The Gospel. St. John 6. 55.
At that time: Jesus said unto the multitude of the Jews: My Flesh is meat indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth of this bread shall live forever.
As is obvious from the title page in this morning’s bulletin, today we are celebrating the “External Solemnities of Corpus Christi”; more commonly known as the “Commemoration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. From this designation, we might be correct to assume that our worship on this occasion is focused solely on the Institution of the Holy Mass; a focus that is distinct from that which is celebrated during Holy Week on Maundy Thursday. And of course, we would be very correct in that assumption.
But as I prepared for this sermon, I was struck by the “first part” of the title for today; “Corpus Christi”. What drew my attention was that this title in Latin, “Corpus Christi” translates as “Body of Christ”. No mention of the Precious Blood. No mention of a “commemoration”. Just simply, “Body of Christ”.
Now the natural reaction to this thought might be, “so what”? After all, as Catholic Christians, we believe that one may receive the entirety of the Blessed Sacrament (Body and Blood) even if we receive only “in one kind”. Therefore, if we receive only the Consecrated Host at Holy Communion, then we have effectively received both the Body and Blood of Christ; and the Grace that proceeds from it (provided, of course, that we have received “worthily”; but we’ll get back to that later).
So again it might be asked, why do I see any difference in the titles for today’s celebration? Well, it’s because in the Catholic Faith, we are given more than one definition for the term “Body of Christ”. On the one hand, it is most definitely a term used for the Blessed Sacrament. But it is also the title given to an entity that was likewise instituted by Our Lord.
I quote from the 12th chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (v27); “now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular”. Seem odd to you? Does anyone think that St. Paul is suggesting that we are all somehow “part” of that Blessed Sacrament? Is that even possible? Well, of course, St. Paul isn’t referring to that Sacrament that Christ established by his Institution of the Mass; in this context, what he is referring to is the Church.
So how does this relate to the Gospel passage for today? He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. Romans, chapter 12, verse 5; “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members, one of another”. Again, from the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians; “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ”.
So our membership in the Church is the evidence of our incorporation into the Body of Christ. Further, it is our belief in the Real Presence of Christ at the Mass, and our reception of his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, that causes us to dwell in that Body, Christ himself, and for him to dwell in us. The two are actually one. We cannot be members of the Body of Christ, his Church, unless we RECEIVE the Body of Christ through his indwelling in us.
Now this is not to say that non-Catholics are going to hell just because they don’t receive the Blessed Sacrament; I choose not to limit what God will do in such matters. But I do maintain that the primary point here is about the “indwelling” of Christ. We should ask ourselves, “how is Christ in us, and how are we IN Christ”? Maybe the better question to ask is; how do we show that either (or preferably both) is the case?
Aw darn it! You just knew that I was going to get to that whole thing about “our responsibility” again. Well, I’m sorry, but that IS the whole point, isn’t it? “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1st Timothy 1:15); that would be us, by the way. But Our Lord also constantly reminds us that we have a part to play in God’s Plan as well; St. John, chapter 14 (v 7) “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him”. Chapter 13 (v34 & 35) “ A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another”; “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.
So, if we claim to know Christ, if we claim to love him, if we claim to be members of his Body, of HIS CHURCH, then we ARE COMMANDED to love ALL His creation, and to show that love in our everyday witness.
So again, just how do we show that Christ dwells in us, and we in him? How do we show the world that we are indeed members of the Body of Christ? I’m glad you asked; because as always, we have any number of very exciting opportunities right here before us; and it is up to us to recognize and make use of these opportunities.
Recently, after the Requiem Mass that we celebrated for our brother Edward Powell, I was approached by a number of people who were amazed by our liturgy. They recognized the holiness of our worship here, and it inspired in them emotions that they could not describe. And yet, for the most part, I doubt that many of them will return; because we haven’t extended the invitation.
This most obvious opportunity has always been right under our noses. Last week, we celebrated our annual Walsingham Pilgrimage, Even if you’ve somehow managed to ignore the bulletin or nodded off during the announcements at Mass on Sundays, the flyers for this event were on the table in the back of the Nave and should have been a clear reminder. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I do know how many of us were in attendance; and I wonder how many of us likewise invited others. Let me tell why you should have done so;
This was a COMMUNITY event! Indeed, the Holy Mass is a COMMINTY event! This word, COMMUNITY, does not simply mean that we are inviting people from the local neighborhood. It means that THIS is an OPPORTUNITY for us to put our membership in the Church, the Body of Christ, on display for all to see. It is our chance to welcome people into the fellowship of the faithful; so that they too will have the opportunity to be “grafted” onto the Body of Christ.
I remind you that the word “Church” is also defined as “a COMMUNITY of believers”. So, as opposed to simply inviting people from the area to join us in hearing a good sermon and eating good food at coffee hour, the Mass is our chance to invite and welcome them into OUR COMMUNITY; to witness to them, by our actions, the Love of Christ; to show them what it means to belong to the Church; a “community of believers”; The Body of Christ. To show them that we are not merely followers of Christ, but that we also “dwell” in Christ.
He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. So what does it mean to “dwell” in Christ? What does it mean to say that Christ “dwells” in us? Certainly, for Catholic Christians, it means that we must approach and receive the Blessed Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood “worthily”; and part of receiving “worthily” means that we must also do so “in love and charity with your neighbors’” (BCP pg. 75).
If we do not invite our neighbors to join us in the fellowship of the faithful, if we do not encourage them to join in the “community of believers”; if we fail to witness to them the joy that we experience as a result of our membership in the Body of Christ, then we must truly ask ourselves if WE are worthily receiving the Blessed Sacrament; and we must understand and accept the dangers involved when we fail to do so.
This parish of St. James has been in existence for nearly 160 years. Yet still, we are only just beginning. We are very young in God’s eyes; and fortunately so; because we may yet have time to witness our Faith to the world.
We may yet have time to proclaim the Gospel. We may yet have time to show our friends, our families and neighbors, the joy that we experience as a result of our membership in the fellowship of the Faithful, the community of believers, the Holy Catholic Church. We may yet have time to show the glory of Christ dwelling in us, and we in him. We may yet have time to show that our hearts, our minds, and our souls have been changed by this indwelling of Christ; we may yet have time to witness to the majesty and magnificence of “Corpus Christi”, the Body of Christ.
He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.