An important word in our scripture for this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is ‘covenant.’ A covenant is far deeper than a legal contract. A covenant is a bonding, a pledge or promise between persons. A covenant demands loyalty on both parties. Moses made a covenant between the twelve tribes of Israel and God and the people made a solemn promise, ‘all the words that the Lord has spoken, we will do.’
At the last supper Jesus made a covenant with each one of us. Mark tells us that during the meal Jesus took bread and after blessing it he broke the loaf and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, this is my Body.’ He took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my Blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” This is Mark’s version of what happened at the last meal the disciples shared with Jesus.
Covenants were always ratified or sealed by blood. Scholars claim the death of the victim has a finality about it that makes it and the covenant that it seals irrevocable and shows that those involved have made a total commitment to carry out the terms of the covenant. We have Moses sprinkling the people with blood; we have Jesus shedding his blood on the cross. In the Mass after the words of consecration we are told, “do this in remembrance of me.” A remembrance is a ceremony whose repetition makes present an event that occurred in the past. So we say, “when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death O Lord until you come again.”
Bread is more than bread; it is the body of Christ. Wine is more than wine; it is the blood of Christ. Not a symbol but a reality.
The Eucharistic Congress is being held in Dublin this weekend. People will be there from all over the world. But a recent study on the Irish Church claimed that many Catholics do not subscribe to key teachings of the Church. Almost two-thirds of the people believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents or symbolises the body and blood of Christ. Just over a quarter believe that bread is more than bread and wine is more than wine, that they are truly the body and blood of Christ.
There is a saying, ‘you are what you eat.’ Our body takes the food we eat and turns it into us. The food we eat becomes our new skin, our new blood, and our new bones. In Holy Communion it is just the opposite. Jesus, our Bread of Life, makes us more like him. As He promised, “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me and I live in them.” And so we believe that Jesus Christ, “body, blood, soul, and divinity,” becomes truly one with us as our very food and sustenance. God looks at us and sees each of us as the beloved Son sent to save us.
Supposing as I came into Mass this morning instead of genuflecting to the tabernacle I turned and genuflected to you good people. What would your reaction be? My action would take you by surprise but it would be theologically correct. Actually I can’t genuflect; if I did I couldn’t get up. But remember God looks at us and see each of us as the beloved Son he sent to save us. We are the body of Christ in the world today and Christ’s work is our work; to bring good news of God’s love for everyone, to love and heal and forgive and nurture.
In the end we will be judged by how faithfully we lived our lives as the body of Christ. Remember Matthew’s description of the last judgement? Someone put this beautiful twist to it:
When all the nations of the world are gathered together, the Son of Man utters those strange words: “Insofar as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” In the body of the prisoner or stranger, the hungry or the naked, the disconsolate or the sick, a second transubstantiation has taken place. Christ has said over the least of us: “This is my body.”
The author C. S. Lewis wrote: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Christ’s body is as hidden in the least of us as it is under the appearances of bread and wine. Both require an uncommon and daring faith. That’s why I would be perfectly correct if I genuflected to you good people, the Body of Christ.