a greater appreciation of the truth, an increased desire to see in all those who share our humanity the respect that all people should be given, then there is something wrong with the way we celebrate. Entering into a covenant with the Lord Jesus, as we do in the Eucharist, should make us more loving, more welcoming, more generous, more trusting, more kind, more compassionate, more patient, more humble, more hopeful. Let us never fail to appreciate the precious gift we have in the Eucharist.
In the words of Thomas Aquinas who penned so many beautiful hymns to the Eucharist, including today’s Sequence:
“Very bread, good shepherd, tend us,Jesu, of your love befriend us,You refresh us, you defend us,Your eternal goodness send us.”