Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as "Corpus Christi."
As part of the Passover observance, in which the Jewish community recalls their liberation from slavery in Egypt, a lamb is sacrificed, shared, and eaten as part of the seder meal. Animal sacrifice among ancient peoples was a common way of expressing gratitude to God for the many gifts we have received, as well as atonement for the sins we have committed.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, just prior to his arrest. The meal would also have included unleavened bread, cups of wine, hymns, and passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the hymns would have been familiar to us today: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz, or, "Blessed are You, Lord, God, King of all Creation, who causes bread to come forth from the earth!"
You will recognize this as part of our own Liturgy of the Eucharist. We recall that first Eucharist, when Jesus, at the Passover meal, would have chanted the ritual blessings over the bread and wine. Blessings that you will still hear today, if you attend a seder with Jewish friends. Except that, when it came time to partake of the Passover lamb, Jesus makes a startling pronouncement: that He, and not any animal, would be the one sacrificed, the one whose blood would be poured out and whose body would be eaten by those in attendance. The disciples must have been utterly befuddled! (And probably a little grossed out.)
And yet, this is what we celebrate every week at Mass: the word Eucharist actually means, "Thanksgiving." We give thanks to God for the incomprehensible act of love in the form of Jesus' complete self-sacrifice on our behalf, an act that not only liberates us from the "slavery" of sin, but delivers us to the "Promised Land" of Eternal Life!
Our celebration of the Eucharist is not merely a symbol, nor is it simply a re-enactment. It is, rather, each time, a full participation in the cosmic mystery that is God's saving love and mercy in our day-to-day lives. It is to not only hear with our ears, through listening to the Scriptures, or see with our eyes, by watching the act of consecration, but to assimilate, literally and physically, into ourselves, that very Body and Blood of Jesus, ceaselessly given to us as free gift for our redemption.
But receiving the Eucharist can never be contained by a one hour service in Church. Rather, consuming the Eucharist is only the first step in living as a Eucharistic people. The act of receiving Communion renders us living tabernacles, and we are missioned forth, outward from the doors of the Church, and into the world. We are called and compelled to give witness to this awesome act of self-sacrifice by Jesus, through modeling that same sort of other-centered love to all we encounter. How can you, in this coming week, attempt to take what you have received at Mass, and allow yourself to be "broken," "poured out," and "shared" among the many people you meet? We are called the Body of Christ for a reason; how can your words, your actions, and your attitudes this week, BE the self-sacrificing Body of Christ to others?