This Sunday the Church celebrates the great and awe filled mystery of the Body of Christ or as expressed in the ancient language of the Church of Rome- the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
What does this mean?
There are three ways of understanding the mystery of the Body of Christ.
The first is the physical body of Christ’s human nature.
In other words, the Lord Jesus has a body.
Why is this significant?
Our faith in the Lord Jesus is not faith in an idea about Christ the Lord. Nor is our faith in the Lord Jesus faith in a feeling about Christ the Lord. The Church’s faith in the Lord Jesus is not faith in an opinion or a theory proposed by scholars.
Our faith, the Church’s faith, is faith in the person of Jesus of Christ.
What does this mean?
We believe that Jesus Christ is God, who reveals himself in an extraordinary way.
What is this revelation?
God in Jesus Christ has accepted a human nature and lived, like us, a real, human life. This means that God in Christ has a body- a real, human body. God has in Jesus Christ skin and bone. God in Christ has muscles. God in Christ has fingernails and hair. God in Christ has eyes to see the world and ears to hear the many sounds this world makes.
God in Christ has hands and legs and arms and feet.
God in Christ has a body.
And it is through this body that he makes himself known to us, that he meets us and offers us a relationship with himself.
This is the Body of Christ that the Church celebrates today- the Body of Christ in the Incarnation- this stunning revelation that the divine person of Christ reveals himself, makes himself known, by accepting as his own, a real human body and lives a real, human life.
The Body of Christ’s human nature was not an illusion or a pretense, but the means by which God united himself to all of human experience.
The Fathers of the Ancient Church called this revelation, this Incarnation, a marvelous exchange.
This means that God in Christ accepts for himself a human nature, with all the implications of what that means, and in doing so gives to us the possibility of sharing in his divine nature. God gives us in, through and with, Jesus Christ a relationship with himself.
And it is through the body of the Lord Jesus that God in Christ makes this relationship known to us.
What does this relationship, this body of God in Christ look like now?
The Incarnation, that is, the revelation of Jesus Christ, did not end centuries ago.
Christ’s Body did not end up buried in a grave or lost to space in time by drifting away into the stratosphere.
Where is Jesus then?
The Incarnation is extended in space and time, made real and present to us, even right now in the Church.
The Church is mystically, yet really and truly the Body of Jesus Christ- living, present and active in the world.
What does this mean?
It means again, that God in Christ is not limited to the experience of an idea, a feeling, an opinion or a theory. God in Christ makes himself known in physical, tangible, concrete ways in the world and through these ways invites people into a relationship with himself.
The means by which God in Christ extends this invitation and makes this relationship possible is the Church.
And the Church is so integral to this relationship with God in Christ that it is best understood as his body. The purpose the Church is the same purpose as that body that God in Christ accepted for himself in the Incarnation.
This is important.
From the time of the Apostles, the Church has been professed by faithful Christians to be the Body of Christ- the privileged means that God in Christ uses to makes himself known and draw people into relationship with his divine life.
And yet in our time there are those who would sever the relationship of Christ and the Church. Dismiss the Church as either simply a faith based institution or make of it a religion that is ancillary, if not opposed to a genuine relationship with the Lord.
Some folks say, well I follow the teachings of Jesus, not the Church.
This doesn’t work. It is contrary to the Scriptures. And it is a denial of Christ’s will and purposes. Christ’s teaching is not a list of ethical directives, but a revelation about his divine person. Christ makes himself known in his Body- that body is the teaching of Jesus and it is from his body that we come to know God, come to know who we are and what God wants us to do.
God in Christ wills to makes himself known through the Church and as such we cannot choose Christ while at the same time reject the Church anymore that one can accept the revelation of Jesus Christ in its totality and refuse to believe that the body of his human nature, the body he accepted, was real and significant.
St. Joan of Arc, the great heavenly patroness of Church once remarked that in regards to Christ and the Church, they are simply one, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.
But we do. And the loss to us in our complications robs us of the very relationship with God that the Body of Christ, living and present in the Church, offers (to us).
Finally, the Body of Jesus Christ is the Holy Communion we receive in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Sacrament or the Eucharist is by the power of Christ’s own will and word, the same divine life and presence that the Lord Jesus reveals to us in the Body of his human nature.
In other words, in the Blessed Sacrament, we truly and really, receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus and through communion with this Body and Blood we enter into relationship with God in Christ.
A relationship with God in Christ is not simply a matter of mind or emotions. It is a matter of Holy Communion with Jesus Christ that happens in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Sacrament is the means by which anyone will have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is for this reason, that the wise fathers of the Church at the Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” and that the essential nature of being a Christian is not dependent on an international network of faith based institutions, but on the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Sacrament is the central reality of the Church’s life. It isn’t meant to be something that we shove off to the side of the Church’s life, reducing it to one of many devotional curiosities. The Blessed Sacrament is not a distraction from the real work of the Church- it is the real work of the Church. Nor is the Blessed Sacrament just one of many ways the Lord Jesus makes himself known- it is the source and summit of our lives as disciples.
In other words, the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ’s living and real Body- the Blessed Sacrament is the Body of Christ.
And yet many would try to make this Blessed Sacrament, the Body of Jesus Christ, merely a symbol, rather than what the Lord Jesus proclaims the Eucharist to be!
There is a great story told about the American author, Flannery O’Connor, who was provoked by a conversation with a friend of hers. In the course of this conversation, her friend remarked glibly that the Eucharist was only a symbol.
And in response to this remark, the author testified and I quote “If it is only a symbol, then to hell with it.”
That’s precisely the right response.
Christ reveals himself in a body, his own body, the Body of his Incarnation. This Body living and present in the Church and really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. It is through the Body of Christ that God in Christ offers us a relationship with himself and invites us to share in his divine life.
This is the revelation of Jesus Christ- not simply an idea, a feeling, an opinion or a symbol. Christ gives himself to us and makes himself known in his Body. From the time of the Apostles this has been the faith of the Church.
If you want anything less than this- the best response is the one offered by Flannery O’Connor.