We’ve come to church on this Corpus Christi Thursday to do what we do
each and every Sunday, and some of us each and every day: to take part
in the central act of worship of the Christian Church, as small discs of
bread and a chalice of wine is blessed and shared, because two thousand
years ago a Jewish man told his followers to ‘do this’ in remembrance of
him on the night before he died.
But, unlike on Maundy Thursday, when the Church calls us to remember
in particular Christ washing his disciples’ feet, his perfect example of selfabasing,
loving service, today we are called to rejoice in the other gift of
that night, the gift of the Eucharist, the Mass, in which ordinary bread
and ordinary wine become the Body and Blood of Christ himself.
Maundy Thursday is filled with the poignancy of the Garden of
Gethsemane and the impending events of Good Friday; today is a day of
rejoicing that, in this and every Mass, we experience the miracle of
Christ’s promise made true to be with his Church until the end of time.
For many years of Christian history people received Holy Communion
infrequently, usually at Easter and sometimes only on their deathbeds.
Nowadays, we usually receive Communion every time we come to
Mass, and that, of course, can be nothing other than a good thing. But,
to quote the old adage, familiarity breeds contempt: and, though we
might not be contemptuous about the Mass, what we are doing and who
we receive, the familiarity of the rituals and words can breed
complacency, as we become inured to the wonder and power of the
mysteries we celebrate.
So what’s going on when we ‘do this’ in remembrance of Jesus? The key
word here is ‘remembrance’: of course, this word brings to mind
commemorations at the Cenotaph, poppies and bugles; it also conveys a
sense of ‘not forgetting’. But this is not what we do when we ‘do this’ in
remembrance of Jesus in this and every Mass. Yes, we are not to forget
Jesus, his life, death and resurrection; his example and all he taught us
about our humanity and God; but we are also here to remember in
another sense – to re-member Jesus, to bring him out of the past into
the present as we ‘do this’ with bread and wine.
But we are here to remember in another sense as well, or, to make the
same request of Jesus as did the penitent thief who hung beside him on
his cross. We are here to say, ‘Lord, remember me…’ And, as we say
that, we’re not saying, ‘Jesus, don’t forget me,’ but, ‘Lord, re-member
me, recreate me, take my brokenness and put me back together again,
as you made me to be, in your likeness.’
And that is why we are here: we gather as Christ’s body in the world,
broken, fractured, dislocated; we gather to remember Jesus, and
ourselves to be re-membered as his past becomes our present, as we
are fed with his divine life, as we are healed, forgiven, put back together
and sent out to share that love, life, forgiveness and grace with God’s
people in the world.
This is both the mystery and the miracle of the Mass: that the same Jesus
who walked this earth, died on the cross and rose again, is as present in
bread and wine as he was two thousand years ago. But it is also that,
through the mystery and miracle of the cross, Jesus continues to pour
out his life, love, forgiveness and grace so that, being broken for us, we
might be made whole, and as we remember him, be re-membered by
him, re-created, healed and saved.
But that’s not the end of it: the Mass is both the source and summit of
our worship as Christians; it is to the altar that we come day by day and
week by week so that we might live better lives as Christians, and be
nourished for our Christian pilgrimage through life. But the Mass is also
the beginning of our mission: of our being sent out into the world to be
Christ’s body, Christ’s presence here, now, today, as we witness to
God’s transforming love at work in our lives, and seek him in the faces
of our fellow men and women.
As we are sent out from the Mass, filled with the very life and presence
of Jesus himself, he says to us: ‘What you have received is me, so that
you may become like me, and live as I intend life to be. And now I want
you to re-member me; to be my body in the world, as you offer your
lives in the service of others, being broken in the costly service of love.
And when you’ve done that, come back again and feed on the living
bread: be nourished for another week of service; forgiven for the times
you’ve got it wrong, and put back together to live life in my name.’
As we gather once again at the altar, as countless Christians are doing
around the world today, and have done over the past two thousand
years; as we gather to fulfill Christ’s command to ‘do this’ in
remembrance of him; we do this so that we may fulfill our vocation to
be Christ’s body in the world, his living presence calling people into the
fellowship of his life and love; but we do so as well, so that, as his
broken people, we may be healed, forgiven, and sustained by the very
presence of Christ himself.
This is why we are here; this is why we come back time and time again;
this is why the Mass is so special, so important, so central not only to
the life of the Church, but to the life of the world as well. And we will
keep doing this throughout our Christian pilgrimage on earth, because,
however long it takes, in ordinary bread and ordinary wine, we express
our deepest longing to be re-fashioned in the likeness of Jesus, and remembered
when he comes into his kingdom.
Father Ed Bakker,