Year B – Corpus Christi Sunday

Year B - Corpus Christi Sunday

The Food of Life

(Ex.24:3-8; Heb. 9:11-15; Mk.14:12-16, 22-26)

Where do people tend to gather at your place?

I’ve often asked this question, and the most common answer is that people tend to gather near food – around the table, in the kitchen or near the barbecue.

Why? It’s because people love food and food preparation seems to be at the heart of every home. Food also serves as a kind of magnet, keeping body and soul together, and bringing people together, too.

Indeed, we create a family whenever we share a meal at table. We also create a community when disparate people come together for a feast.  

Some people see food as little more than a solution for hunger. But it does so much more than that.

Food can be nourishing, of course, and it can keep us healthy. But it can also spread joy, and it’s a wonderful way to say ‘I love you.’

Food is also comforting in times of fear and uncertainty; it calms people down and cheers people up. It can be healing, too: a nice hot soup is reviving when you’re sick. And don’t we often seal deals over a meal?

In every culture, food is deeply meaningful, because it always involves heart, effort and sacrifice. It’s also important, because it shapes community and gives us identity.

Food has also been described as God’s love made edible.

Jesus understands all this. He knows that families and communities are formed around a table, and that breaking bread and sharing a cup can help people grow and connect with each other.

That’s why all through Scripture we see Jesus sharing meals with all sorts of people, including social outcasts. He eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10–11); with the Pharisees and lawyers (Lk.7:36–50), and with lepers (Mk.14:3). He receives a disreputable woman at a men’s dinner (Lk. 7:36–39), and he invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus, the ‘sinner’ (Lk.19:1–10).

Jesus is often criticised for this, and some say he eats too much (Lk.7:34). But Jesus knows that food is more than just food. It’s an effective way to bring people together, to nourish and heal them, and to create family and community.

That’s why He gave us the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. There in the Upper Room, as Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover, He took the bread and broke it, just as they broke His body on the Cross.

Then He gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it, and remember that I’m with you, always.’

Then He took the cup filled with wine, blessed it and said, ‘Take this and drink it. This is my blood spilled for you on Calvary so that your sins may be forgiven.’

In the New Testament, the word body (soma in Greek) refers to the whole person, and not just to their flesh or physical body. And in Hebrew, there’s no specific word for body. A living being isn’t considered a person within a body; the body and the person are one and the same.

In other words, when Jesus offers us his body, he’s actually offering us his whole being, his very personhood.

Likewise, in Jewish thought, blood was believed to be the very life of a living being. So, when Jesus offers us his blood, he’s inviting us to ‘consume’ his very life. [i]

When we receive the Eucharist, then, we consume Jesus Himself. He becomes part of us and we become alive in him. We are truly receiving Jesus’ actual being and life, and not just engaging in some symbolic re-enactment.

The Curé of Ars, St John Vianney used to say that it’s not only our bodies that need food – our souls do, too.

‘But where is this food?’ he asked.

This was his answer: ‘When God wished to give food to our soul to sustain it in this pilgrimage through life, he looked over all creation and found nothing worthy of it. Then he fell back on himself and resolved to give himself.’

The Eucharist, then, is God’s most precious gift to us. It’s God’s family meal.

It’s not just a sign or a symbol. It’s Jesus Christ himself – true God, true man, sacramentally present to us in the form of bread and wine that is, after consecration, transformed into his body and blood.

Many years ago, Jesus appeared to St Augustine, and said: ‘Believe and eat me, and you’ll be changed into me.’ [ii]

That’s what this is all about.

[i] Dominic Grassi & Joe Paprocki, Living the Mass. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2011:148-149.

[ii] Cardinal Saliege, Spiritual Writings. St Pauls Publications, Bucks. 1966:57.