Feast of Corpus Christi – Year C
June 19, 2022 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Genesis 14:18-20 | Psalm 110:1-4
I Corinthians 11:23-26 | Luke 9:11-17
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Welcome to our celebration! Traditionally, the priest or bishop who presided over the Mass was called the “celebrant.” But I am not the only person here to celebrate. All of us are here to celebrate the Eucharist. What does it mean to “celebrate?” It means a joyous activity to recognize something important. As we do every Sunday, we celebrate God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both transcendent and immanent.
Christian liturgical worship embodies two concepts in tension with each other, God Transcendent and God Immanent. Put another way, worship fulfills our desire to praise God, while simultaneously meeting our human needs for human solidarity to experience God’s compassion for us and one to another.
Simply put, God Transcendent is, “Who God Is” while God Immanent, also known as God Incarnate, is “What God Does.” Eastern Christians would say that God’s Transcendence relates to God’s unknowable essence, while God’s Immanence shows us God’s energies through God’s activities. Think of praising God in God’s capacity as creator and experiencing Jesus as God among us.
The immanence and transcendence, that is, the essence and energies of God are also reflected in the other two persons of the Trinity.
The essence of the Holy Spirit, that is, what she is, will always remain, an unknowable mystery, and is akin to the transcendence of God the Father. However, we can see what she does. She is the source of life and motivating force behind everything in the entire Universe, and thus akin to the immanence of God the Father.
The same can be said for Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon defined Jesus as fully human and fully divine. In his fleshly manifestation, Jesus is God immanent for us, the physical manifestation of God’s energy in human form. But just as the true essence of God the Father will always remain a mystery, so too, will the essence of the divinity of Jesus. Christians commonly refer to him as “Jesus Christ.” When we think of Jesus, we identify his human nature. When we think of him as Christ, we adore him in the essence of his divinity.
Today’s Gospel shows us how Jesus is inseparably both fully human and fully divine. A large crowd had gathered to hear him preach and teach in a remote area. The program ran longer than expected. The people got hungry. There was no place nearby to obtain food. Jesus, being fully human, knew what it was like to be hungry.
Jesus knew the importance of food for human existence. If you read through Luke’s Gospel, you will find food throughout it, more so than in the other three canonical Gospels. You will find frequent references to Jesus is often either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.
References to food permeate every chapter of Luke. In addition to feeding the five thousand, food appears in the contexts of table fellowship, hospitality, the Sermon on the Plain, fasting, the messianic banquet, imageries of harvest, good fruit and bad fruit, eating on Sabbath, eating with tax collectors, Jesus accused as a “glutton and drunkard,” the “last” meal with his disciples before the crucifixion, and the meal at Emmaus.
So here, Jesus took action to fulfill the need of his followers for nourishment. However, the only food on hand were five loaves of bread and two small fishes. How could so little food feed so many people? This is where the divinity of Jesus comes into to play. Jesus, acting out of empathy for the humanity of his followers, uses his divine powers to create abundance to not only fulfill their immediate hunger but generated a considerable amount of leftovers as well.
The Gospel does not tell us exactly how Jesus generated all that abundant food. Like the divinity of Jesus himself, how Jesus suddenly produced all that food remains a mystery, something beyond the level of human understanding, just like the Eucharist. At Mass, we know that ordinary bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t know precisely how that happens. So perhaps the mystery of the abundance of bread and fish happened through the action of the Holy Spirit as well.
After all, isn’t the feeding of the five thousand somewhat like the Eucharist? Just as we take bread, bless it, break it, and give it at Mass, in today’s Gospel, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the people. Just like the way in which the Eucharist assuages our spiritual hunger, Jesus responded to the bodily hunger of five thousand people.
The way that Jesus recognized the human need for food should stimulate us to recognize that not everyone in the world has a full freezer and a full pantry with nearby grocery stores, supplemented by the ability to order food online. Christians cannot allow the human concern for being sure everyone has enough to eat to become detached from the Eucharist. The two always go together. Many churches have programs to feed hungry people, and if anyone would like to start and coordinate a ministry like that here, you can do so with my blessing.
World hunger is a problem of tremendous proportion and significance. The war in Ukraine has resulted in the Russians blocking the export of grain that feeds the rest of the world. The drought in the California Central Valley has caused fruit and vegetable shortages everywhere. These shortages have resulted in price increases that leave many people unable to afford to eat. Yet the United States presently has no plan in either the public or private sector to deal with these coming problems either by reducing demand for food or increasing its supply. I predict that won’t happen until a crisis level of hunger arises.
Overall, the world produces, or at least has the capacity to produce, enough food to feed its entire population. The problem has been one of distribution. What interferes the most with distribution is using money to allocate food. By requiring everyone to pay the same thing for food, some are able to hoard while others go hungry.
The conservative ideology that blames poverty on those who are poor and suffering from hunger often relies on a biblical passage in Second Thessalonians that purports to say that those who do not work should not eat. There are several problems with that reasoning. One, Second Thessalonians is what’s called a deutero-pauline letter, meaning that Saint Paul probably did not actually compose it. We really don’t know who did, so there is a legitimate question as to the authoritativeness of that. Second, no matter who originated it, the thoughts at issue did not come from Jesus himself.
We as followers of the way of Jesus should be looking at the problem the way Jesus did in today’s Gospel: he knew the people were hungry, so he fed them. Why they were hungry did not matter to Jesus. All that did matter to him was that they were hungry. That’s all that should matter to us.
