A Sermon For The Feast of Corpus Christi
For the Scarborough Renaissance Faire 1549 Eucharist
© 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; John 6:47-58
For the Scarborough Renaissance Faire 1549 Eucharist
© 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; John 6:47-58
LET US PRAY: Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire / And lighten us with thy celestial fire / Hallow this place unto thyself / In Christ's Name all evil dispel / Enable with thy perpetual light / The dullness of our blinded sight / Teach us to know the Father and Son / And thee, Our God, the Three in One. AMEN+
Today we gather to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi! For those who do not know the tongue of the learned, this is the Feast of the Body of Christ: The Commemoration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I cannot think of a more appropriate Feast to celebrate this year of our Lord, fifteen hundred and forty nine. For it is in this year that ALL of the subjects of the English King FINALLY have a Book of COMMON Prayer, in which we ALL, in our own native tongue, can celebrate the liturgy of our Lord's Body TOGETHER.
No more half-uttered syllables, of poorly pronounced Latin, read by priests who barely understand the words they are saying, said to people who have no comprehension.
Even last year this was not so. But today, one year later, we celebrate this Feast on a day when we can call it not "Corpus Christi", but what it is in or native tongue: The Body of Christ.
But what IS this Body? Where is the Body to be found? For in regard to this Body, the followers of Luther say one thing. The followers of Calvin another. The followers of Zwingli yet another. The Roman Church still another. And a whole chorus of heretics chime in, each with their own distortions. Soon there may be as many Christs as there are Christians!
So, as we celebrate this feast today, I think it is proper to remind us of what the Body of Christ really is. For, in Scripture and the ancient Fathers of the Church, the Body of Christ was one Reality, expressed in three ways: One tapestry woven together of three threads.
First, the Body of Christ is of course that blessed, glorious Body of our Lord who became incarnate some fifteen centuries ago. In that Body, God Himself truly became man, born of the Blessed Virgin. In that Body, our Lord grew up into manhood, in which he taught and worked manifold miracles, and so displayed the Father's Glory.
In that Body, our blessed Lord suffered, and died, and was buried. And it was in that glorified, transfigured Body in which our Lord defeated death, and hell, and the devil. And it is in that Body that our Lord reigns from Heaven, and in which He shall return.
Yet, this does not mean that our Lord's Body exists merely in Heaven. For He is transfigured and glorious, and as Saint Paul saith to the Ephesians, "[Christ's] body is the fulness of him that filleth all in all" [1.23]. In speaking of that Body, Saint Paul says that we- Who have been joined with Christ in baptism and who cleave to Him in faith- We are His Body as well!
For every person who has Christ's Spirit coursing through them as their lifeblood, is incorporate as a member of Christ's mystical Body on earth. Do you hear that? We who are joined to Christ are verily and undeniably members of Christ Himself! We are His hands, His feet, and His voice calling out in a darkened world! We are His Body sent to fulfill His mission!
So, first the Body of Christ is an historical man. But secondly, this glorious man is also present in His people, who are extensions of His own glorious Body. Yet, there is a third facet to this Body which we can never forget, lest we endanger our very souls.
For, although Christ's Body is a man and Christ's Body is His Church: It is not MERELY an historical man or a mystical Church. For as we heard in our Gospel lesson today: His Body is also found in the meal that nourishes our souls!
For today our Lord Christ says "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world"
Again he says "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you."
And lest we be confused, Saint Paul clearly saith, in regard to the cup and the bread, that in these things we should worthily "discern the Body" of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we all know what food is. We all know what nourishment is. And by the looks of some of you who are shaped like me, some of us know more about nourishment than we should!
In our search for nourishment, none of us seek to eat the stones off the ground, or gnaw bark from the trees, or to drink the oil in our lamps! Truly, we know that nourishment corresponds to the Body which it nourishes.
Thus for our physical bodies, we bread and meat and steaks on a stake! We drink water, and wine, and plenty of ale. Indeed, fine ale is proof that God loves us and desires our happiness! We eat and drink them because they correspond our bodies which they nourish.
