In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
There is something especially poignant about celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi today.
Corpus Christi is the great celebration of the institution of the Eucharist. Of course the Last Supper is remembered with particular solemnity during Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, the Sacrament of His self-offering, the Sacrament of the body broken and the blood poured out for us all. That comes through strongly in the Maundy Thursday liturgy.
But the Eucharist is also the Sacrament of the risen Christ. It is the risen Christ who is present to us in the Sacrament; it is the risen Christ we encounter in the breaking of the bread, just like those disciples on the Emmaus road. This is one of the reasons for this feast of Corpus Christi; the institution of the Eucharist is commemorated on Maundy Thursday in connection with Jesus’ betrayal, His arrest and trial, His suffering and death; today the institution of the Eucharist can be celebrated as sheer joy, in the context of the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
There is something especially poignant in celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi today, because I am the only one of us who is able to receive the Sacrament at this time. Of course, the Church has consistently taught that the faithful can receive the full benefits of the Sacrament through an act of Spiritual Communion if they are unable to attend the liturgy. But that is not how we want it to be; we long for the day when we can once again be Corpus Christi in a tangible way, the body of Christ, united in our churches in worship and prayer; and we long for the day when we can once again receive that which we already are, when we can once again receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.
There is something especially poignant about celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi today, marking as it does the beginning of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Sacrament of healing, the Sacrament of forgiveness, the Sacrament of unity, the Sacrament of love, the Sacrament of peace. We love this Sacrament, and we believe too that the world needs this Sacrament, and how we wish that the world would love this Sacrament as we do.
How much things have changed in these past couple of weeks. When the Covid-19 outbreak started, I felt that there was a real sense of unity in this country. I was pleasantly surprised to see the great upsurge of voluntary effort, of community action, and of support for the NHS. We really seemed to pull together, and it felt as if the wounds of the interminable Brexit debates might even begin to be healed as we struggled with a common enemy. But now we’re back to division once again. And the divisions have a moral side to them. We see accusations, accusations of fault and guilt and blame, and we see defensiveness and denial, we see fragility that leads to deflection and counter-attack. And we see an increasing anxiety about the future, and fears about who will end up paying the mounting economic cost of this crisis.
And perhaps we feel too that the Church of England itself has not had a good Corona virus, and here I point the finger as much at myself as at anyone else; we feel that the Church should have had the words to guide people, that we should have had the wisdom and perspective that would have helped this nation through, and that we have had an opportunity to proclaim the message of Christian hope and we have not taken it, spending our time instead arguing about whether our buildings should be open or not.
Yes, it is a poignant time to be celebrating this great feast of Corpus Christi.
Here we rejoice in the gift of this great Sacrament. It is our tradition to come before the Sacrament on our knees, and goodness knows that many of us, probably all of us, feel that in some way or other we are on our knees at the moment. We come to Our Lord in the Sacrament acknowledging our weakness and fault. Here we try to look at ourselves honestly with Jesus. We point the finger at ourselves, not each other. In some churches we share the peace, which is not supposed to be an opportunity to have a chat with our neighbour, but is rather a sign of our peace with one another – that we, as the Prayer Book puts it, are “in love and charity with our neighbours”. We confess our sins before God and one another.
We acknowledge our sins and weaknesses before God, not to receive the punishment that we have earned, but rather to receive God’s forgiveness; and more even than that: to be fed, to be nourished, to be nurtured, to be loved, to be blessed, to be brought into a closer relationship with God the Father through Jesus in His sacramental presence, through the working of the Holy Spirit.
And here we have something so important. Whether we are talking about the mistakes that may or may not have been made in our government’s response to Covid-19; whether we are talking about racial justice or violence against the police or the rights and wrongs of this or that statue; whether we are talking about the mistakes that may or may not have been made by the Church of England around any or all of these issues; whether we are talking about the numerous petty little acts of unkindness and selfishness that each of commits week by week; whatever we are talking about, we come to our Lord knowing that we are all sinners. We come to Him to be led out of the destructive cycle of blame and finger-pointing and defensiveness and denial and self-deception and counter-attack. We come to receive the broken body of the One who absorbed the blame and the guilt and the violence and hatred within Himself on the Cross. And we come to receive the risen body of the One who triumphed over blame and guilt and violence and even death itself.
In the Sacrament we are brought to the very foot of the Cross. In John’s gospel, before He goes to His death, Jesus says “Now is the judgement of the world”. On the Cross, human wickedness is revealed in its fulness; our brutal selfish stupidity will go as far as putting God to death. And on the Cross the Divine Love is revealed in its fulness; the love of God will not let us go, but will descend even to the dead to be with us and to bring us back. And so the Church, the Body of Christ, is the place where we come to the foot of the Cross; it is the place where we come to be honest about who we are before God, before each other, before ourselves. We are not in the business of denial or cover-up, of brushing injustices and wrongs under the carpet. The prophetic voice of the Church, the call to repentance, is always a part of our witness.
And in the Sacrament we are brought not only to foot of the Cross; we are brought too to the Empty Tomb, we are brought to the Emmaus Road. Nourished by our risen Lord, we share in His risen Life, we share in His triumph over the forces of evil and death, our unity and our hope is renewed.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.