Before we launch into the season of ‘ordinary time’ we have one last feast day to commemorate tonight: Corpus Christi’ which is latin for ‘body of Christ’.
This is meant to be a happy celebration of the presence of Jesus for us in the bread and the wine. While we do attend to the institution of the eucharistic meal on Maundy Thursday, that is a pretty solemn affair. So in the 14 and 15th century it was thought that Christians (largely Catholics) should have a sort of party to celebrate this important meal.
So Corpus Christi is sometimes marked with a procession outside, sometimes a parade, sometimes a fancy canopy is held over the bread and while it is carefully carried through the streets. Online you can watch videos of clerics lining sidewalks and streets, carrying crosses and bibles and the canopies that I mentioned before, as they carefully process and make their way to a church or likely a Cathedral. It is a very Catholic ritual and celebration. Very dressed in pomp and circumstance and normally, I’m not sure that I would pay very much attention to it.
But this year, it feels worthwhile to talk about the Eucharist – and about what it maybe means for us to think of ourselves as a part of the body of Christ. It’s been a very long time since we last had eucharist together. It’s been a very long time since we stood in a circle and sang and blessed the bread and the wine together and then passed it to one another.
And I don’t know about you, but I miss it.
It is of course very good to be with you here – to at least see your faces and hear your voices. It is good to say prayers together. And it is important for us to remember that regardless of whether we can gather together to share the bread and the wine, we, of course, remain a part of the body of Christ together.
Nothing changes that.
But there is something important that happens in community when you share a meal together. When you take some bread and some wine and pass it around so that everyone who comes gets to have some. There is something important that happens when we all come to the table together, no matter what might separate us normally, and all receive the same blessing.
There is a reminder in that simple action of our belovedness and our own sacredness, no matter what our reality might be once we leave.
And there is a lesson (I hope) in the action of sharing the sacred meal together, that reminds all of us, what loving our neighbour can look like. There is something about all of us having access to the same food and the same wine, the same plate and cup – that is deeply meaningful.
Usually when you have a dinner party, you invite people that you know best, or maybe people that you want to impress. So out of love or maybe something else, you get out your nicest plates and cups, your best cutlery and you make something. Maybe you take time over preparing the food, maybe you plan what you will make and include a delicious dessert. Maybe you buy some fancy wine or expensive sparkling water.
You want your guest to feel welcome, maybe you want them to know that they are important to you. Generally speaking, unless it’s a family dinner, we don’t have people over who make us feel uncomfortable or who aren’t in our social circle. We like to have people in our home who we will know what to expect from them.
The eucharist though, isn’t like that. It’s a meal that is set at a table, with the best of what we have, and it’s freely offered to anyone who wants it and is seeking in some way to be in relationship with Jesus – however that looks for them. We gather around the table, and we tell the story of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. We talk a little bit about what salvation looks like and then we are reminded that the bread and the wine that we are about to share, that we are all welcome and beloved and known – are gifts from God for us, the people of God.
And then we are sent out into the world.
I think that we come to church to be reminded of and to practice together, how we want to be in the world as followers of the teachings of Christ.
We come to hear stories about God and about the life and teachings of Jesus. We come to name our prayers and to hold them together as a community. We come to confess where we have left things undone that we should have tended and where we did things that we wish that we hadn’t, and relationships that are in need of repair or maybe that are broken because of something that we did. And we come to hear that we are forgiven, that we can be forgiven. We come to hear that redemption is possible, and that grace is freely offered by the one who loves us first, no matter how badly we might have messed up. And we know that that is what salvation feels like.
We sing, even if we don’t believe that we are very good – we sing in a world that doesn’t really encourage us to do anything unless we are sure we are good. And we leave changed by what we have experienced together.
My hope is that we remember some of what we learn together. We go out remembering that it’s possible and important to apologize when we get it wrong and remembering what forgiveness feels like – so that we can work on offering forgiveness. That we remember that it’s important for us to sing and to do things even when we don’t think we are very good at them because perfection isn’t always the goal and risking something of ourselves can be important.
We go out remembering the stories of a God who is continuously seeking us and calling us back to love and to remember our own belovedness, so that hopefully we can see that in others too. And we go out having experienced a meal together that everyone was invited to and that didn’t have a special place at the table for anyone. Everyone who came was deemed worthy of attendance. We maybe stood or kneeled beside someone that we didn’t know very well or weren’t sure about and they were invited too.
And we come back again and again because it is important for us to be reminded and to practice together.
Because, my friends, I think that is what being the Body of Christ is like. At the heart of it is the knowledge that God thinks that we are all worthy and that we are all invited. That no matter how many lines we would like to draw between us – a table is set with all of the fanciest things and none of us has a more important spot.
Our invitation is to try our best to live out what we learn here – at church – in the world. And it’s hard. It’s easy to forget, so we need to practice a lot.
I remember hearing a story about Bishop Jim Cruickshank, of blessed memory, who, when he was Dean at our Cathedral, would take his little eucharist kit out to people’s workplace and have eucharist with them there. Where ever they worked, if they were open to it, he would go – and they would pray together and break bread together and then he would leave. He was telling them something important about their lives and their vocation. He was telling them something about the sacredness of what they did and reminding them of their own place as a part of the body of Christ in the world and in their work.
We aren’t just a part of the body here – or in church – that part is easy because we are all doing the same thing together. We are all practicing together in a community that generally accepts what we are up to and is reading (literally) from the same book. The hard part is when we leave and have to remember what we did together – when we have to take it out into the world with us.
In church, we hopefully have the opportunity to be in relationship with people who are not all the same as us – who don’t all think the same way or love all the same things – and yet they too are beloved of God and welcome at the table at the same table. That is what is at the heart of who we are as Christians. We are practicing the commandment that Jesus gave to his friends, to love God and love our neighbours and love ourselves.
To risk love is to come to the table, just as you are and to stand beside someone who is not just like you, but who is beloved – and then to carry that out into your life and practice it there.
I cannot wait to be able to come back to the Eucharist with you – and until then, I am so grateful for the opportunities that we have continued to have to come together to practice our faith – to pray, to sing, to check-in with each other. Because Eucharist or not – we continue to be a part of the body of Christ.