May 28, 2016

The Body of Christ

(Scriptural Background - Who is this strange individual in the Old Testament by name of Melchizedek? He appears and then disappears.  We do not have much to go on except for the context we read about him in both the First Reading from Genesis and the Psalm. 

Abraham, with three hundred and eighteen men, had successfully completed a battle in the desert and they were returning home.  They were, no doubt tired and hungry.  Then, out of the blue, a king arrives who brings bread to Abraham and his tribe.  The king has come down from his hilltop city of Salem, a place that would eventually be known as Jerusalem.

Melchizedek, we are told, was a priest.  What type of priest? A priest, we are told, of God most High. Another mystery? We usually equate the Jewish priesthood to Moses, nearly 500 years after this event. But we are told that Melchizedek was a true priest of God, and a priest, by nature of his office, is one who offers sacrifices to God. 

And then, of course in the psalm, it has God the Father describing the role of God the Son, “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek”. In other words, the Blessed Lord will be like Melchizedek.

So, in this light let us recall what happens in the Gospel. In the same way as the tribe of Abraham had wandered in the desert, and were tired and hungry, so had the crowd who had followed Jesus.  Often people, who are tired and hungry, are grumpy, touchy and get angry easily.  Add to this, that we are told there were many sick people among them.

So the disciples, maybe in an effort to avid a meltdown, want to send them home before fights break out!  But Jesus tells his inner circle to feed the crowd.  But the twelve apostles are only thinking logically. They draw diagrams, make calculations, have consultations, speak with expects, and conclude that with only a few loaves and fishes, the success rate of feeding a crowd of five thousand, was practically impossible.  And they were right.  Scientifically and logically, the numbers just don’t add up.)

So, if you find yourself in the lifeless and barren desert, with thousands of hungry mouths to feed, where is this mysterious Melchizedek of 500 years ago with this supply of bread to feed an army when you need him?

Of course, Christ is this mysterious Melchizedek. And we see him, in the Gospel, healing the wounds of the children of Abraham and strengthening them with the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. What is logically impossible, Christ provides health and strength for his people.

It is the same Christ, the eternal priest who continues to provide for his people through every generation.  Today’s great feast day of Corpus Christi, reminds us that the bread that he gives us, is not the stuff that fills our stomach. He feeds us through his eternal priesthood – by the sacrifice of his body and blood he offers to his Father on our behalf. This is what priesthood is – like Melchizedek, offering sacrifice.    

The bread and wine that we place on this altar, counts for little – it is little.  But in the hands of Christ the eternal priest, it becomes his own life-giving body and blood – Christ becomes our food in the wilderness of the world. 

This is by no means allegorical, or a metaphor. Time and space as we experience it, blocks our vision of what angels and the saints of heaven perceive. From our perspective, we have only a temporal reference point to look towards - our bread and wine. But when we do what the Lord commanded us to do at his Last Supper, God reaches out through eternity and touches our offerings of bread and wine, bringing them into complete and perfected union with the resurrected and eternal Christ. In such a unique encounter between heaven and earth, between time and eternity, our bread and wine have no choice but to become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who in all his power and glory intercedes for us before the throne of our heavenly Father. 

Even though from here, we can not see, nor taste this heaven on earth, when we eat and drink of the Eucharistic elements, our frail and broken bodies are guided, locked into communion with Christ's. This can be as painful as it is beautiful. Painful, because Holy Communion alerts us to our unworthiness, our sinfulness - we are imperfect, unfinished. It is beautiful because the gift of Holy Communion gives us hope that we, and all of creation, will be brought to our finality in Christ himself.

In the meantime, as a people of faith and hope, as children of Abraham we journey through this world with the expectation that it will blossom with new life. As we do so, let us be ever more conscious of our deepest hunger for the Bread that feeds and satisfies angels and heavenly saints - the Bread of Eternity, Christ himself.

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