Brief synopsis of the readings: In Deuteronomy we find Moses speaking to his followers. He reminded them that they had wandered in the wilderness for forty years for God to see if they would keep his commandments. Moses reminded them that God liberated them from Egypt and they are dependent on God. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus told the Jews that he is the “living bread” who guarantees eternal life. The Jews didn’t understand this and asked how Jesus could give his flesh to eat. Jesus assured them that if they didn’t eat his flesh and drink his blood they will not have life within in them.
As much as any feast I think the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (also called “Corpus Christi” in Latin) gives us the path from the Old Testament to the New and grants us an understanding of God’s love and our response.
Discussing the differences between the Old and New Testament nearly always oversimplifies our relationship with God. But that said we can see a progression between Deuteronomy and John. When God liberated the slaves from Egypt in Exodus they had little understanding of who they were, where they were going, and how they were going to live together. Not long after this they were given what we now call the Ten Commandments. They were far from the only rules God demanded but they embodied the core principles and values that governed their lives.
And for much of the following books (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) God outlined the rules that governed their lives. You must do this, you must not do that. If they obeyed these laws they would live, and if they didn’t they would die.
In fairness, our ancestors failed again and again in their quest and God (again and again) broke his promise that we would die. They may have paid a price for disobedience but their story never ended.
Even though our history is replete with both success and failure at least we understand that we are required to follow the rules. Today when you speak to a Christian about his or her relationship with God we’ll often be told that “I follow the Ten Commandments.”
But I think we are called to more than that. The Ten Commandments were chiseled for a nomadic people in the wilderness whose survival depended on a few basic principles. Almost everyone I know doesn’t kill, steal, or covet. We honor our parents, pray only to God, and recognize the importance of Sundays. If that were enough I believe God would have sold us short on his expectations of us.
We are called not only to obedience but to faithfulness. And I believe today’s readings call us to more.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were all in with Deuteronomy. They were all in with reading and interpreting the rules of the first five books of the Old Testament (we call them the Pentateuch and Jews call the Torah) and they follow the rules without question. And they believe that God asks nothing more of them than obedience.
But Jesus calls us to much, much more. Jesus wasn’t simply a disciple of God, or even the best disciple of God. He is the Son of God and as we learned last week he is part of the Trinity. When he joined our history on Christmas he crashed into our story in a way that nobody would have guessed. And had he came among us, taught us, and returned to heaven it would have been enough for us.
It wasn’t enough for him. While he was with us he took his body and blood and gave them to us, not to make us better able to obey him but instead to share in our salvation, to be partners in the Kingdom of God.
In the 2,000 years since then the reverence for the Eucharist has never wavered. I revere the importance Eucharist has played in our history and I well remember how excited I was as a seven year old to receive my First Communion. It allowed me to join the line at Mass and receive what everyone (even adults) received.
But in the years after this I learned about who could and could not receive Communion and that troubled me. I understood that people who weren’t Catholic couldn’t receive because they didn’t believe what I believed. But as I learned more about sexuality I found that divorced and remarried Catholics were excluded and Catholic couples who recognized their limits as parents (and used birth control) were excluded. That troubled me and I’ve found great joy to learn that Pope Francis teaches that Eucharist isn’t a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine for the weak.
People who wish to become Catholic participate in a process called RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and I’ve been blessed to shepherd several of them. I tell them that no matter where they’re from, no matter what they used to believe, and no matter what they’ve done that they now regret, they are not only members of the Catholic Church but they are “partners in the firm.” They are now Catholic in a way that nobody can take it away from them or tell them that they are no longer welcome.
They are not called to be obedient, they are called to be faithful. They are not children trying for obedience from parents, they are adults trying for faithfulness from God.
Several years ago I led a discussion to teachers of teenagers and I spoke about this. I was in my early 30s and nearly everyone was older than me and most of them were raising teenage children. I asked them of they were obedient to their spouses and I could feel the chill that ran through the room. I then asked if they were faithful to their spouses and the chill disappeared.
I then suggested that since they were adults with their spouses they should also be adults with God. Faithfulness doesn’t discard obedience and nobody who betrays his spouse can claim faithfulness. But faithfulness points us down a road that loves and reveres our spouse way beyond simply doing what our spouse expects.
For the past several months COVID-19 has prevented us from receiving Communion. But today on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we need to recognize that our Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation welcomed us into a relationship with Christ. That relationship does not demand that we receive Communion on Sunday but instead calls us to something much more.
It calls us to recognize that when the priest or the Eucharistic Minister says to us “The Body of Christ” it’s not a reward. It’s a recognition that God has called us to a relationship that calls us to love.