The Body and Blood of Christ: Sacrifice, Meal and Abiding Presence

Today, I didn’t get to preach this homily. I didn’t preside at either of the Masses I attended; I just concelebrated. Which was fine, but I wanted to write a homily anyway, so that I didn’t lose the discipline of doing it. This isn’t as polished as I’d like it, but rather a first (and only) draft.

Today’s readings.

Today we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ: the great gift of God to our Church and to our world in which we receive our salvation and in which the whole world is redeemed. We experience the Body and Blood of Christ as sacrifice, as a communal meal, and as abiding presence.

As sacrifice, we experience Christ’s body and blood as the ritual that frees us from sin. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are present in a memorial way at Calvary, where Christ laid down his life for us on that cross, to pay the price for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This sacrifice is decidedly not like the sacrifice Moses offered in our first reading, but is a perfection of it. Moses’ sacrifice was that of bulls. It was a gory, bloody sacrifice, in which the people were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice to remind them of the covenant. In our sacrifice today, we participate in an un-bloody way the sacrifice not of bulls or goats, but of our Lord and Savior, who willingly laid down his life to free us from sin. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that if in Moses’ time, the sacrifice of bulls and goats brought people back into covenant with God, how much more does the sacrifice of God’s Son bring us into perfect union with God our Creator? In Christ’s death and resurrection, we are reborn into a living hope of seeing God face to face, something that in Moses’ time, nobody could do and live. Christ’s sacrifice also was not something that had to be repeated time and time again; he did it once for all on the cross, and we in the Eucharist have the opportunity to participate in that one sacrifice in anamnesis: in a memorial way.

As communal meal, we are fed by our Lord and Savior in a most perfect way. When we gather as one body, we bring all that we are and all that we experience to the meal. We bring our daily struggles and imperfections. We bring our pursuit of holiness, with all its successes and failures. We bring our joys and our sufferings, our successes and our losses, our love and our pain. We bring all of this together to the one table of Jesus Christ, united with all of the prayers of the Church on earth and the saints in heaven, along with the bread and the wine, all to become the perfect Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who fills us perfectly and nourishes our body and spirit. When we partake of the one loaf which is the Body of our Lord and the one cup which is His Blood poured out for our salvation, we who are many become one, and all of our sins and failings and brokenness is bound up and sanctified and redeemed. This one meal fills our every hunger and gives life to our spirit. In this one bread and one cup, we are nourished in a way that we will never hunger and never thirst for anything else, ever again.

As abiding presence, we experience our Lord, who has ascended beyond our sight, in every time and place. At his ascension, Christ promised that he would be with us always, until the end of the age. The Body and Blood of Christ is the visible sign of that presence, the sacrament of his love, present in the Church for the redemption of the whole world. As we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord at Mass, and as we kneel in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we experience in a very real way the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to be with us always. That beautiful sacrament empowers us all to go forth and see Christ’s presence in other ways: in the action of our love and service to one another, in our families and our communities as we reach out to one another in need and are present to one another in joy and in sorrow. The presence of Christ in our Church is made visible in each one of us, and that presence overflows to every corner of our world to preach the Gospel in word and in deed. Through the Eucharist, Christ is truly with us always until the end of the age.

This word, “Eucharist,” means “thanksgiving.” It is truly the thanksgiving of our participation in the life of God through the saving action of Christ on the Cross. It is truly the thanksgiving for the nourishment that we receive through the sacraments and the Church. It is truly the thanksgiving for Christ’s abiding presence in our world.

On this Father’s day, we can also experience that thanksgiving in our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, godfathers and spiritual fathers in many ways. All that these men have been for us in our lives is a visible reflection of Christ’s abiding presence in our Church and in our world. We truly give thanks for each one of them and encourage them all to continue to live as witnesses of the Gospel and of Christ’s love for all of his brothers and sisters. Through their example, may we all take us the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.