Sermons & services

Corpus Christi sermon

Published Sunday 6th June 2021, at 2:03 p.m.

This is my Body. This is my Blood. Take and eat. Take and drink. For 2,000 years, Christians have pondered, contemplated, and spilled blood over the meaning and implications of these actions and words of Jesus: this thing that Jesus commanded us to do and which, for the vast majority of Christians, has been at the heart of their Christian lives for twenty centuries. Do this in remembrance of me. In remembrance of Him. But what does it mean? (In a few moments, you will hear me say use a slight variation: Do this in memory of me. In Church of England liturgies, the word remembrance is used. Memorial, is another variant.) In Greek, the word is anamnesis. And how we understand that word will be defined by where we stand on the broad spectrum of Christian Eucharistic belief. So at one end of the spectrum – at the bottom end of the candle, one might say – the use of the word memory is just that. The Eucharist is where we remember what Christ did for us on the Cross: bread broken and wine outpoured are merely visual aids to the mental recollection of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. So what we receive in Holy Communion are symbolic tokens: reminders, for us who receive them, of the benefits of Christ’s death. At the other end of the candle and, if I may make so bold a statement, the belief of the undivided church down through the ages, the anamnesis is the belief that what Christ did on earth – offering Himself to the Father in a total ‘yes’ to the Father’s loving will – He continues to do in heaven as our great high priest. Hebrews chapter 9 and Revelations chapter 5 are the basis of this belief that what we do here in TW2 is a mirror of what Christ does for all eternity in heaven. (A perpetual memory until his coming again.) In other words, in this liturgy, we step into the worship of heaven. It’s why, for instance, we sing the song of the angels: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts! Heaven and earth are filled with thy glory! Glory be to thee, O Lord most high! And that Christ is present in this sacrament: if we receive His Body and Blood, then Christ is somehow present. And that presence is both an objective reality and a mystery – that is, a truth whose depth and meaning we will never be able adequately to plumb. In between is every variant imaginable! So on this great feast, here are two things for us to think about. When the Roman Emperor Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63BC he entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, expecting to find something: instead, he found nothing. An empty inner sanctum. It had not always been so. Fans of the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, will know that once upon a time, the Holy of Holies had been the resting place of the Tabernacle, constructed by Moses at the beginning of the wilderness journey of the people of Israel. It contained the tablets, on which were written the Ten Commandments. It also contained the wooden staff used by Aaron. But it also contained some of the heavenly manna that had fed the People of Israel during those forty years in the wilderness. And some of what the King James version of the Bible calls the shewbread, but which is better translated as the bread of the presence. In other words, it contained – in both word and sacrament – the signs of God’s continued presence among his people, and so his continued friendship. Over the last year, even though we have had Zoom and Whatsapp and all the other multi-media devices to keep us in contact with one another, I think we would all have to admit to missing people in person. We have missed the reality of their presence with us. It is the very human desire for friends to be together. So in this sacrament, Jesus – our friend, our brother, our Saviour and Lord – is still present with us in ways that defy forensic examination or explanation.
Perhaps Queen Elizabeth I got it right in a mere 27 words when she said: ‘Twas God the word that spake it, He took the bread and brake it, And what the word did make it, That I believe and take it’.

And why do we take it? Well, like the heavenly manna, it is our spiritual food for our journey home to God: it is sustenance for our souls. But it is also the way in which we receive Christ in order to make his vision of the world and its people, our vision. To make His compassion, our compassion. His mercy, our mercy. His forgiveness, our forgiveness. His healing, our healing. In other words, it is given to us to change us. To make us more Christ-like. So here’s the second thing to think about. Two weeks ago, we celebrated the great Feast of Pentecost: and there is a clear link between the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, and the mission of the Church to make disciples of all people. There is a similar link between mission and the Eucharist. St Augustine famously said: "Become what you are: the Body of Christ." Become what we are. Through faith and baptism, we are already members of the Body of Christ. But we also recognise, I hope, that though we have been Christened – Christ-ened – re-made like Christ – most of us fall far short of being the people God intended us to be. So the Christian life means every day, becoming more and more the Body of Christ: more and more Christ-like. As St John the Baptist says: He must increase, I must decrease. So we can say, with St Paul, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And this is linked to our mission, because the more Christ-like we become the more we will be His presence in the world: living lives, like Him, of humble self-sacrificial love, poured out for others. So that others will see in us, experience in us, the living presence of Christ in the world. So in this Eucharist we receive the Body of Christ, in order to become more effectively the Body of Christ in the world, today. We are fed by His Body and Blood so that we may grow in holiness and be given the strength to manifest Christ to the world in our own unique and individual way, in the way God has called each one of us in our own particular vocation. There’s an easy way to sum this up and I’ll end with it. St Theresa of Avila wrote in the 16th century. “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”