A sermon for Corpus Christi Sunday, June 26, 2011. The readings for a Mass "of the Holy Eucharist" are Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Psalm 116:10-17, Revelation 19:1-2a, 4-9, and John 6:47-58.
Today we celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday. Corpus Christi is the Latin term for Body of Christ, and it is a day that takes place in many churches on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or on the Sunday following. I love this Sunday because it’s a celebration of food! It’s a celebration of food that is blessed by God. And it’s a celebration of food that comes from God.
The Old Testament Lesson recalls the time when the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness, they became tired and irritable, and God fed them with manna. In the words of the psalmist, “[God] rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them grain from heaven.” “So,” the psalmist says, “mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.” (Psalm 78:24-25).
But there was a problem. The manna was only for that day, a one-day-only special. It was daily manna and needed to be consumed or it would spoil. If they left it out it became wormy. If it remained in the sun, it melted. This is because the manna was food, but it was more than food. Manna was meant to be consumed with faith. It took faith to rely upon the Lord to lead through the wilderness. It took faith to go to sleep each night trusting that there would be manna for the morrow. Perhaps it’s from that old, ancient story that the prayer began to be formed that would pray for daily manna, or daily bread.
Biblical scholars sometimes point out that the Lord’s Prayer actually conveys this sense of praying for the bread for tomorrow.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer in which he explains that the word we translate as “daily” is a strange word in the Greek that hardly appears elsewhere in the Bible. He says, “It probably means daily, it probably means the stuff we need to survive, but at least some people in the early church understood it to mean the bread we want for tomorrow or even the bread of tomorrow; ‘give us today tomorrow’s bread’.” He goes on to suggest that this means, “give us now a taste of the bread we shall eat in the Kingdom of God. Give us a foretaste of that great banquet and celebration where the universe is drawn together by Christ in the presence of God the Father.” Williams connects this with Holy Communion. “Communion is, at one level, bread for today, [but] it’s [also] very much our daily bread, it's the food we need to keep going; but it's also a foretaste of the bread of heaven, a foretaste of enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven at his table at his banquet …” (Rowan Williams, in an article that appears on the BBC Christianity web site , accessed June 26, 2011.)
Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “The one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that [one] may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, they will live for ever.”
By taking into ourselves the Body of Christ, we become one with Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion happens to us. Communion overtakes us. Communion is God moving toward us and inviting us closer. Communion is our reaching out toward one another and even reaching beyond the church into the world.
Bread for today is a gift. Bread for tomorrow is our prayer. We are called to live with hope and with faith for whatever is ahead. And that’s not always easy.
There are many in this room who are grieving. A friend of this parish, Joy LaChelle Bailie, died on June 11 at the age of 38. She had given birth to a beautiful little girl, Alora Ann, on June 1. There are no words …
On Thursday night, Nancye Suggs died. Nancye was a longtime parishioner, a great mother and friend to pretty much everyone she met, much of the heart and soul of this place, has died. Again, we don’t have words to say, and in many ways, we’re just not sure what to do.
Nancye and Joy LaChelle didn’t know each other in this life, but my vision of heaven has tells me that they’ve met, by now. They must be amused that so many people they cared about are in the same room. They’re laughing. If they weren’t in heaven they’d still be worrying about us and how we’re getting along, but where they are, they can see the long run and they know we’ll be ok, partly because they taught us a few things, and they’re cheering us on. They know God’s got us covered. They’re talking about us. They’re talking about the people they knew and loved, the places they lived and visited. And by now, I’m sure they’ve had at least one discussion about where to get the best cheesecake.
And so, what do we do? We do what people have done since the beginning of time when someone died. We share bread. We share a cup. We share the precious gift of life.
But at church, we share special bread and a special cup. Because it is bread for tomorrow as well as bread for today. God invites us to have the faith to believe that when tomorrow comes, we will have what we need. God will give us the resources we need—the strength, the patience, the tenacity, the love, the imagination, the creativity, the breath… to get through the day.
We have problems that seem unsolvable, worries that seem debilitating, but with tomorrow’s bread, God can give us new answers, creative solutions, and deeper insight. God gives us one another. God gives us God’s very Self.
On this Corpus Christi, Jesus reminds us of the Communion that matters more than any other—the union with him, through his Body and Blood. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
The old hymn says, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
That hymn was written by Fanny Crosby in 1873. Though she was blind, she could see heaven, and she could see God’s love for her and for all of creation. The refrain of that great hymn sings
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
This is our story. This is our song. This is indeed blessed assurance.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.