Homily for the Body and Blood of Christ - Based on the Epistle
Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17.
What is the most precious gift that Jesus Christ gave to his church? I do not mean the gift of the Holy Spirit. I have in mind things that we can see and touch. Many people will say, “the Bible.” The Bible is indeed an invaluable gift of God, but Jesus did not write a Bible for the church nor did he commission his disciples to write one. The most precious gift that Jesus gave to his church is that which we celebrate today, the gift of his own body and blood in the form of bread and wine.
The short reading we have today from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is very important for Bible historians. This is because the words of Jesus in this passage are the earliest recorded words of Jesus that we have. We know that the words of Jesus are recorded in the gospels and other New Testament books. But Paul’s letters were written some twenty to fifty years before the gospels and theses other New Testaments books were written.
Paul begins by telling the people of Corinth that the tradition of celebrating the Lord’s supper is one that goes back to Jesus Christ himself. “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Paul did not personally receive this tradition from the Lord, since he was not one of the twelve apostles present at the Last Supper. He received the tradition from those who were Christians before him, after his conversion to the Christian faith. Now he is handing on to the Corinthians the same tradition that he himself received. The only difference is that whereas up till the time of Paul the tradition was passed on by word of mouth, Paul was the first to put it down in writing because he could not be there physically with the Corinthians.
What is the tradition that Paul received and is now passing on? It is this:
that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)The night he was betrayed was the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples before his passion and death. In olden days, people did not write their wills. They spoke their wills, usually as their last words before death. What do these words of 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 tell us when we read them as the last words, the will and testament of Jesus?
First, the will of Jesus does not say a word about what Jesus taught. Its focus is on what Jesus did. He gave his body to his followers as food and his blood as drink. Remember, this was taking place in the context of the Passover meal. So Jesus was presenting himself as their Passover lamb. The Israelites in Egypt had to eat the flesh of the Passover lamb to identify themselves as God’s own people. They marked their doorposts with its blood as a sign to keep away the angel of death. Every Israelite was supposed to participate in this ritual every year to renew their identity as God’s people who enjoy God’s special blessings and protection. Seen in this light, the Eucharist becomes for us the place where we come to renew ourselves as God’s new people in Christ.
Second, the will speaks of a “new covenant.” In the Old Testament the people of God came into being through a covenant. By speaking of a new covenant Jesus is saying that a new people of God has come into being. In the sacrifice that seals the covenant Jesus is both the officiating priest and the lamb of sacrifice. We are just the beneficiaries of a life-giving grace. That is why the name “Eucharist” (“thanksgiving”) is so appropriate. Jesus did it all for us. All we have to do is receive it and give thanks.
Finally, the will of Jesus invites us to the banquet. “Do this in remembrance of me … Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (verses 24-25). Folks, this is the last thing Jesus asked us to do before he died. He asked to keep doing it as often as possible until his return in glory (verse 26). Why then is it that many of us take the Eucharist so lightly? We seem to be so ready to skip attending Mass at the slightest excuse: “I just didn’t feel like going … We were on vacation … I don’t like Pastor John’s preaching, I seem to get more from the TV service.” But no amount of television programming can take the place of holy communion. Let us today ask our Lord Jesus to increase our faith in the sacrament of his body and blood which he gives us in the form of bread and wine.