Today we celebrate with great joy one of the most wonderful feasts on our Church calendar, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Through this greatest of all gifts, we have been made one with our God who loves his people beyond all imagining. We experience this love in perhaps one of the most basic ways of our human existence, which is to say by being fed. Learning to satisfy our hunger is one of the first things we learn; we learn who we can depend on and develop close relationships with those people. Today’s feast brings it to a higher level, of course. The hunger we’re talking about is not mere physical hunger, but instead a deep inner yearning, a hunger for wholeness, for relatedness, for intimate union with our Creator and Redeemer.
What we see in our God is one who has always desired deep union with his people. We have just recently finished the Lent and Easter seasons, in which the history of God’s work in salvation history has been beautifully recalled. Salvation began with the creation of the whole world, the saving of Noah and those on the ark, the covenant made with Abraham, the ministry of the prophets, and ultimately culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. God never lost interest in his creation; he didn’t set the world in motion and then back off to leave everything to its own devices. God has time and again intervened in human history, offering us an olive branch, seeking renewal of our relationship with him, and bringing us back no matter how far we have fallen.
God has repeatedly sought to covenant with us. Eucharistic Prayer IV beautifully summarizes God’s desire: “You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures. Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.”
And unlike human covenants, which have to be ratified by both parties, and are useless unless both parties agree, the covenant offered by God is effective on its face. God initiates the covenant, unilaterally, out of love for us. Our hardness of heart, our sinfulness, our constant turning away from the covenant do not nullify that covenant. God’s grace transcends our weakness, God’s jealous love for us and constant pursuit of us is limitless.
Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the history of the covenant. The first reading recalls the covenant God made with the Israelites through the ministry of Moses. The people agree to do everything the Lord commanded, and Moses seals the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifice and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the point that if the blood of sacrificed animals can bring people back in relationship with God, how much more could the blood of Christ draw back all those who have strayed. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he himself said in the Gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
And so we, the many, benefit from Christ’s blood of the covenant. The preface for the Eucharist Prayer today says, “As we eat his body which he gave for us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean.” God’s desire for covenant with us cannot be stopped by sin or death or the grave.
We disciples are called then to respond to the covenant. Having been recipients of the great grace of God’s love, we are called to live the covenant in our relationships with others. Which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes people test our desire to covenant with them; sometimes they don’t even want to be in covenant with us. But the model for our relationships with others is the relationship God has with us. And so sometimes we have to unilaterally extend the covenant, even if the other isn’t willing, or doesn’t know, that we care for them. God wants to offer the covenant to everyone on earth, and he may well be using us to extend the covenant to those he puts in our path. As the alternate opening prayer for today says, “May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit…”
We do this in so many ways. Here at St. Raphael, one of the important ways we do that is through our support of Hesed House and Loaves and Fishes. The Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry began in a closet here at St. Raphael in 1984. That year, eight families were helped. This year, as the year began, 1,800 families were helped, and that number has grown by about a hundred families a month due to this economy. Most recently, the pantry helped 2,800 families. I was privileged to offer the invocation at their 24 Hours Without Hunger event two weeks ago. The executive director expressed the organization’s deep regard for St. Raphael, noting that although so many Naperville churches currently support them, St. Raphael’s continues to be by far their largest congregational supporter.
We absolutely should feel good about the ways we show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we cannot rest on our laurels, as that number of families served continues to grow, we who are able must be strong in our support of them. One of the particular needs they have in the summer months is to provide extra food for children who, during the school year, receive a free lunch at school. They want to provide additional juice boxes and healthy snacks for kids this summer. Maybe we can all buy another box of snacks or juice boxes the next time we shop. Or even add slightly to our envelope for Loaves and Fishes on the second Sunday of the month. This is a great option because every dollar we give them can buy $10 worth of food through their sources. A small effort can be a great blessing to those in need this summer.
God’s covenant with us is renewed every day, and celebrated every time we come to receive Holy Communion. When we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are renewed in the covenant, strengthened in grace and holiness, and brought nearer to our God who longs for us. We who are so richly graced can do no less than extend the covenant to others, helping them too to know God’s love for them, feeding them physically and spiritually.
The Psalmist asks today, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” And the answer is given: by taking up the chalice of salvation, drinking of God’s grace, renewing the covenant, and passing it on to others. May the Body and Blood of Christ bring us all to everlasting life!