If this is how we nourish our physical bodies, how then should we nourish the mystical Body of Christ? To hear some tell it, you would think the Body of Christ is some ghost or phantasm unconnected with our world. For them, communion with our Lord is solely spiritual, completely disconnected with what we do with our hands, and feet, and eyes, and mouths.
But when I look out and see the Body of Christ gathered before me, I do not see ghosts. I see people. Bodily people. Tangible people. I see you, and you, and you, and you.
For all of you who are baptized and have Christ's Spirit living within you: You are physical, tangible extensions of the Lord Himself. We are not dealing with some sort of ghostly Body. Nay! We are dealing with a Physical Body, made of men and women, in whom Christ's Spirit dwells.
And a tangible body requires tangible nourishment!
How then should the Lord nourish such a Body? Should He nourish such a body with spirit alone? Or should He nourish it with spirit and matter? Verily I say, He uses material elements indwelt by the very presence of His Spirit to nourish us!
Thus, our Lord nourishes us with sacramental means, for a sacrament is nothing other than an "outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace".
For, when our faithful Lord promises to use things such as bread and wine and water to nourish his own people with His own presence, should we not expect that promise to be true?
In the case of this sacrament, we speak of Christ's Body now in its third sense. For we have already spoken of the historical Body of our Lord Christ, and we have spoken of the mystical corporate Body of our Lord Christ. But now we speak of the sacramental Body of our Lord Jesus Christ: The meal by which he nourishes His people with His own Body and Blood.
Some of our so-called reformers have denied that Christ is tangibly present in this sacred bread and wine. They want to say that Christ is present AROUND the altar in His gathered mystical Body, but they deny that He is present ON the altar in the meal which is offered.
But, by denying this, they are denying the very gift that God gives them to nourish them as the Body of Christ. For what good is it if we are made members of Christ's mystical Body through baptism and faith, and yet the Lord lets His mystical Body starve to death for lack of nourishment?
Verily I say: Not ONLY does Christ make us his Body, but he feeds us WITH His Body IN our communion meal! Not only is Christ present AROUND the altar in the gathered people, but truly He is present ON the altar as a lifegiving sacrifice that nourishes us, and strengthens us, and enables us to live for Him.
But I shall not go so far as the vain speculations of other reformers and the schoolmen of the Roman Church. For it is not prudent to define HOW this mystery comes to be. For some birdlike minds are easily put to flight with otherworldly speculation about realities which they cannot fathom.
Some apparently thinketh they have divine knowledge of the mechanics of the universe and the inscrutable workings of God's Holy Spirit, when they seek to specify exactly HOW Christ is truly present in the communion meal. They spill gallons of ink- and sometimes rivers of blood- defining and defending their pet theories of exactly how God works.
But what it more important: THAT God does something, or HOW God does something? Or, to put it another way: Must a small child know HOW his father harvests grain, and grinds grain, and mixes flour, and bakes bread, in order to be nourished by that bread?
No! The child cannot comprehend HOW this is so, in order to be nourished by the bread. All the child has to do is ACCEPT the gift of bread by FAITH in the goodness of his father.
In the same way, we know not HOW the bread and wine is also the sacramental Body and Blood of our Lord. We know not HOW His Spirit works to make this so. But, we do know that it IS so. And we take it by faith, in the goodness of our Father, who hath given us this gift of bread and wine.
If I may switch the image for a moment to take advantage of this sunny day: Imagine that the working of Christ's Spirit is like the sunlight which gives light and warmth to everything we see. As Saint Paul hath said: Christ is He who "filleth all in all".
If Christ is present all around us- above us, beneath us, and within the soul of every person joined to His Body- If Christ is present all around, how can he be MORE present in this communion meal than anywhere else?
He is more present in this meal in the same way the light of the Sun is made more present by a magnifying glass which was skillfully focused in one place. For, although the light and heat of the sun surrounds us completely, it is able to be focused, by the lens, on one place, in a tight, white-hot beam.
