Feast of Corpus Christi
7 June 2015
St. Michael’s Church, Ardaghey 10.00am
My dear friends,
On a hill near Cape Town in South Africa, just below the well-known Table Mountain, a gun is fired every day at noon. The hill is known as Signal Hill. The firing of the gun once served an important purpose. It signalled that a ship, on its way to or from India, had arrived in the harbour with a cargo of goods and was in need of supplies of food and fresh water. An exchange almost always resulted. There was receiving and giving.
But that was a long time ago. The purpose no longer exists. Yet the gun is still fired dutifully every day. However, the firing is now little more than an empty ritual. Most of the local people ignore it. Visitors may be told “if you hear a loud bang at mid-day, don’t worry. It’s only the gun going off.”
The Eucharist celebrates a wonderful event – the gift which Jesus made of his life on our behalf. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we tell that story again. But like anything that is repeated over and over again there is a danger that it may become just a ritual, an empty ritual even.
In the Eucharist Jesus nourishes us with the bread of life. But it is not meant to be one-way traffic. Having received from Jesus, we are expected to give, to share with one another. The Eucharist doesn’t always produce the fruit it is meant to – unselfish giving of oneself in the service of others. The bread and the cup continue to be passed around but it often appears to have little effect on people’s lives. We don’t always pour out our lives in the service of others. We eat the bread and drink the cup, as the Lord requested, but we may be living very self-centred lives.
The mother of an American soldier stationed overseas spent hours preparing a box of her son’s favourite cookies. The finished product was pretty near the best batch she had ever baked. She used the most expensive ingredients she could buy, and a mix of her son’s favourite recipes. She wrapped each cookie in plastic, sealed the box, affixed the custom’s declaration form, and brought the parcel to the post office. Destination: Afghanistan.
The postal clerk pointed to a section of the form which the mother had left blank. If non-deliverable: Abandon; Return; or Redirect. The clerk recognised the fear in the woman’s eyes – if non-deliverable. The phrase referred to the unthinkable. The mother just stood frozen, holding the box. The clerk said quietly, “My son’s in the military. I know you can check ‘redirect’ and then write ‘Chaplain’ to redistribute at his discretion. She helped the woman complete the form and affix it to the box. Their mother’s eyes met. The woman nodded and thanked the clerk. In that moment it was no longer a postal clerk helping a customer, it was now two mothers who were bound by anxious heart-rending love for their children in dangerous places. This was no empty ritual.
Two military mothers, one understanding the anxiety and fear of the other. It is such compassion, manifested in generosity of heart that unites our human race as a family under our God, the Father of us all, making us brothers and sisters to one another. In the humanity we share, we are bound to one another in a way that not only transcends those things that divide us but becomes even stronger in the wake of loss, pain and suffering. Jesus comes as the means of unity among God’s people, to reconcile humanity to God and to one another, to instil a deeper understanding and appreciation of our sacred dignity as being made in God’s image. Jesus destroys the barriers created by race, culture, wealth and social status. He speaks of a new united human family, the family of God. We are called to seek in every person the humanity we all share that comes from God, the father of all, and the giver of everything that is good.
For the Hebrews, remembering was not a mere recalling. It was the making present to each generation of the saving events of the past. The Eucharist is the heart of everything. It should not be separated from the washing of the feet. The two are linked – being in communion with Jesus so that we can be in communion with one another. It would be a tragedy if the Eucharist became for us just a ritual, an empty ritual. Jesus gives himself to us here that we, in our human way give ourselves to others.
+Liam S. MacDaid
7 June 2015