Thursday, 31 May 2018

Corpus Christi: Bread and wine into body and blood with the help of a fluffy sheep

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 Things may not be what they appear, appearances can be deceiving, don't judge a book by its cover. There are lots of sayings that teach us not to rely on what we see. These sayings still exist despite the scientific age we live in, with it's quest to provide firm evidence for everything.

Tonight we are celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ. During the reformation the Eucharist and what exactly Jesus meant when he said “this is my body” was a major point of debate. The reformers claimed that the bread and wine looked clearly like bread and wine so must be just bread and wine.

 However, as I said at the start appearances can be deceiving. To help demonstrate this point, I have bought a friend with me tonight, meet Woolly the Sheep.
Now, Woolly was a present from some friends a few years ago. Now, I like cute and cuddly things and have a rather large cuddly toy collection. Andrew had told my friends not to give me any more as we had no space. So, when I unwrapped Woolly, Andrew's first response was “what’s that? I said no more cuddly toys!” I then pointed out the label round his neck which clearly stated this is not a toy.

 Andrew responded by pointing that he has a head, eyes, ears, four paws and body, it definitely looked like a cuddly toy. However if you look beneath the outer skin, you will find that Woolly here is missing something key to being a cuddly toy, he has no stuffing! Instead he has a hot water bottle. When Woolly is being put to his proper use you may pick him up and if you don't know the truth get an unexpected warm feeling, which tells you there is more to Woolly than meets the eye.

 Receiving the bread and wine in the mass can have a similar effect. Sara Miles had no intention of being a Christian when one day she walked into a church where a service was taking place. She joined the service and in her book “take this bread” she describes what happened when she joined in receiving the bread and wine.

“I still can't explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening – I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening-the piece of bread was the “body” of “Christ”, a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening- God, named “Christ” or “Jesus” was real and in my mouth -utterly short circuited my ability to do anything but cry.”

Whilst we may not all have the same reaction as Sara Miles did, we all have feelings that go beyond what out five conventional senses may tell us. We may feel a sense of awe at some stunning sight of natural beauty, find ourselves moved by a particular piece of music, or just feel a sense of something other.

 A few years ago I visited Medjugorje in Bosnia, in the 1980's a group of children claimed to have seen visions of the virgin Mary on the hillside there. The catholic church has not yet accepted the place as an official holy site. However, when we climbed up the mountain to the site, where there is now a statue, I had a sense of it feeling like a special, holy place. In the same way when receiving the Eucharist I often have a sense that this is more than bread and wine.

 Thomas Aquinas writes about the concept of a spiritual eye, the idea that there is an instinctive or intuitive power in the human soul that can recognise the presence of the divine. It is this spiritual eye that allows us to perceive that there is more to the bread and wine in the mass than mere physical human sight would suggest.

 If our inward sense is telling us that we are receiving something so special, so holy, what does that mean for us? For Sara Miles, who I quoted earlier, that experience was the first step on a road that was to lead to her becoming a church leader. That might not be the path we all take, but in the simple act of receiving bread and wine, body and blood, by accepting part of Christ in us, we can all be transformed.

 Our spiritual senses experience the presence of Christ and that presence becomes part of us, strengthening us, renewing and reforming us until we all become part of His body, His feet, His eyes, His hands, His strength to go out into the world and do His work. Amen

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