Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. This feast calls to mind the gift, the sacrifice, of Jesus’ entire self, for our salvation, and our celebration and participation in that sacrifice when we come together for the Eucharist.
The language of sacrifice can be problematic because for some it can be understood as a killing of an innocent to appease an unforgiving God. For others, the notion of sacrifice can obscure the fact of the Just One suffering injustice by the powers that be, and lead us to ignore the injustices that are being done today.
For me, I consider that Jesus could have escaped arrest and trial if He wanted to. This was something brought home to me by Fr. Jerome Murphy O’Connor, a Scripture scholar who taught in Jerusalem. Jesus’ death was an act of injustice that was transformed into victory and hope by the love of God in the Resurrection. But, since He didn’t resist the arrest or the trial or the execution, I can’t but help to see it as a sacrifice. But instead of seeing it as an appeasement to an unmerciful God, I focus on the analogy with the Passover for Jews. Just as the Passover was an act of God freeing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, the outpouring of Jesus’ Body and Blood was an act of liberation for us. His giving of Himself freed us from slavery to sin! We do not have to respond to violence with more violence. We can forego vengeance. We can let go of hatred and fear. God transformed the symbol of destruction into a symbol of hope. Jesus is risen! So when we come to the Eucharist, and celebrate the love God has for us in Jesus, and participate in the sacrifice of Jesus made present for us, we are again liberated to share the love of God in Jesus Christ with the world!
If we come to Mass, and are willing once again to enter into the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus, and we take to heart what it means to receive Jesus’ total self, His Body and Blood, our lives can be changed! When the readings for Cycle B come around as they do today, I am often drawn to our second reading from Hebrews. In that reading, the author contrasts the sacrifices of animals made by the high priests of old with the sacrifice made by Jesus: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”
If we let it, taking Jesus into ourselves can lift us out of performing “dead works.” These are the works of greed and lust and exploitation and discrimination and violence. When we get caught up in maintaining our identity to the point of trying to prove our supremacy, it seems to me that we are involved in “dead works.” The world doesn’t need more of that! The world needs more of what we have received: love and mercy and compassion, as foolish as those things are to the world. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we testify to the power of God’s love in Jesus Christ and the value of giving of oneself. We give witness to community as an antidote to the death-dealing effects of isolation. I have found that the Eucharist lifts me outside of myself and orients me to God and to others. That is why I consider it a loss when people don’t come.
May we open ourselves to Jesus’ gift of Himself, poured out for us. May receiving His Body and Blood be life-changing for us.
Fr. Phil, CP