Homily preached by the Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, at Mass for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). 8.10am on Sunday 7 June in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool. Broadcast live by BBC Radio 4.
I was very surprised like many other people when a national chain of bakers stopped selling bread, actual loaves that is. How could that be? In a small way it shook the nation, or at least it made the national news bulletins. Of course the baker continued to bake and sell bread, but it did it under other forms such as filled baguettes or wraps, sandwiches and savoury pastries. Bread is so important to us as the symbolic food that describes what we eat that even though there was a reduced demand for loaves of bread, which justified the change in marketing strategy, it felt as though something fundamental to our make-up was being threatened. Any change to long-held habits such as the way we sell bread unsettles us all.
So you can imagine how much more unsettling it was for Jesus' followers when he took what even then was the staple food of everyday day life at the Jewish Passover meal and gave a new meaning to the bread and the wine. Those at the meal must have been very shocked indeed. Not only was Jesus reinterpreting the most important feast of the Jewish year but he was also saying that in the breaking of bread and the blessing of the wine he would be present for those who did this in memory of him. His death on the cross was anticipated in these actions and words, and by his crucifixion our sins would be forgiven.
When Christians meet to remember Jesus in this way they are doing what he commanded. Catholics, the Orthodox and some other Christians believe that Jesus is really present on the altar. It is as if by repeating Jesus’ words from the past, the priest brings the promise of future glory into the present moment.
It is our hidden God alone who can satisfy the hungry heart and quench the thirst of our yearning spirits. At the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, we see the past, the present and the future, in the perspective of God's ever-presence. For it is there that we are seated at table with our God.
At the Eucharist, Christ is among us as one who serves, offering his life as a ransom for many. It makes present for us now Christ's sacrifice of his entire self for us. That is what this feast of Corpus Christi is all about, so each time we eat the bread of life and drink the blessing cup we associate ourselves intimately with that offering of the Lord. We are saying 'Amen', yes, 'so be it' to his invitation to a life of committed and self-sacrificing love and service. Strengthened by the gift of the Eucharist we can say 'Amen' to this challenge to die to self-love. We can say 'Amen' to the reality that we too must allow ourselves to be broken, poured out and offered in service to all our sisters and brothers.
The Eucharist is a cry for justice; it is strange how we can be shocked when a baker stops selling loaves but indifferent when a hungry person asks for food by the roadside. The Eucharist is the prayer of God who was himself victimised and brutally treated. It is the plea of Christ who was unjustly condemned to a shameful death, who laid down his life and who has now taken it up again forever (John 10:17). The Eucharist is the reply of God to a hungry world – to a people deprived not only of material bread but some of their very dignity and livelihood.
Yes, the Body of Christ is God's demand for such a world, a world that is no longer a lonely place but a habitation of solidarity and friendship. A world where human beings can give thanks together for the gift of life – where God and humanity are in communion and seated together at the table.
Listen to the Mass on the BBC iPlayer here