Readings: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Some ten-thousand years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, an accident of nature changed the course of human history. Two wild grasses cross-fertilized to form a hybrid, which in turn, crossed with another wild grass and so produced wheat. Unlike the wild grasses, the ear of the new plant was too tight to release its grain to the wind. It needed help to spread and propagate. By a happy coincidence human hands were there at just the right moment to harvest the ears of wheat and scatter their seed. This timely coming together of nature and man created the beginnings of agriculture. Human beings no longer had to be nomadic gatherers of food but could settle and grow their own. Soon bread became part if their staple diet.
No one knows for sure when the secret of making wine from the fermentation of wild grapes was first discovered. More than likely it goes back to the dawn of civilization itself. Natural process and human ingenuity came together to transform the juice of the grape, enriched with the mysteries of the soil, into the draught, which the psalmist says, gladdens the heart.
Small wonder then that Jesus took bread and wine–fruit of the earth and work of human hands–blessed them and gave them to us to eat and drink as our bread of life and our spiritual drink. It is this mystery we celebrate today, the feast of the institution of the Eucharist, the central act of our life and worship.
On Holy Thursday we reenacted the Last Supper when Jesus gave his body and his blood by means of bread and wine, to leave us an abiding memorial of his sacrifice of infinite love. However the atmosphere of that day, overshadowed by betrayal, violence and agony, created the need for another occasion to contemplate this most joyful of mysteries. And so we have the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist. We celebrate it above all by living it. None of us is, or can be, a mere spectator, for this offering to God of bread and wine is really our offering to him of ourselves, of our life and of the whole world.
The Eucharist invites us to love after the example of Christ who loved us and gave himself up for us. This is the meaning behind the language of blood sacrifice of which we heard much in today’s readings. Blood is fundamentally life. The commitment to share in a common life, the covenant between God and Israel, was endorsed in blood, lots of it. There could be no going back. Yet this blood sacrifice, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, should be understood as an anticipation of the death that definitively accomplished our reconciliation with God: Christ gave his own blood to seal the new covenant made by offering his life on the cross. The Eucharist makes present this eternal covenant that sanctifies us, purifies us and unites us in marvelous communion with God. Nature, humanity and divinity all converge in the Eucharist. The fruit of the earth and the work of human hands–our offering of bread and wine, our offering of ourselves are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit into the glorious body and blood of Christ for the life of the world. And what we offer is given back to us as the gift of new life and therefore as food.
So, take and eat. Take and drink. This is the sacrament of love, the sign of unity, the bond of charity.
O sacrum convivium. O sacred banquet in which we partake of Christ: his sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with his grace and we receive a pledge of the glory that is to be ours. Amen.