Corpus Christi: The Body of Christ. Amen!
Today’s reading from Exodus can be a bit off-putting: Moses splashes the blood onto the altar, and splashes it onto the people. Why? What seems repugnant to us was of central importance to them: symbolizing a new life belonging to God. For the people of Israel, blood meant life itself, a gift given by and belonging to God alone. This ceremonial involving blood consecrated the tribes of Israel into a covenant as God’s holy people.
The Letter to the Hebrews picks up on this, understanding the rituals of the Old Testament as foreshadowing and pointing to their fulfillment in Jesus. He has entered the sanctuary “once and for all…offering himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit purifying our conscience from dead actions to worship the living God”. The work of Jesus as high priest has opened up a way of access to God that was not possible before His self-sacrifice. Following this “new and living way” Christians have access to God and confidence to enter into the presence of God – “by the blood of Jesus Christ”. This purifies us from the “dead works” of sin and allows us to worship the living God.
The sacrifice of Jesus is made present in the Eucharist bringing to those disposed a forgiveness of venial sins and the ability to truly worship God, our Heavenly Father. Jesus created a new relationship between His Father and His people. When we receive Holy Communion we acknowledge that the Lord gave His Body which was broken and His Blood poured out that we might live the new life of the risen Lord as true Christians.
This understanding of sacrifice is precisely the opposite of pagan sacrifices where humans offered a compensatory gift to repair the relationship between man and God. Here, in contrast, God Himself in Jesus becomes the Gift which heals and restores the relationship damaged by our sin.
Many of the early Fathers of the Church referred to Christ as a physician, describing the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality”, the “antidote against death”, the “living medicine” or “medicine of life”. The Eucharist heals and purifies us so that we can share in the life of God. This Gift of God also has a unique quality: normally, our food becomes a part of us; however for those in the state of grace and properly disposed, we are changed more and more into Jesus through Holy Communion.
We understand that becoming more and more like Jesus through the reception of Holy Communion takes time. In fact, properly disposed the process continues until the day we die. The Eucharist maps this Christian way of belonging to time, a way that is navigated by faith and hope, because it embraces the three-dimensions of future, past and present, summed up in the antiphon for this feast: O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received: His suffering is remembered (past), our mind is filled with grace (present), and we receive a pledge of the glory that is to be ours (future).