The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the First Book of Samuel, one of the historical books of the Bible. This means that the emphasis of this book is on people and places, events and circumstances that were significant to the Israelites. Memory of these things gave the Israelites a sense of identity and purpose and helped them, most importantly, to understand their relationship with God.
Remember, the God of the Israelites, the God of the Bible, our God, is not a concept or a feeling or some kind of cosmic force. The God of the Israelites is a living, divine person, who seeks to be known and acts in history, in the events and circumstances of our lives.
The story of Samuel is about Samuel, but more importantly, it is about God, and how he acted at a time of great crisis. The Israelites were at the time of Samuel’s youth governed by judges and priests who had been corrupted by worldliness and were using their offices, not to serve the needs of the people whom they governed, but for their own self-aggrandizement and material advantage. Further the disparate tribes of the Israelites were in a constant state of conflict, leaving the people vulnerable to their enemies and threatened with the loss of their homeland. And finally, the Israelites were tempted by the customs and beliefs of their pagan neighbors with their false gods. The promises of these false gods to give the people wealth, pleasure, power and honors challenged Israelite faith in the one, true God.
What God does in response to this situation is to raise up a man named Samuel as his servant, and it is Samuel who will be charged with the mission of bringing order out of the chaos and through his efforts, assuring the survival of the Israelites as a people.
The excerpt from the First Book of Samuel that you heard this morning concerns the quickening of Samuel’s mission. Young Samuel, whose parents had dedicated him to God’s service when he was but a toddler, experiences an uncanny call, a divine summons, to which Samuel finally responds that he is ready, waiting and listening for God’s instructions, and what God asks of him- Samuel will do.
And the Book of Samuel will tell us precisely what God has Samuel do!
What is the perhaps the meaning of this scripture for us?
Here’s a way of thinking about it.
We live in a culture of self-invention and self-actualization. We are convinced that we can create not only our own destiny, but impose upon ourselves, on others, on the universe, even on God, the meaning and purpose of our lives- such is our belief in the power of our own will, our own power to invent and actualize ourselves.
This is our vision of what accomplishes human flourishing- the sovereignty of the self and our will to invent our own identity and mission.
It is not a biblical vision. The story of Samuel’s call is a singular example of the biblical vision of life and human flourishing, how we come to know who we are and what we are to do- a vision that is not self directed or self invented, but God directed and God created.
Samuel finds himself, who he really is, what he is to do, when he listens to what God wants and gives himself over to the mission he gives God gives to him.
This vision is not an archaism from a biblical past, but it is the Christian vision of life and Christian vision of what leads to human flourishing, listening, as Samuel did, to what God wants and then doing what God wants us to do.
That’s the lesson for us.
The great Apostle Paul reminds us that our body is not insignificant in terms of our relationship with God. Our body matters to our spiritual life.
How we treat our bodies and the bodies of other people has soul impact and influences, not just our lives in the here and now, but is a matter of eternal consequence. God cares deeply about our bodies and what we are doing with them. In fact, God cares enough about our bodies to accept a human body as his own, and in communion with that human body, living like us a real, human life. For this is what God does in Christ.
Why do bodies matter?
Here is an insight from the great Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas taught that the body and soul, bodies and souls do not exist in a dualistic or antagonistic relationship. Nor, is your soul in your body, like milk in a bottle. Instead, the soul, your soul contains your body. So, what the soul and body are, what they represent, is the totality of who we are in relationship to God. If you are in a relationship with God you do not get to choose which aspects of your life will be part of that relationship. Instead, God relates to the totality of who you are and this means your mind, your will, your emotions, your soul and yes, your body.
If your body is so significant to God’s plan and purpose that he accepts a human body in Christ as his own, and meets you in that body, establishes a relationship with you in Christ’s body, then we must know and believe as Christians that our bodies matter and it is through our bodies that we will work out our salvation.
Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus is acclaimed by the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God. What does this mean?
It does not mean that Christ is gentle and meek like a lamb. It means that Christ’s mission will be to make of his life a sacrifice, a sacrifice that will bring God and humanity together.
That’s his mission- to offer his life as a sacrifice so that God and humanity might be in relationship with one another.
And that is what we receive in the Blessed Sacrament- his sacrifice, his offering of his life, so that through his offering, through his life, we might have a relationship with God. That’s what the Blessed Sacrament is- it is a relationship with God.
And that’s why the Blessed Sacrament is important. That is why the Blessed Sacrament matters. And it is for sake of receiving and adoring the Lamb of God, the sacrifice, the Blessed Sacrament that we are here.
The Mass has become distorted in its meaning for so many in the Church. Some perceive it to be irrelevant. Others, in a mistaken and misguided attempt to restore its relevancy, make of it a cultural jamboree or a form of faith based entertainment. But these are just corruptions of the meaning and purpose of the Mass.
What the Mass is, is the privileged moment that you see and receive what John the Baptist saw and received- God, who in Jesus Christ, becomes for you, and for the world, the Lamb of God.