Not before mass–still no
Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the most holy Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an older feast instituted in the Middle Ages, and is usually accompanied in many countries and parishes by a Eucharistic procession right after mass, which we will have at the end of the 5:30 p.m. mass. But why should we celebrate it? Why parade around a host that is originally made of bread? Well, as good Catholics we all know that during the mass the bread becomes no longer bread, but the body of Christ. I would like to take the opportunity to talk about this teaching again, hopefully giving us more confidence in it. I’ve done it before, but because the Eucharist is so central, it stands repeating over and over again until Jesus comes again.
In John, chapter 6, he calls himself the bread from heaven at least four times and tells us three times that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us. Y’all, this is a point that Jesus is really HAMMERING. There is virtually no other theme in the entire Gospel where Jesus repeats himself so much about a single thing. Now, when a teacher repeats himself, he is trying to make a point about something that is important. All good teachers do this. I think it is safe to say that the Son of God is THE teacher, not just A teacher. So when HE repeats himself so much, we had better stand up and take notice that he wants to make a VERY IMPORTANT POINT. The point he wants to make is that he is the new manna. The point that he wants to make is that he gives his flesh and blood for the life of all who come to the table to eat. Other Christian faiths have no problem in saying that Jesus is speaking symbolically here about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, because if they don’t say at LEAST that, then they are not being scriptural. The references here are quite obvious, and so is the Last Supper where he says, “Take and eat, this is my body.” HOW COULD WE MISINTERPRET THAT, Y’ALL?????
I want to focus on what Jesus meant when he said that he is the “bread from heaven.” Let us recognize something from the outset. Let me reread one of the lines that we just heard from the Gospel: “the Jews quarreled among themselves and said, ‘how can this man give us his flesh to eat?” My friends, it was a problem for them to believe and it is still a problem for some of us. It is not an easy teaching. The Lord himself recognizes this. But he teaches it all the same. Faith believes in something difficult and unseen so that we might in the end be saved by that belief.
O.K. Bread from heaven. New manna. Here we go. What does that mean?
If Jesus is the bread from heaven and the new manna, you first have to know what the old manna was. If some of this is review for some of you, I apologize. But even for those of you who already know it, going over the basics again should never get old. As most of you know, the Jews were held in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years—approximately 400 to be more precise, but there is dispute on that matter. The time of this Jewish captivity would have been around 1,500 b.c.. Western civilization had not even begun as we know it. The cultures of Greece and Rome had not yet arisen and would not arise for another 700 years. The great cultures of this time period were the Mayan in the west, the Chinese in the East and the Indian and Egyptian cultures in the Near East.
Again, as you should already know, the patriarch Moses with God’s blessing helped to free the Jewish slaves from Egypt. If you don’t about this from studying the bible, you should at least know something about this from seeing either the cartoon movie about it or Charleton Heston’s classic. The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years before they found the promised land, but during that 40 years they went through many trials. As a matter of fact, it was mostly their fault that they wandered in the desert for so long because of three things: 1) not trusting in God, 2) worshipping false idols other than God, and 3) complaining against God. Had they not done this, then the lord would have established them in their homes much earlier. Perhaps this might be a lesson for us. Are we doing one or several of those three things, and then wondering why we don’t have more peace?
Ok. I haven’t forgotten about the manna. During this 40 year period of wandering, the Jews complained against God for not having enough food. In answer to their complaint, God rained down manna from heaven for them each morning. I will take the description of the manna straight from the Book of Exodus itself. It was described as a “fine, flake like thing.” It was also described as “white, like coriander seed,” that came with the dew in the early morning. NOW ISN’T THAT INTERESTING?? The early manna is described like a fine, thin white wafer. Does that sound familiar to you? Do you think that it just might be possible that God was preparing his people for the mystery of the Eucharist that would come in Jesus Christ, and that you will be receiving in the next 20 minutes in a fine, thin white wafer? SHOCKING!!!
Do you know what else they did. They took those white wafers from heaven and they put them in the ark of the covenant and worshipped it because that is where God was most present. That should sound familiar to us Catholics as well. We put our manna from heaven into that tabernacale—another word for it is an ark—and worship the bread of God’s presence. SHOCKING! We’re not making this stuff up. The truth of what we are doing is riddled all throughout scripture.
Another thing that I want you to notice is this: the manna came along with the DEW every morning. If you haven’t noticed, the new translation of Eucharistic prayer #2 refers to this beautiful fact. I will use Eucharistic prayer in just a moment for that very reason. You will hear me say, ““Make holy these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.” That isn’t just beautiful poetry. It refers directly to the fact that the Eucharist is the new manna, and instead of coming to us with the dewfall of the morning, it comes to us now through the dewfall of the Holy Spirit through the hands of the priest. SHOCKING.
The main point is that the Lord gave his people food for the journey. The Lord liberated the people from slavery, but he didn’t just leave them orphaned. He also fed them as they went on that journey. One of the things that we should take note of regarding Jesus is how much does he fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. We have to remember that Jesus was Jewish. God chose the Jews in a special way to be the bearers of his commandments and his word, so the Messiah would be a man who would fulfill the Jewish laws and prophecies. Let me recite to you one of those prophecies. It is from Baruch 2: “And it will happen one day that the Messiah will be revealed. And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will rain down again from heaven, and they will eat of it, because these are the ones who have arrived at the consummation of all time.”
In other words, it was prophesied that the New Messiah would bring the new manna—the new bread from Heaven. And this is precisely what Jesus is saying that his flesh and blood is. THAT is the great curve ball. No one would have guessed, not even the Jews, that the new manna might be Jesus’s flesh and blood. And yet that is what Jesus claims that it is.
My friends, we haven’t even touched on how Jesus is the lamb of the Passover. We haven’t even touched on how in the feeding of the five thousand, which he does directly before his teaching on the new manna, that he is trying to prepare the people for his teaching on the Eucharist. We hear about this in our gospel today. We hear that when Jesus was about to multiply the loaves, he took the loaves, said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the people. These exact four Greek verbs – took the loaves, blessed, broke and gave – are the exact same four Greek verbs that Jesus uses at the last Supper – Jesus took the loaves, blessed them, broke them and gave them. Y’all are all awere what I am about to say: SHOCKING!! ARE WE TO THINK THAT IS MERELY COINCIDENTAL? There is so much here. The full teaching on it is so theologically rich and so beautiful that I personally do not believe that it could have been made up by a human mind, but only by the will of a God who wants to be so close to us that he humbles himself to be consumed by us that he might live inside us.
But will WE humble ourselves to come to the table to be sustained. Kelly Pease, a Christian singer, has a song called “there is Life” that is one of my favorite Christian songs of all time. The refrain goes like this:
There is life on the other side
For those who are brave enough to walk through this valley wide
There is life
There is joy in him who leads us through pain
For those who will come to the table to be sustained
There is joy, there is life, here in my suffering.
I love the song because it’s real. It does not dress up the fact that this life is a difficult. Christianity does not take away your pain, but it does give it some meaning. The second reading from St. Paul begs us not to go to the table of alcohol, sex, or following our own ignorant opinions, because there are so many times that we go to the table of the world and eat it’s food because we think that it will make us feel better. And it actually might—for a day. Maybe even a week. But what about for tomorrow? What about day after day? What about for life everlasting? That food will not save you. OUR HEARTS KNOW THIS. But THIS food will. But you need to humble yourself, put aside your doubts, and come to the table to be sustained first.
And that’s what Jesus meant by saying that he was the new manna from Heaven. That’s why we eat his flesh and drink his blood. And THAT is why we celebrate the Feat of Corpus Christi.