Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Reflection on the Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ)


In the name of God, who is revealed to us in the gifts of bread and wine, in the face of a stranger and in our very own mirror, let our ears and hearts be opened to receive what God would give to us.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi or more meaningful to our vernacular: The Feast of the Body of Christ. This festive celebration of the Church calendar dates to the early 1200’s when a nun named Juliana had a vision of the Church under the appearance of a full moon. The full moon appeared to contain a single small black spot with no light or brightness emanating from it. Now, Juliana had loved the gift of the Eucharist from early childhood and she believed this vision was God telling her that the Church was missing a feast in honor of the Eucharist. The black spot represented something the Church was lacking, something the Church had forgotten. And so Juliana began to petition the hierarchs for a day completely in honor of Holy Communion, mind you this was no easy task for a woman in the church – nun or not. Although it took several years and varied attempts, and the help of friends and followers, the feast was eventually added to the Latin Christian calendar.

You might remember going back to Lent that Maundy/Holy Thursday was in honor of the Eucharist, as well. Many in Juliana’s time questioned the need for an additional feast commemorating the Eucharist and the pro-argument was that Maundy Thursday fell in the shadow of the heartache of Good Friday and also covered theological concepts such as humility and the priesthood. She felt there needed to be a day that simply celebrated the joyfulness of the Eucharist apart from the sublime heaviness of Holy Week.

I don’t think it was such a bad idea. In the Church’s wisdom (yes, every now and then it has a little bit too share) the feast was placed following Trinity Sunday shortly after the Paschal season comes to an end. I love that we celebrated the Trinity last Sunday, a celebration of the ideas and concepts of God and how God reveals God’s own self to us. And now, this Sunday we celebrate one of the ways in which God bursts forth into our world on a daily basis and incarnates God’s own self in simple gifts of bread and wine. We celebrate both these realities after the Easter season, a time when people tend to drift away from services and settle back into normal life. The Church however calls us to remember that God has gone no where, God is continually being revealed in our thoughts, prayers and experiences and today we celebrate the God who gives us heavenly food and drink. In a mystical supper we are given holy food that surpasses time and understanding. The Church calls us to a feast to rejoice in the gift of the table and to share those gifts with all who are hungry or seeking or questioning the ways of the one we call God.

One of the dangers of this feast and, honestly, a danger of any doctrine or feast in Christianity is the human need to explain it in depth and try to formulate an exact understanding of the ins and outs of it. We want to take the mystery out of the mystical. Many denominations have spent their entire existence fighting for what they believe to be true doctrine or better belief. They have sometimes taken the sacraments, such as Holy Communion, and analyzed them to death, basically rendering them powerless and unnecessary in our faith lives. Other denominations have elevated the sacraments above the very people they are meant to serve. They have quite literally turned the bread and wine into idols, which are used to manipulate and control wounded individuals in the name of God. Juliana, all those years ago, did not seek to propagate doctrines nor to try and define the Eucharist. Rather, she simply sought a day of reminder for the Church. A day where everyone would stop and turn towards the holy table, the altar, and be reminded of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” Juliana looked up and saw a dark spot in the moon and that dark spot was a reminder that the Church was not celebrating its greatest truth enough: the reality of Emmanuel, God is among us; God is with us!

I wonder how many of us here often forget that God is truly amongst us, not only in the gifts of bread and wine on the altar, but in the breath and movement of every human being we pass in this lifetime. I wonder if God doesn’t look at us and see dark spots, spots without illumination and brightness, related to the fact we fail to joyfully celebrate the Body of Christ in this world. Life is busy, our calendars are full and our schedules are booked. Most of us feel like we can’t squeeze a single task into our agenda without our already frazzled lives falling apart. But today, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, God calls you and I to examine the dark spots we have. To consider the possibility of adding one more task into our agendas, adding one more feast to the calendar of our hearts…the task, the feast, the privilege of loving all and finding God in all.

It isn’t a simple task and it won’t happen overnight. It took Juliana a lifetime to add a single feast to the Church calendar and it might take us a lifetime of practice to really learn how to stop and joyfully recognize the God contained within all of us. However, a task as sacred as this is worth the practice, time and the concerted effort. And let’s not forget Juliana didn’t accomplish the task on her own, she needed friends and she needed a community to get the job done. This is why we exist, Btown Inclusive Eucharist, why the Church exists, as a place of support to encourage one another in our sacred callings and tasks. Let us encourage one another to seek out and find God in the world around us.

Juliana wasn’t special because she had a vision; she wasn’t special because she added a feast to the Church calendar. She WAS special because she took time to notice God and wanted to help others do the same. Today, when you come to this table, this altar, and you behold the physical incarnation of God bursting forth into our world, I want to encourage you to ask yourself: How can I keep my eyes on God and how can I help others do the same? Challenge yourself to walk in love, as Christ did, and to truly join Christ in his inclusive mission to save the world. Celebrate the Body of Christ this day made present before you on the altar, in your neighbor and in the stranger outside on the street. Receive the gifts of God and be strengthened for a holy task, a holy feast, which truly should be celebrated each and every day of the year. The simple task of noticing God…it’s worth celebrating!

If everyone joined in this festal calling the world would change overnight and we would truly experience “earth as it is in heaven.” But don’t be dismayed if the entire world doesn’t join us in our festal calling for St. John Chrysostom one said, "If but ten among us lead a holy life, we shall kindle a fire which shall light up the entire city." A holy life is one that keeps focused on the possibility of God and sees God in others. Let us remove our dark spots and light up an entire city!

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