Corpus Christi

15 jun 2017

12.45 Choral Eucharist

Preacher: The Dean


Readings: Genesis 14.18-20; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 6.51-58


I’ve had some pretty disappointing meals in my time to be honest.  You know the kind – a swanky restaurant, an indecipherable menu – a reduction of this, an infusion of the other, something seared, something smeared – and then it arrives, complete with a tiny flower strategically placed amongst the smallest portions of blackened cauliflower that you’ve ever seen.  Intense flavours maybe but where’s the food? Very disappointing.

The meal that Jesus shares with his disciples in the Upper Room on the evening of what we call Maundy Thursday, the evening of betrayal, the evening of arrest, the evening of denial, the meal of which Paul writes as he’s teaching the Corinthian Christians in our Second Reading, this meal is both familiar and unfamiliar.

The disciples knew what to expect from a Passover meal – if this was a Passover meal.  The food was always the same, the way it was eaten, the words that were said.  But on this evening it all changes and the familiar becomes the unfamiliar.

As Jesus takes it in his hands the bread is broken and becomes his body, the wine is shared and becomes his blood.  Jesus tells them, as he tells us, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ And that is what we do, day in day out, week in, week out.  We take the bread and take the wine and share it knowing that this is a meal that does not disappoint, can never disappoint. 

For this is not just a meal, though we gather at a table to share it, though it can sustain the body, but this is food that speaks of heaven.  In St John’s Gospel, as we just heard, Jesus says

‘My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.’

This is the meal that is the meal, every other plate, every other cup will pale into insignificance beside it.  Every other meal will disappoint because this is a meal not just for the body but for the soul, not just for the outer but for the inner person, not just to satisfy the hunger of the moment but the longing for eternity that is deep within us.  For this is a meal that has a promise with it

‘The one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

That’s a huge claim to make but Jesus makes it for this communion, for this Eucharist because it transcends time and eternity and we are caught up in that.

For me St Thomas Aquinas is the great theologian of the Eucharist.  In hymns and antiphons as much as in doctrine he expresses deep truth in what he writes and describes the indescribable.  One of the things that he wrote is for use at Evensong on this day but I use it in my own prayers as soon as I get back to my place every time I’ve made my communion.

‘At this sacred banquet, in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
our minds are filled with grace,
and a promise of future glory is given to us’.

We hear it sung in Latin, ‘O sacrum convivium’.  Aquinas in these few words describes the transcendent power of the Eucharist, drawing us into Christ’s passion and pointing us towards eternity.

We’ve been living through dreadful days – the attack on the community round here, not yet two weeks ago, the terrible fire yesterday in Kensington with the loss of who knows how many lives. In such terrible and demanding times, where disappointment pales into insignificance alongside shock, distress and terror, I need to know where to turn.  So I hold out my shaking hands to Jesus.

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ he says to us, for this moment, for this time, as you need feeding, as you need refreshing.  This is true food, this is true drink, it will not disappoint and it will take you, it will take us, it will take me, from here to eternity. So come and eat, come and drink, for now and for ever, for it is Jesus who is inviting us.