Brief synopsis of the readings: In the book of Genesis we meet Melchizedek king of Salem. Melchizedek blessed Abraham by bringing bread and wine. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus was teaching the crowds His closest disciples suggested he dismiss the crowd so they could find food. Jesus suggested that the Twelve find the crowd themselves. They found five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus blessed the food and began handing it out to the crowd. Not only was there enough to feed the crowd, there were twelve baskets left over.
If you’re old enough to remember the days of Latin Mass this feast was called “Corpus Christi.” When you received Communion the priest would say: “Corpus Christi” before giving you the host. In 1981 the US Navy commissioned a nuclear powered submarine named after the city of Corpus Christi in Texas. I remember this because one of the priests at my church spent an entire Sunday sermon railing against naming a warship after the Body of Christ.
Because this feast focuses on the Eucharist it can bring up strong feelings in us. Most Christians do celebrate communion regularly, if not weekly. But we Catholics hold Eucharist in a way that is much more central to our faith, even calling Eucharist the Blessed Sacrament (as if the other six sacraments are not blessed). But choosing readings for this solemnity posed an interesting dilemma: much like our belief in the Trinity, our understanding of Eucharist developed over the first few centuries of our history and there simply isn’t much in Scripture that points to the roots of our belief.
I find our first reading, frankly, puzzling. I suspect the reading from Genesis was chosen because Melchizedek was identified as a priest who brought out bread and wine. We don’t know much about him, only that he was the king of Salem (in that era a king was pretty much anyone who ruled a parcel of land and those who inhabited it). Here Melchizedek celebrated Abram’s battle victory over Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. Because of this passage we also see Melchizedek in Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7:17; in Hebrews we find the line: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” This Hebrew’s passage was repeated when I was ordained a priest.
And I have to confess, while there should be a link between the first reading and the Gospel, but try as I might I simply can’t find one. While we think of Jesus as being a priest and the loaves and fishes as eucharistic, the modern understanding of a Catholic priest also did not develop until long after Jesus.
So what do we do with these readings? I normally don’t like to do this, but I think we can look beyond these readings and explore instead what we think about when we think about the role Eucharist plays in our lives. I think we can use this day to reflect not only on the gift we have been given but also what it means to be gifted in this way. And please understand that I don’t mean to demean other faiths that don’t share our belief in the Eucharist. Just because Catholics hold Eucharist in a much more central place than most other Christians, it doesn’t make their belief less or less important.
But as I said, the Eucharist holds a critical place in our lives. The 1988 movie Romero makes this point in a striking way. The movie celebrates the life and assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980). He spoke out against the corrupt and oppressive government of El Salvador and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. In one iconic scene soldiers stormed into a church. The archbishop removed the Communion hosts while the soldiers fired automatic weapons inches over his head (full disclosure: the scene was written into the movie even though it never happened). It showed the length he was willing to go to preserve the Eucharist.
Eucharist is more than something sacred and holy. I believe that Eucharist binds us together as a people, as a people of God. When I spoke about the Trinity last week I spoke about how the love between the Father, Son, and Spirit calls us to a deeper love of those around us. This week I think Corpus Christi calls us to a deeper love not only with those around us, but also to everyone in the world.
Bear with me, this isn’t an easy lift. Several years ago I came across something from the 20th Century mystic Thomas Merton (1916-1968). In his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander he write about an experience he had: “In Louisville [Kentucky], at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers … There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” That intersection is now dedicated to him.
I’d like to tell you that I’ve had that experience, or that I know someone who has had that experience, but perhaps this is reserved only for mystics like Merton.
And while I doubt that anyone will have this experience, I do believe that we are called to strive for this reality. We live in a world that seems more polarized than anything I’ve seen before. We live alongside each other in different camps with different beliefs and presumably different desires.
But do we? Almost everyone I know wants the same things: safety for our families, respect for our values, a path toward a life that gives our children what they need to succeed.
But we’re often warned against those who don’t want this for us. Fear has become a commodity, something that powerful organizations have found profitable. They benefit from telling us that “they” present existential threats to “us.”
I don’t wish to wander too far into this political debate, but I suggest that if we believe the Eucharist brings us together, it means we are called to look beyond what divides us and look to those things that unite us. It means we need to look beyond the fact that our coworker voted for President Trump and understand his fear that his children will not be able to provide for their children. It means that we need to look at our neighbor’s opposition to abortion and understand that she was born to a woman who would have aborted her but couldn’t because it was illegal. It means that we all understand that we want the same things and that if we choose different paths it doesn’t mean we don’t want the same things.
We are all part of the Body of Christ. We are all part of the Eucharist. No matter what we believe, no matter how decide how to feel, or vote, or argue, we all want the same thing. Let us journey in the same direction no matter where we get our news.