The Sunday Sermon: Corpus Christi 2015
Corpus Christi – June 7, 2015
Fr. Thomas Pettigrew, Rector
Church of the Holy Cross
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a hymn (which I think we all know) the first stanza of which is
“Let thy blood in mercy poured,/ Let thy gracious body broken,/ Be to me, O gracious Lord, Of boundless love the token.” And following every stanza of the hymn, the refrain is repeated: “Thou didst give Thyself for me,/ Now I give myself to Thee.”
Today, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, we reflect and give thanks to our Lord and our Heavenly Father for the Gift which he has given us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
At the end of the (10 o’clock) Mass today, after we have received our Lord in Holy Communion, we will place a consecrated Host in a device called a Monstrance. And kneeling before that Host, we will sing and pause a moment in Adoration of Jesus our Lord who gives himself to us through that Host each and every time we receive it into our selves – our very bodies and souls.
The first thing I want to address this morning is this – should we really be doing this sort of thing? Should we be kneeling in adoration and thanksgiving before the Communion Host?
Well, I just said that we were going to be doing it, so let me try to offer a little bit of an explanation of why I think it is a good and holy thing that we do this.
To start off, we have to admit that Holy Scripture forbids us from partaking any act of Idolatry. Idolatry is bowing down in worship to something which man has created and honoring it as God.
You may recall the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 as the quintessential story of Idolatry and Idol Worship.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
For this terrible deed of betrayal God was ready to destroy the stiff-necked people, but thankfully, Moses interceded on their behalf and God relented of the evil he wanted to do to them. There was indeed a punishment for their sin, and it was a severe punishment, but I’ll let you go home and look up what it was in Exodus chapter 32. Just don’t read it too close to bed or you’ll have nightmares.
So very clearly, the fashioning and worshipping of idols is forbidden. How is this act of adoration of the Host not an act of idolatry?
Simply because of what we believe this Host to be:
Jesus, on the night of his arrest, after he had blessed, broken, and given the bread said to his disciples – “This is my Body” and after doing the same for the cup – he said “This is my blood”.
As Anglicans and Episcopalians, we take our Lord at his word. And so by faith, we acknowledge the Bread and the Wine that we take to be his body and his blood, which is the food and the nourishment of our souls.
Now over the centuries, theologians have tried to peer deeper into this great mystery: how is it that the bread and the wine are the body and blood of Jesus? And there have been some very profound theological teachings about it.
Anglicans and Episcopalians, we are adamant about saying what it is we receive: This bread which we break, is the communion of the body of Christ. And we are adamant about proclaiming the wonderful thing which receiving this bread in the wine does: One body are we, although many, we share one bread: It unites us each to another and to God by the mystical working of the Holy Spirit.
We are, however, reluctant to say how this bread and this wine are the body and the blood. That is a mystery and although in prayer and contemplation, we consider the wonderful gift that God’s Love has given us: The Bread which comes down from heaven, giving life to the world.
Since we believe in the real presence, we believe God is powerfully and wonderfully presenting himself to us in, with, and through the Sacred Host of the Monstrance.
And so, as you gaze up at that monstrance or down at the host in your hand at communion, take a moment to realize the wonderful gift which God gives you in, with, and through that Communion host: He give you himself – the same self which he offered up to the Father for the sins of the whole world.
The last stanza of that hymn I quoted earlier is this:
Wilt thou own the gift I bring?/ All my penitence I give thee;/ Thou art my exalted King, / of thy matchless love forgive me.” And as you look upon that wonderful gift – be reminded of that refrain: Thou didst give thyself for me,/ now I give my self to thee.”
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.