Reflections by Jennifer Geach
The Body and Blood of Christ - Corpus Christi
20th June 2017
‘O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur’ (O holy banquet, in which Christ is consumed) ‘Ave verum corpus’ ( Hail, true body) ‘Adoro te devote, latens Deitas’ (I devotedly adore you, hidden Godhead). These Latin hymns bear witness to the meaning of the feast we celebrated on Sunday. Despite what some modern hymns would have us think, we are not drinking wine; and the Bread that we eat is Christ’s body, the only real Bread. In eating this, we are fulfilling the command implied by what Christ said in John c.6 ‘Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you shall not have life in you’. This He said in response to the Jews murmuring against him for saying that He was the Bread which came down from heaven. He was insistent with them, and so with us, that the way to true life is to eat his flesh and drink his blood. And that is what we are doing when we receive Holy Communion: we are eating and drinking the body of the Lord, not symbolically, but really. What looks, tastes and feels like bread, what smells like wine is not bread or wine: after the consecration there is no bread on the altar nor stored in the tabernacle; there is no wine in the chalice. What is there is Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. He gives us his body so that we may become his.
This great mystery is another witness to the appalling humility of God: Jesus is not content with taking the form of a slave, is not content to suffer the agony in the Garden, the unjust trial, and the crucifixion; He is not content to share our nature, so that we may share his; His boundless love offers us His very self as nourishment.
“This is a hard saying” said the people who first heard Christ’s offer, and many of them walked no more with him. Notice that in John’s account Jesus does not disabuse them of their understanding: he does not say ‘it’s all right, you will only pretend to eat me’. No; he turns to his disciples and asks if they will leave him too. To which Simon Peter replies “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life”
This then is the message of eternal life; that God loves us so much that he is willing to be to be our food. In Graham Greene’s novel ‘The heart of the matter’ Major Scobie faces the fact that God not only made himself defenceless on the cross, but makes himself even more defenceless in communion. This enormous humility of God should evoke from us a reverent love. Now that we may receive communion so often, let us not allow ourselves to become shallow or merely habitual about the reception of God himself.