10th June 2012
Mark 14:12-16. 22-26
Tony van Vuuren
The feast of Corpus Christi is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of our Lord’s Last Supper, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated. While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the broken bread and wine; today, in celebration of Corpus Christi, this same mystery is proposed for our adoration and meditation, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us toward the kingdom of heaven. Today we openly manifest what Jesus has given us in the intimacy of the Last Supper, because Christ’s love is not confined to the few, but is intended for all.
The Gospel reading from Mark begins with a short reference to Passover — “the Feast of Unleavened bread” and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. When we hear the word sacrifice we think of it as the price Jesus paid for our sins. But what about also thinking of sacrifice the way parents sacrifice for their children? A parent gives up free time, energy and personal desires so that children can have what they need for life. Parents accept suffering for the sake of their children’s’ well-being.
Like a loving parent Jesus was willing to give up his life so that we might share in it and have life. Jesus chose to put his life in service to others so that we could learn a new way of living and be a people of hope. His total gift of himself and his unique understanding of who God is and how God acts led to his rejection and death on the cross. Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself so that we could be the beneficiaries and receive new life.
The reality of his sacrificial life and death are made present to us at our Eucharist today. He is with us now as he was for those disciples in the upper room that first day of the Passover feast. By our participation at the table we are renewing our baptismal commitment to serve one another — to accept Jesus’ manner of life and his death. When we receive the broken bread we express our willingness to be broken for the sake of others, as Jesus was.
We must be careful though; If we participate in the Eucharist with a routine, materialistic mentality we fail to understand and so lose the benefits of this extraordinary gift of God’s love. The Eucharist is true food but at the same time it is very different from every other food. The great difference lies in these words of Christ, which St Augustine heard in prayer, “You will not change me into yourself as you would bodily food; but you will be changed into me.”
Therefore, while the bodily food is consumed by the body and contributes to sustain it, the Eucharist is different bread: We do not consume it, but it consumes us to itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ, one with him. The word “communion,” which we use to designate the Eucharist, sums up the vertical and horizontal dimension of the gift of Christ. The gift that we receive today when we come up to the altar and hear the beautiful expression “The Body of Christ” offered to us in the act of eating the bread of the Eucharist. In fact, when we carry out this act, we enter into communion with the very life of Jesus; from God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted in the Holy Eucharist.
The Eucharist, an important tenet of our faith, is why many people who are so disenchanted with so much about the Church nevertheless choose to stay anyway and in spite of! It is also why those who do not believe in the Eucharist think our faith is “way out there.” As firm believers in the Eucharist, it is because it is indeed “way out there” that it is so important to us. It is not only symbolism; and there is nothing magic about the Eucharist!
It provides us with a life-sustaining ritual, a regular meeting around the word and person of Christ that can become the daily bread of our lives and our community.
There is something really extraordinary about a tangible God whom we can experience through our human senses. The Eucharist reminds us that God in the Person of Jesus is always present to us, is always ready to nourish us by giving us God’s physical embrace (the Real Presence) and gives us a oneness with each other that we cannot give to ourselves.
The celebration of the Eucharist has no meaning if it is not lived with love. To reverence the Eucharist and to partake in the Eucharist with such an understanding is life-changing. We are called into an ever-deeper union with our God. It is because of the Eucharist that God’s Word is such a source of empowerment for us as well as a source of nourishment.
Scripture tells us we are to become like Jesus; we are to become the person who’s Body we eat. This transforming of one’s life is only done by God’s grace acting within us. We can cooperate by meditating on God’s Word and by living as we are so guided to do.
To celebrate the Eucharist is to commit oneself to a discipleship that “remembers” Jesus, not only in the ritual breaking of the bread, but also in the “imitation” of Jesus. In order to bring the love of our God into a world that is in such need of unconditional love, we must be nourished ourselves and empowered to act as Jesus did.
It is a call to move from worship to service, to take the nourishment, the embrace, the kiss; we have just received from God and translate it immediately and directly into loving service of others.
The Eucharist is both an invitation which invites us and a grace which empowers us to service. And what it invites us to do is to replace distrust with hospitality, pride with humility, and self-interest with self-effacement so as to reverse the world’s order of things – wherein the rich get served by the poor and where the first priority is always to keep one’s pride intact and one’s self-interest protected. The Eucharist invites us to step down from pride, away from self-interest, to turn the mantel of privilege into the apron of service, so as to help reverse the world’s order of things wherein pride, status, and self-interest seem forever to be the norm.
Jesus is our Passover, giving himself for us, helping us pass from the slavery of sin to new life as God’s children. Our hope today is that once again we put our flesh and blood into the hands of the Lord so that, moulded by him, our lives can mirror and point to him living among us.
The gospel closes with a reminder that drinking the fruit of the vine is also a promise and anticipation of a feast yet to come, when we will sit together, with our risen Christ, at the banquet in the kingdom of God.