Thursday, June 16, 2022

Corpus Christi


Today is Corpus Christi, the Thanksgiving for the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. There are two Sacraments of the Gospels: baptism, and communion. There are further Sacraments of the Church, including marriage, and the anointing of the sick.

Sacraments take something of the world (water, bread, wine, metal, oil) and recognise it as a place of encounter with Jesus Christ (the one who is both fully human and fully God, in whom heaven and earth are united) and so as a point at which earth and heaven come together.

Sacraments take something temporal (bread corrupts quickly, but even a platinum ring does not last forever) and see in it all eternity.

Sacraments combine something given by God to creation; and by the wider creation to humans; taken up and transformed by human activity (the work of farmer, miller, and baker to make bread; the work of vintner, of jeweller, of herbalist; even water comes to us via aqueducts: What did the Romans ever do for us?) and offered once more; taken up  by God—Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all—transformed once more and given yet again. A circle of grace upon grace, of life-enhancing gift upon gift, begun, continued, and brought to completion in God. The perfection of diversity in harmony.

In the Old Testament reading set for today, Abram (later, Abraham) returns from victory in battle, having taken back his nephew who had been carried off in defeat, and is met by Melchizedek, king of Salem (later, Jerusalem).

‘And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,

‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’

‘And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.’

Genesis 14:18-20

Melchizedek sets before Abram bread and wine, and in this sacrament, Abram experiences strength renewing his weariness and healing for his wounds. Some would say that in his host, Abraham encounters the second person of the Trinity, that Melchizedek is the outward and visible sign of God with Abraham.

Melchizedek pronounces a blessing over Abram: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth…’ and the blessing is deliberately expansive. The word here translated ‘maker’ can also be rendered ‘possessor’ and encompasses both God as possessor of heaven and earth by virtue of being its creator, redeemer and sustainer ‘[Blessed be Abram by] God Most High, maker of heaven and earth…’ and Abram as the one who possesses heaven and earth by virtue of being in covenant relationship with God Most High ‘Blessed be Abram [by God Most High], possessor of heaven and earth…’].

Jesus said, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10) Jesus came that we might know love, joy, peace, comfort in our sorrows; but these gifts of heaven, these spiritual graces, can be stolen from us in the outward and visible dimension of life, such that we grow weary of life itself. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus, our High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek, sets bread and wine before us, the outward sign of his body and blood, and as we eat, our souls and bodies are nourished.

So come, those who are weary. Gaze upon Mystery! Eat, and drink. Be made whole.


Images: detail of a pelican feeding her chicks with her own blood, a Medieval symbol of Christ nourishing the Church with his body and blood, embroidered on the chasuble I wore at Holy Communion today.


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