I wasn’t able to video Holy Communion today. But for those who are interested, here is my homily. Yours in Christ,
Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Sunday – June 6, 2021
Readings: Ex 24:3-8, Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18, Heb 9:11-15, Mk 14:12-16, 22-26 (Alleluia Jn 6:51)
by Deacon Robert Mitchell
Brothers and Sisters, what is this rite that we perform, the one that we celebrate today, which is the Eucharist or Holy Communion? What’s going on here? Well, obviously it’s symbolic, deeply symbolic. But it’s a particular type of symbol: an inversion symbol or a transgressive symbol.
The eating of human flesh and the drinking of human blood are forbidden in every culture. The most enduring monsters of fiction are flesh-eating zombies and blood-drinking vampires. This rite was particularly shocking to the Hebrews of Jesus’ time because their laws not only forbade the eating and drinking of human flesh and blood but the consumption of animal flesh and blood together. Animal flesh and blood were never to be comingled as they are when the fraction is placed in the wine.
This rite is also a shocking reversal because, before Jesus’ institution of this new rite, an animal would’ve been sacrificed on the altar, and any meat not given over to the flames would’ve been consumed by the faithful as physical nourishment. But this new rite is a human sacrifice, something forbidden in the culture. And the nourishment gained is of an entirely different sort.
The third way in which the Eucharistic rite is upside down is that it flips the very idea of sacrifice on its head. Previously the sacrifice of animals was intended to be pleasing to God so that the faithful could be blessed by God. But in this new rite, God sacrifices himself so that we can be fundamentally transformed from within.
The fourth and final inversion of symbol is in the wafer itself. In the world of men, kings, emperors, queens, and princes mint wafers of metal called “coins.” They have put their faces on them, and we have to earn and trade these coins for the things of the world. This little commercial disc rules over our physical existence. But in the Eucharistic Rite, we have a little white coin of bread, embossed not with the face of a ruler, but with the Cross of the One True King. And if we accept this free gift, we gain a nourishment which contains the hope of eternal life.
As symbols go, I struggle to see how the symbol of the Holy Eucharist could possibly any more revolutionary, any more taboo, or any more completely at odds with worldly life than it is. This Rite smashes our sensibilities, flies in the face of convention, and turns our lives upside down. Yes, it’s a symbol – the most powerful symbol there has ever been or ever will be. But before you begin to think yourself around to the idea that the bread and wine are merely symbol – that they are not the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – let’s turn to John 6 from which our Alleluia was lifted for today’s service.
In this long and important chapter, Jesus explains the nature of the rite.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
And what do they say?
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
Now we’re getting to it. Here’s the big finish, and there’s a nice coincidence here that makes this passage easy to remember. It’s John 6:66 — that’s “666”! — and it goes,
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
Does Jesus back off on this point? No. He doubles down.
67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
He says in essence, “Do you want to leave like they did? Well there’s the door. Go!” Brothers and sisters, if this is you, please think hard about the consequences of your belief or lack thereof. Jesus knows that if we don’t believe and trust in the transformation that occurs in the Eucharist, how can we believe in the transformation that is in store for us in the Life to come? The Church Fathers – Athanasius, Irenaeus, Clement, Theophilus, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others – were clear on this point. God became Man, that Man might become God.
So is it a symbol? Yep, sure it is, and that’s great. But it’s so much more than that – it’s the ultimate reality!