6th Jun, 2010

Corpus Christi

by The Rev. Fr. Ian Elliott Davies

Lections:

Genesis 14:18-20

I Corinthians 11:23-26

St. John 6:51-58

Corpus Christi means, of course, the Body of Christ, the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper which, according to the old Prayer Book, is commonly called the Mass. How are we to understand these things? We are talking about a Sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Another phrase used to refer to the Sacraments is Holy Mysteries. But here a mystery is not a riddle like an Agatha Christie detective novel: mystery is from the Greek word musterion, translated as sacramentum in Latin that was the oath that Roman legionaries made to the Emperor. It was the promise- a very real promise to obey the Emperor and all set in command. It was an outward, visible obedience. This mystery is the visible means by which we can approach invisible things which passeth all understanding.

The words, actions, movement and gestures of this liturgy point to a place beyond words. We are not to suppose that the Holy Communion is a sort of role-play –like another episode in a renaissance fair. Is it just a memorial, Do this in remembrance of me? It is a memorial, but a memorial of a very particular kind: the word used by the Gospel writers and St Paul is anamnesis which means more than a memorial: it means making real and present in this moment something that was sometime ago in the past.

Nearly four thousand years ago, when Abraham returned from his victory over Chedorlaomer, The Book Genesis tells us, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the

Most High God.” Melchizedek literally means “King of Righteousness,” or Priestly King. He foreshadows Christ the King of Righteousness. This mysterious character is also described as King of Salem shalom, that is, like Christ, he is the King of Peace. We are told that he is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he continues a priest for ever. He never appears again in Judeo-Christian history- it is as if having once, miraculously appearing to God’s people he goes on his way again. Abraham is left in no doubt that here, yet again, like the angels at Mamre, God has encountered His people in our earthly pilgrimage.

Nearly five hundred years ago Elizabeth I, of the House of Tudor, the Welsh royal dynasty and Queen of England was asked how she understood the Sacrament: being a canny sort and having known a great deal about the mysterious elements of the human heart and human existence she replied: “T’was God the Word that spake it, He took the bread and brake it; And what the Word did make it, that I believe and take it.”

You may be surprised to hear that the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther

agreed. He got angry with those who wouldn’t believe the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and said: Who, but the devil, has granted such licence of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my Body is the same as the sign of my Body? What  language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers

of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke like that: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, The Body and Blood of Christ is not there present.

But you are not coming to a theological theory at the altar this morning. This is close, intimate and personal. This is your own real meeting with Jesus. You stretch out your hands to him and he gives you his life, his very corporeal self. The Blessed Sacrament is his tenderness and love for you. And the priest only copies his words. It is Jesus himself who says to you: “This is my Body…This is my Blood. Take, eat. For 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.”

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