MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – B Ex 24:3-8; 39-40; Psalm 116; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16; 22-26 HOMILY – June 6, 2021 Rev. Father Gianni Passarella
GESTURES AND SYMBOLS In every age and culture people have developed ways of saying things by doing things. Could you imagine a world without gestures and symbols, no handshakes, hugs, kisses, wedding rings, special songs, flags, or flowers on Valentine’s Day? Symbols, both symbolic objects and symbolic gestures, open up a level of reality for which non-symbolic speaking is inadequate. For instance, a person’s wedding ring says, “I love my husband or wife,” but the symbol explains all of that in a single glance. And you know what? And this works at a religious level as well! In fact, Sacraments are signs and symbols—very special signs and symbols that really carry the grace of God to us. Now you might say, “Actually, I don’t need symbols, especially in my relationship with God. I will get by with the Word of God and that’s it. I will use only my rational brain to figure it out.” But all throughout the Bible God used physical things and symbols and actions to communicate his love and truth to us. For example, when God wanted to express his love for Noah and all of creation, he not only said it but he put a rainbow in the sky. When God wanted to demonstrate his glory, he said it but he also led his people to build an elaborate tabernacle, then a tent, then a sanctuary in Jerusalem. And even though God does not need these things for himself, he knows we need them for our spiritual life. By the way, that’s why we—Holy Angels Church need a sanctuary now, with all its things and tools for the liturgy. We need them, because the God we see in the Bible actually loves us and wants us to know him, not only to know about him but to have an experience of his presence through the symbols of the liturgy. You see, it is the error of modernity to assume that we can understand God with verbal analysis and clear thinking apart from deeper-than-rational symbols and actions and gestures.
THE PASSOVER In the Bible one of the most important symbolic things that God told his people to do was to celebrate the Passover Supper. So, every year the Jews used to gather in Jerusalem to remember the story of how they were slaves in Egypt but God, in his wonderful love and power, came down and set them free from the Pharaoh. Ever since that first Passover, Jews have celebrated it by eating, drinking, telling stories, and enacting rituals. That is exactly where today’s Gospel passage begins: “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened bread”–that is another name for the Passover. So, Jesus celebrated this traditional symbol of the Passover, but in a new way that Christians have variously called the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. What did Jesus do differently? “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he said, ‘This is my blood, which will be shed for many.” Notice the very physical nature of all of this. Jesus took the bread: he held it in his hands and touched it. Jesus gave thanks to God the Father. He broke it and then gave it to his disciples. Jesus did not say, “Now, please, analyze this bread; think good thoughts about this bread; ponder this bread as if it might be my body.” No, Jesus said, “Take it and eat it; this is my body.” With such beautiful simplicity and clarity, and much better than thousands of words, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, answers this question: What is God like? In the gesture of the Eucharist the answer becomes so clear: God is love. Jesus, the one who is equal with God, gave himself in love for us— you and me. He poured himself out for us. God is love. You know, at times we say that as if it was obvious: “Of course, God loves me.” But in the history of religious ideas and concepts this is simply shocking, and even scandalous. Most of history is the story of people living in terror of vengeful, jealous and punishing gods. Our God is the exact opposite, but we now take that for granted.
OUR RESPONSE TO JESUS’ MEAL What does that mean for us? How does Holy Communion—the Eucharist change our lives? First of all, the Eucharistic life is a faith-filled life. It receives life from Christ who wants to pour out his life into us. That means to become one in the love of God. Secondly, the Eucharistic life is a poured-out life for others. When we come to the altar, we remember that life is not just about getting or receiving. It is about receiving so that I can pour out God’s love to others. We have this remarkable privilege, a call, and a challenge: worship changes us; worship reorients our lives. We become poured-out people for the sake of others— and that is especially true as we pour out our lives for the needs of our church and for the needy around us. So you go to the Lord’s table, as you will do next week for Holy Angels “in person Mass”, go first of all to receive. The Lord Jesus is awaiting you. Let him feed you through his grace, his forgiveness, his new life and power through the special sacrament of the Eucharist. Let him feed you! Second, as you go let the Lord Jesus search your heart as you ask, “Where do I need to pour myself out these days? What can I do right now to help my church and everyone else through her, in order to spread love and hope in Christ?” Because I think this is how Jesus is not only blessing—but challenging us today. And this, my brothers and sisters, is the Gospel of the Lord,