15 Jun 2017
“‘… the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” (John 6:51a) (+)
We can point to Acts of the Apostles chapter 1 to explain why we wait 40 days after Easter to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. We can point to Acts chapter 2 to explain why we wait 50 days after Easter to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. But the Feast of Corpus Christi is a made-up date. We are here today because we’ve finally hit a break in the liturgical calendar. We can now finally finish what we started on Holy Thursday. Part of that night’s liturgy was to recall Jesus’ words of institution as He said over the bread “This is my body” and over the wine “This is my blood.” But this is a moment in the life of Jesus filled with tension. The disciples have been accused that one among them will betray Jesus. They are told that all will abandon Him. And Jesus is tormented by thoughts of what comes next. This is not a time to celebrate the Eucharist. So the church must wait. And now today, after the season of Easter, after the Ascension, after Pentecost, after Trinity Sunday, we finally have our chance to celebrate what we in our church call “the mystery of faith.”
This phrase reflects the original language of church theology which was obviously not English. It wasn’t even Polish. It was Greek. And the Greek word for sacrament is mystery. This sentiment is carried forward still today also in the Eastern Churches of Christianity. They prefer to speak of sacraments as sacred mysteries. As such they don’t attempt to present absolute definitions of them. They refrain from doing so out of respect for the unknowable nature of God. Who are we to express all that God intends? The sacraments are mysteries, but sacred mysteries because somehow through the sacraments God touches us through material means, such as the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and shares His holiness with us. We don’t have to know how this happens, but through these mysteries God affirms the goodness and even holiness of created matter and most especially of us.
Sacraments, in this sense, convey the wondrous mystery of the possible. Even as Jesus saw the end of His life approaching in a most violent way, even as His closest followers were about to waiver, desert and even betray Him, Jesus gives us this sacrament of profound hope. That fateful night in the Upper Room Jesus shares in Holy Communion with even Judas. There is always hope, and Jesus will never give up hope in anyone. This is why the Eucharist is meant not only for the saintly few, but for even the sinner and the seeker. A bit later in this evening’s Mass the priests will recite together the words of consecration over the chalice, and we will say in Jesus’ voice, “…the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which shall be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This may sound like the sacrifice behind the offer of Holy Communion is limited, but we should know that Jesus’ languages of Hebrew and Aramaic have no word for all. Even, again in that Greek language of theology, Paul contrasts the reality of universal physical death with the greater universal reality of Jesus’ forgiving grace, but the way Paul says this is: “For if the many died …” (Rom. 5:15) Well, death is not the burden of “the many;” death is the burden of all of us. And what we can hopefully begin to realize is that this language of “the many” is the round-about way of saying all of us.
And isn’t this what we heard as the opening statement of this evening’s Gospel? John is unique in that he discusses the Eucharist in the middle of Jesus’ ministry rather than at the end during the Last Supper. John by far has more to say about the Last Supper than all of the other Evangelists combined and yet John deliberately fails to mention the institution of the Eucharist at that time. For John the Eucharist is not set in the scene of a locked and private Upper Room. Rather, the Eucharist is broached among the large crowd who had gathered around Jesus on the day after the miracle of the loaves. In the midst of His ministry, in the midst of believers and casual followers, in the midst of wide open spaces, John’s Jesus speaks of Himself as the flesh and blood of eternal life. And Jesus began this discussion by saying: “‘The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’”
Remember that the people in that crowd are not necessarily believers. As a matter of fact, Jesus reprimands them by saying, “‘You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’” (John 6:26) And it is in this context that we should hear what Jesus means by saying His flesh is offered for “the life of the world.” Again, the Eucharist is meant to be shared with all because the Eucharist is God’s mystery of faith. We can’t see what God sees. We can’t know what God knows. Our rules may arbitrarily limit the unknowable plans of God, of a God who in Christ has been more than generous with the gifts that He offers in hope, and a most powerful hope is the respect, friendship and peace of unity, of communion, of Holy Communion.
Two days ago someone tried to assassinate Republican legislators gathered together to practice for a charity softball game. It was heartwarming and reassuring to hear other legislators after the fact put aside partisanship and speak of their unity as United States Representatives and Senators rather than as Republicans and Democrats. Unity even among differences is a blessing and a pleasant reprieve from all the division that confronts us all the time. Holy Communion is our chance to come together in Christ with God and with each other. This is part of that mystery of faith which Bp. Hodur embraced, not so much to define the sacrament, but to revel in it as a mystery that helps us better realize our communion with each other rather than our separation. May the Blessed Sacrament bring all of us and Christ together in a Holy Communion, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo
 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, p. 179.