Sermon at the Sung Eucharist on Corpus Christi 2019
Christians have been accused of cannibalism since earliest times.
The Reverend Mark Birch Minor Canon and Sacrist
Thursday, 20th June 2019 at 5.00 PM
Christians have been accused of cannibalism since earliest times, and someone walking off the street, hearing tonight’s gospel reading, may well wonder what kind of dark cultic ritual they have stumbled into.
‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.’
‘Whoever eats me will live because of me.’
It probably doesn’t help matters to know that it would have been worse had we read it in the original Greek.
The Jews ask Jesus; ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat’, using the polite verb ‘phagow’ – the kind of eating that you might do at a dinner party. But Jesus responds to them ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life’ using the verb ‘trowgow’ – the kind of munching and gnawing you might do on the leg of some beast you’ve just cooked on an open fire, having snared and skinned it with your own hands.
Nothing like a bit of New Testament Greek for making a difficult text even more problematic.
We feed on Christ, it seems, not in some delicate way – like nibbling a cucumber sandwich at a garden party – we are invited to feed on Christ as if our lives depended on it – like a starving animal facing the onset of winter. Trowgow, not phagow.
Jesus gives himself to us in bread and wine not as a dietary supplement – a spiritual pill for our spiritual life. Jesus gives himself to us as the most necessary and basic nourishment for our very existence.
‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’
With respect to you who are here, Corpus Christi should not be a feast just for the cognoscenti; for the gourmands of the Christian Calendar. Corpus Christi should be a feast for every Christian, because it is the feast of absolute dependence – our complete dependence on Christ for our very lives, our very existence, and our absolute dependence on one another within the body of Christ.
Jesus reminds us, pushes us, in these visceral phrases, to think more deeply about what it means for him to be the Word made flesh – the Word through whom all things were made – the Word made flesh who offers that flesh for the life of the world. This is not some nice rarified metaphysical musing – the Word made flesh reaches down into the nitty-gritty of our fleshly bodies, their needs and appetites.
This is not ‘nice’, (not phagow) but then we are not always nice. We live in a world where we may not be literally devouring one another – not actual cannibals – but we live with economic systems that rely on the impoverishment of others, many others, and the degrading of the environment in ways that will always impact the poor first and foremost. This is not nice. To them this is trowgow.
So Jesus says: Chew on me - because I, and only I can take it. Only by chewing on me will you learn not to chew on one another. Only by chewing on me will you discover that you are in fact one body – that you cannot devour others without in the end devouring yourself.
All your most essential creaturely needs I supply, says Jesus, because I am the living Word by whom all things are made. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. It may only look like a slip of bread and a sip of wine to you, but it is the whole mystery of who I am and who you are called to be.
Take; eat, drink – he tells us, because he wants us not just to exist, not just to survive, but to live – to live together – to live the life he lives in the eternal love and joy and communion of the Trinity. Christ wants his life to to be in us, so that the life of the Church may reflect the life of God; that by the Spirit we may be made one, as he and the Father are one. Christ wants us to feast on him, with him and in him, rather than devouring one another.
So, friends, let us keep the feast.
Listen to the Sermon (audio file on an external website)