Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Sermon for Corpus Christi 2012 Preached at Hilfield Friary Brother Clark Berge, SSF Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Sacrament means many things to me: forgiveness of sins, healings, participation in God—a mystical union. It is also a reminder of my part to play in Jesus’ vision, plan of action, urgent mission. We’ve been hearing and thinking a lot about mission so I think it is good to consider mission and sacrament together. St. Paul posts the stakes. We are not just talking about bread and wine. Paul says when we eat this bread, and drink this cup we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. His death had everything to do with his mission. As we focus on this sacramental presence we have to consider God’s claim on us when we eat it. John Dominic Crossan, in his book The Greatest Prayer, has a wonderful discussion of bread—actually bread and fish. Both were important food stuffs around Lake Galilee. Crossan makes a very interesting argument that Jesus’ threat to the Empire was that he was building resistance to an imperial take-over if wheat growing and fishing industries. Jesus’ main argument was that neither Herod Antipas nor any other imperial agent had the right to take away the peoples’ means of survival—their food! Jesus said the land and the sea do not belong to the Emperor, but to God. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it too. Therefore the bread and the fish—the earth’s natural resources we would say—must be distributed according to God’s rules. Fairly. Justly. Jesus was executed for messing with an imperial profit making scheme, for insisting on the primacy of God’s claim on the earth. I’d never heard the argument spelled out in exactly that way before. But Crossan points out this is why bread and wine are such powerful symbols-body and blood. In a normal death body and breath (or spirit)are separated. But in a violent execution, it is body and blood. So indeed, when we eat the sacrament we are proclaiming Jesus’ death—how he died and why he died. By proclaiming it we are aligning ourselves with what Jesus was trying to do: to claim the earth back for God. To struggle for justice. As Bishop Michael was saying Tuesday, the church needs to find a way to connect with at least two generations who think Church is beside the point. It is our job to make the connection for ourselves and others between the Blessed Sacrament and the world—sacrament eating and world politics. Certainly the Occupy Movement has shown this generation is open to examining the deeper implications of what goes on in the world around us and our personal stake in it. The thing is many of them don’t realize the church has anything to say about it. Certainly I don’t remember anybody telling me at 13 that taking Communion was making me a radical. I never realized that in that simple act I was challenging the arrogance of multinational corporations or any earthly authority monopolizing and capitalizing on the world’s natural resources. Of course you can take communion and not think like that. As a wise woman once told me—we all do pretty much the same things—conservatives and liberals—but it is the reason we do them that counts. When I think about the kind of world I want to live in, and how I can begin to make that vision come alive, I know it includes engaging the imagination of people. Not erasing old meanings but amplifying them so we can unleash new creative power. I want to live in a world of justice, fairness, beauty, imagination. I want to see compassion for the poor and oppressed be the prioritizing principle for social policy. People laugh at such naïveté. I laugh at it. Because it delights me, and trains my vision for signs of this new world growing in the shell of the old one. Faith my outward sense befriending makes the inward vision clear, as the old Communion hymn says. Contemplate the blessed Sacrament until you see Christ there in all his humility and passionate fierceness standing up to the ghastly Herodian dynasty and the Caesars to say—such foolish naïveté—“No! The world belongs to God.” As members of SSF, we say the Eucharist is the center of our lives. Let’s make it so! And live BIG lives. Everywhere I go I see our brothers doing extraordinary things: hospitality, social justice, environmental justice, music and art, pastoral care and scholarship. These are the signs of a new world—the kind of world I want to live in. So take heart. The world belongs to God. Christ died for saying that. And Christ gives us the grace and strength in myriad ways to carry the message and tonight we raise up perhaps the chiefest of them all. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we too lay down our lives in the service of a bigger vision and dedicate ourselves to the world of salvation and redemption—claiming the world back for God.