Sunday, June 7, 2015

HOMILY Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ June 7, 2015

          Many years ago when I was in Our Lady of Sorrows grade school in St. Louis, we had a very fine choir director in the parish by the name of Mr. Diehl.  And in 4th grade you could try out for the school choir.  Now I very much wanted to be a part of the school choir because they got out of class to go sing funerals.  And the donations they received were used to have a fantastic picnic at the end of the school year.  And so with high hopes I tried out for the school choir.  But I did not get chosen.  I was passed over and other 4th graders were chosen instead.  I was crushed.  But ever since I have gotten my revenge by singing loudly.
          Most of us have been passed over at some time or another:  Passed over for a team, passed over for a project, passed over for a promotion, passed over for an office, whatever.  Being passed over is usually not a happy situation.
          But once there was a time - long, long ago - when being passed over was not only good, it was a matter of life and death.  To be passed over, in God’s odd way of doing things by reversal, meant that in fact you were chosen.  If you were passed over it meant you were part of God’s chosen people.
          Who did the passing over and what was it all about?   God was passing over and executing judgment on the Egyptians.  We read in the book of Exodus, chapter 12: 
It is the LORD’s Passover.  For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn in the land, human being and beast alike, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt—I, the LORD!    But for you the blood will mark the houses where you are.  Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thereby, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.
          God struck down the first born of every human and every animal as the tenth and most terrible of all the plagues God sent on the Egyptians, which finally convinced Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go.  To be passed over meant you stayed alive.  And this terrible scourge brought an end to the bondage of the Hebrews, just like the terrible scourge of our Civil War brought an end to the slavery of African-Americans in our country.
          So for the Hebrews, Passover was a great thing. It was all about liberation, about being set free from bondage, of escape from slavery, of FREEDOM. 
And now, millennia later, Jews still celebrate Passover as a festival of liberation and freedom, brought about by God’s action.
          Today, we here celebrate the feast of the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Christ.  My friends, this is OUR Passover.  Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, or Mass, we are celebrating Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for us in order to set us free.  Not free from slavery in Egypt, but rather free from the slavery of sin, to live in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
          In our short Gospel today about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, St. Mark mentions Passover not once, not twice, not thrice, but FOUR times.  St. Mark emphasizes that Jesus clearly and deliberately chose the Passover as the setting for the great gift of His Body and Blood under sacramental signs. 
          WHY?  Because His giving us His Body and Blood under the signs of bread and wine is the exact same sacrifice that Jesus would make in giving His Body and shedding His blood on the Cross on Good Friday.  They are one and the same reality in different modes.  And that reality is all about salvation, all about being set free from sin to live in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  And so Passover – which is all about liberation and freedom - was the perfect setting for instituting this great sacrament.  As Jesus states in the Gospel today:  This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
          Slavery under the ancient Egyptians was pretty awful.  But slavery to sin is even worse.  Because we were created to be in union with God.  That is what our deepest nature, our truest and strongest yearnings are all about.  And even though physical slavery is awful, a slave can still be in deep union with God.  But we cannot be in union with God when we are in the bondage of sin.  Then our deepest nature is frustrated.  We seek fulfillment in created things that can never satisfy the infinite longing of our hearts.  Sin brings only frustration and disappointment and ultimately despair.  Because union with God is what we most deeply seek.
          The Eucharist, the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood, offers what we most deeply want. 
As we hear in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: 
how much more will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”
          We become what we eat and drink, so that Jesus’ life lives in us.  We live as He lived, in harmony with others and in obedience to the Father.  And in doing so we become who we most truly are, that is, children of God.
          Brothers and sisters, this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ reminds us of our Passover, how by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we too pass over from death to life.   The Eucharist is both the means of our salvation and the celebration of that salvation. 

          It is good to be passed over.  AMEN

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