In the same way, through the gathering of Christ's mystical Body, led by the prayers of His priest, Christ's presence is focused on the sacrament of the Altar, in a tight, white-hot manner. We, his gathered Body, are the lens. By uttering the words of our Lord- "This is my body" and "This is my blood"- Christ's priest focuses that lens in such a way that the Light of the Son of God becomes uniquely present in the bread and wine.
We know not how this works. Theories are bound to come and go to explain what light is, and how the lens focuses it. But no matter what the theory is of HOW it works, it does not change the fact THAT it works.
Perhaps the wisest, most prudent thing we could do is confess the mystery: Christ is truly and tangibly present in this meal to nourish us, though we know not how.
And that is the mystery we are left with in the sacramental Body of Christ. We know not HOW it works, only THAT it works. And if we neglect it, or deny it, or treat it in a profane way, we endanger our very souls.
For if we starve ourselves of merely physical food, we only shall harm our physical bodies. But if we starve ourselves of this heavenly meal, we bring harm to our very souls.
And thus Saint Paul admonishes us to be careful to discern the Body of our Lord at the communion meal. But what does he mean? How shall we "discern" His Body?
Surely Saint Paul means first that we shall discern Christ's presence ON the altar: We shall see and know that this is no ordinary meal, but the sacramental Body of our Lord. We shall come to eat and drink and be nourished in the same manner in which the disciples themselves came before the Lord, to be nourished by His teaching and miracles.
For, to disrespect or deny Christ in the meal, is just as if we were a Pharisee or Sadducee or Scribe who denied our Lord Jesus to His face, those many centuries ago. We must discern our Lord in the meal, lest we cast ourselves into the same fate that they did when they hardened their hearts against Him.
But, this is not all that Saint Paul means in his admonishment: For elsewhere in the same chapter of this epistle he makes it clear that the Corinthians are under God's judgment for mistreating each other at the Communion meal. Saint Paul describeth how some go hungry, while others gorge themselves, some get drunk, while others are turned away empty.
And what point is He making? He means that discerning the Body of Christ means not only honoring the sacramental Body, but also honoring, cherishing, and serving the Mystical Body of His gathered people. For, as Saint John saith in another letter: It is IMPOSSIBLE to Love the Lord if we hate and mistreat our brothers.
For HOW we Love each member in the Body of Christ is HOW we Love Christ Himself. And to discern the Body of Christ is not only to see Christ ON the altar, but to see Christ AROUND the altar in His own people, the Church, His mystical Body.
And, when we discern Christ in His sacramental Body and in His mystical Body, then we are discerning Christ in His historical Body: Seated at the right hand of God, clothed in glory.
Do you realize? Can you see? Do you discern?
When we do something as simple, and as profound- as Loving one another in the Body, and faithfully partaking of Christ's Body in the sacrament- When we do this Christ makes us a partaker of His glory and majesty. When we do this, the Divine life courses through us, enlivening us, and setting us on fire with His Love!
When we do this, that power that raised our Lord from the dead: That power dwells in us, and we share in Christ's VICTORY over death, and sin, and hell, and the devil, and the demons, and all lesser powers raised up against the True God.
Will you today share in His victory with me? Will you today discern the Body of Christ in each other, in this sacrament, and seated in the Heavens, ruling supreme above all? Will you today faithfully partake of this meal with me, and as you receive the Lord's Body in your hand, so also receive Him in your heart?
I invite you! COME! Discern the Corpus Christi with me, that we may be joined with Him who rules all of Creation with His Love. Amen+
[NOTE: This is a little long- about 22 minutes, or 2500 words- but this is because I was asked to preach more in the style of 1549. Now, if one reads the "Book of Homilies" prescribed by the 39 Articles to be preached in English Churches, you will find sermons ranging from 3000 to 7000 words- half and hour, to an hour long. So, be thankful I am much shorter than they!]