In the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrate today the feast that I grew up knowing as Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ). I had a strange moment as I navigated to the US Catholic Bishops’ website this morning. I must not have been fully awake because when I read the designation of the feast as The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ it sounded unfamiliar, full of pomp and ceremony – something I could not identify…until in the next moment I said to myself, “Oh, of course, it’s Corpus Christi Sunday!” and it became something familiar as in my mind’s eye I saw a procession to the Eucharist table, heard the congregation singing, Precious Body, precious Blood, here in bread and wine…punctuated by the repetition of the ministers of the Eucharist repeating to every communicant, “The body of Christ” in the most familiar and profound ritual of our faith.
Next I read the gospel, Luke’s rendition of the feeding of the five thousand (LK 9:11-17) where all sorts of random thoughts – maybe somewhat connected – followed from the text flowing in and out of my mind. Here are some that stuck. First, when the disciples told Jesus to dismiss the crowds after a day of preaching and healing so they could go somewhere to find food, Jesus said, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” We know the story: they protest because of the huge crowd and the fact that all they have is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and the cost to feed them all – even if they found food in or around this deserted place – would be prohibitive. Then follows the miracle where the food is distributed and everyone is fed. Imagine the surprise of the disciples who were doing the distribution! So next I try to think about that moment. It says Jesus looked up to heaven, said the blessing over the bread and fish, broke them, then handed them to the disciples to give out. So did the multiplication happen in the blessing? in the breaking? or did each of the disciples get a basket (where did those come from?) with some tiny morsel of food inside that then became a fullness as they walked among the crowds? Does any of this matter? The point is, it seems, that people were fed. But maybe just as important as that is the fact that the disciples were agents of the feeding even though Jesus had engineered the miracle. Can you imagine Jesus doing the distribution by himself? They would have been there all night or longer!
So what is the message here? Jesus left many signs in an attempt to teach his disciples (and us) how to be in the world. “Give them something to eat yourselves” was a clear directive – and it couldn’t have been easy to manage that in such a crowd – so the call to service is not always easy and never (if truly understood) prestigious but the “endgame” is worth the effort. My last random thought was “You are what you eat.” What we take into our bodies becomes part of us – for better or for worse. What the crowd – including the disciples, I presume – were eating in today’s reading as well as at the Last Supper and what we eat during the Eucharistic liturgy has been transacted into the body of Christ. Thus, we ourselves become Christ’s body as we eat and as we serve in Christ’s name. Just as the disciples could not understand the reality that they were witnessing in the midst of that crowd, our ordinary minds cannot perceive what truly happens each time we eat at Eucharist and go out to act as Christ’s body in the world. But as we wake up to the possibility contained in our actions, as we give ourselves more and more to a generous “becoming” for God in the world, the transformation becomes more evident, more luminous, and the effort is more than worth the gift.