Receive What You See; Become Who You Are

On Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church — and a few Episcopal churches — will celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Made an official observance in the Latin rite only in the 13th century, this holy day focuses on the rich and varied meaning of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Eucharist, the Mass.

Maundy, or Holy, Thursday the day before Good Friday each year, ostensibly does the same thing except that the institution of the Eucharist on that night shares center stage with Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet and the long night of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and trial. In recent years, the Episcopal Church has regained the emphasis on foot-washing on Maundy Thursday (a very happy development) and more and more congregations schedule a Watch before the blessed sacrament throughout the night until Good Friday morning.

All this means that there can be somewhat less emphasis on the gift and mystery of the Eucharist — which is why I wish more Episcopal (and other) churches would re-emphasize Corpus Christi which is observed on either the Thursday following Trinity Sunday or the Sunday next after Trinity Sunday which is the Roman custom these days. Even acknowledging less attendance for a Thursday observance, I would still recommend that over Sunday in order to preserve the Book of Common Prayer’s emphasis on Sunday as a preeminent feast taking precedence over virtually all other celebrations. There are Prayer Book Proper Lessons for “The Holy Eucharist” among those for “Various Occasions.”

The themes of Corpus Christi are several. First, the body of Christ willingly given up into the hands of his adversaries as the final witness of his willingness to hand over even his life rather than return evil for evil, violence for violence.  Secondly, the body of Christ sacramentally present in the broken bread of the Passover/Last Supper which — along with the blood of the poured out wine in the sacrament —  available to us yet today as one way he fulfills his promise to be with us “to the end of the ages.”

And, thirdly, the body of Christ made up of the baptized each and all of whom have received spiritual gifts intended to be used to build up that same body charged with the responsibility of being his continued presence in this broken world. “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks about doing good.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

Whether or not your church observes this marvelous feast on Sunday, remember to gather as the body, to be fed by the body, in order to disperse and be that body for the world.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast!

 

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