Homily for Feast of Corpus Christi

Homily for Feast of Corpus Christi June 3, 2024

In the year 107, Ignatius was arrested in the city of Antioch in the Roman province of Syria, and was condemned to death for not renouncing his faith in Jesus Christ.

He was eventually sent to Rome to die, where he was thrown into the Circus Maximus to be devoured by beasts – a common practice at that time to execute prisoners.  During his journey to Rome in the year 110, less than 80 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Ignatius wrote letters to various churches, in the same way Saint Paul had done so decades earlier.  In his letter to the Romans, he prepares the Christians of Rome for his arrival and execution, and writes:

“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life.  I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.”

In another letter, he writes about some who “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

So, in the year 110, Saint Ignatius of Antioch believes as we believe today: in the true presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus — that bread and wine are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the presence of the living God.

“Take it; this is my body,” Jesus said to his friends as they celebrated the Passover.  “This is my bloodof the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Saint Paul himself recalls the words of Jesus in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “for I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.  In the same way also the cup, after supper saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, we recognize that our belief is the same as the belief of the early Church.  We affirm together with the first Christians that Jesus has left us the wonderful gift of his presence, given here on the altar so that we may experience the presence of Jesus just as those who saw him and heard him centuries ago.

Just as he gathered with his disciples at the Passover in Jerusalem on the night before he died, Jesus continues to gather us to himself Sunday after Sunday.

Just as Jesus longed to remain with his friends, he longs remain with you and me, and He does so through this gift of His presence.

How can this be?  Some ask. And many have asked this throughout the centuries.  Isn’t Jesus present whenever two or more are gathered in his name?  Isn’t Jesus present in the hearts of all who believe in him?  Certainly, he is present there, as he promised.  Yet he also promised he’d be present in the breaking of bread, and in the offering of the cup.

Some Christians eventually denied this foundational early teaching of the Church, the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, dismissing it as superstition or something simply impossible.

Yet we believe God the Father had the power to say, “let there be light” and there was light.  We believe Jesus had the power to say, “your sins are forgiven, pick up your mat and go,” and the paralytic got up and ran away.  The Apostles filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, went out into the ancient world performing countless miracles, and we recognize God performing even miracles today.

We also believe that when Jesus said, “this is my body; this is my blood,” his words were effective – they brought into being what he said.  The Church has obediently done what Jesus asked us to do in memory of him, repeating his words and actions at the Last Supper, and the effect has remained the same.  Bread and wine are transformed into the very presence of the living God.

Pictures by Renee Singleton

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