No one’s entitlement to food should be determined by their wealth. Even though nearly all countries through the United Nations signed multiple international treaties declaring that food is a human right, many of these same countries permit, or even encourage, the prosecution of hungry, impoverished people shoplifting from grocery stores and do not mandate that unsold food be donated to organizations that feed hungry people.
Prosecuting hungry people for stealing food is never acceptable. The message from the Christian Community to legislatures and Corporate America must be to lift their eyes from the bottom line and exalt the dignity of humanity over private profit. We must enter into the mind of God, and allow the food and drink of the Eucharist to fill us with compassion for all brothers and sisters of the human family.
When the Church, through both its preaching and programs recognizes human hunger, it is acting just like Jesus did in the feeding of the five thousand. In doing that, Jesus effectuated a tangible sign of the salvation that God the Father gifted to us through Jesus. For Christians, sharing the bounty of the world with all people, especially the poor, is at the heart of what we are called to be. Eliminating hunger is should not be the sole responsibility of the hungry person. It is also a community responsibility.
What Jesus in today’s Gospel did reflects God’s continuing concern for the welfare of God’s people that began in Old Testament times with manna in the wilderness. The Feeding of the Five Thousand sets Jesus within the prophetic tradition of Israel. In the Second Book of Kings, a man brought bread to the prophet Elisha, the chosen successor to Elijah. Elisha said, “Give it to the people. Let them eat.” The man said, “How can I feed over a hundred people with this small amount of bread,” to which Elisha replied, “Give it to the people and let them eat. For God said, They shall eat and have some left over.” So Elisha set it before them; and when they had eaten, they was indeed, some left over, as God had said.
The “some left over” is an important part of the story in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Not only is the crowd “filled”; there are twelve baskets of “broken pieces” left over. The “twelve baskets” symbolize the sufficiency of the communal meal, not only for the twelve disciples, that is, the church, but as well for the twelve tribes of Israel that populated the Promised Land prior to the division of the Kingdom after the death of Solomon in about nine-thirty B-C.
What this Gospel is telling us is that the Feeding of the Five Thousand proclaims that God’s love is universal, nourishing everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Not only was Jesus able to feed the five thousand people present, but he generated food to spare. The feeding of the multitude shows us the miraculous bounty to assure us of the abundance of that future banquet. Yes, our God, at many times and in many places, both now and in the life to come, blesses us abundantly to satisfy our hunger and then some.
The point is, that God recognizes our humanness by caring for our hunger and responds to it with abundant blessings. And here at Saint Cecilia’s, we feed people spiritually. The Gospels record that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and so do we here. Hospitality was a fundamental means for the creation and expression of networks of friendship in the ancient world, just as they are here today in this parish.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand reminds us that the Eucharist is the foretaste of the Messianic Banquet in Heaven where we will eternally feast with Jesus, the greatest and the least altogether, saints alongside sinners. Luke’s Gospel tells that many who will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca, and Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah in the kingdom of heaven. We will meet those patriarchs and matriarchs at a banquet that exceeds our expectations just as in today’s Gospel. That’s the vision, God, acting through Jesus, has for us.
So, just as Jesus didn’t turn away any hungry people in the scene recounted in today’s Gospel, we don’t allocate or control who receives the spiritual food of the Blessed Sacrament. Today’s Gospel invites us to preach God’s abundance and inclusion. That’s why we encourage everyone to receive Holy Communion. I’ve administered Holy Communion not only to baptized Christians, but to Muslims, Jews, agnostics, and atheists, and will continue to do so.
Today’s Mass will end with one of my all-time favorite hymns, “I am the Bread of Life” by Susan Toolan, a nun belonging to the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy. Our love of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar will drive our most passionate rendition of this most glorious song as our celebration of Corpus Christi crowns what has been a stellar choir season.
The song, “I Am the Bread of Life” melds the concepts of God’s transcendence by way of the gloriousness of the music while the words reflect God’s immanence among us through the incarnation of Jesus. The confluence of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence, the essence, and energies of God, tell the story that we live out here at Saint Cecilia’s. Here, we celebrate three missions.
The first one is our Sunday Sung Mass to proclaim God’s transcendent majesty and glory. That’s why we sing everything and celebrate Mass in a formal, solemn, and dignified manner. Clergy in street clothes accompanied by a so-called praise band will never be a fact of life here.
The second one has us doing God’s work in our world through celebrating sacramental justice by offering all sacraments to those people other churches will not serve because of silly, human-made rules, barriers, and delays, along with those whom other churches cannot serve because they don’t have enough clergy due to more silly rules prohibiting married clergy and female clergy. We are, and will remain, “All sacraments for everyone,” “Todos sacramentos para todos.”
Our third mission is preaching, in which God’s transcendence and God’s immanence come together as one, where we relate God’s essence to God’s energies. We manifest that inclusiveness in our guest preacher program wherein we invite outside clergy to share their perspectives with us, some of whom look at God through a different lens than we do.
Jesus ministered with a warm welcome, uplifting teaching, compassionate healing, and physical nourishment. It all goes together. God Transcendent and God Immanent are necessary for a complete celebration of the Eucharist. For Christians, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, honored by tradition since the earliest of times as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading. Today’s feast invites us to celebrate the mystery of the sacred bread and wine of the future prefigured by the banquet of the present. We are blessed, as Abraham was in today’s first reading, when we receive the bread and wine at Mass, as the Body and Blood of Jesus. And that blessing is something we carry out in our lives as we walk the way of Jesus on the great highway of life that leads to oneness with God. AMEN.