So if I’m understanding this right, now that I’m a priest of the order of Melchizedek and will be offering you bread and a blessing, I believe you all owe me 1/10th of everything you own. I think that’s what the book of Genesis said. That’s how this works…right?
Of course, we know that’s not how it works; that’s not how any of this works! The reason we gather is not for a transaction, “I give you something, you give me something.” What I do does not merit a reward or payment for services rendered.
No, the reason we gather today, the reason we gather every week, is to engage in the outpouring of God’s love for us. What we receive is gift, something that we do not deserve and for which no amount of money could buy; what we receive is not the work of my hands, not due to my ability, but the complete work of Christ, the handing himself over completely to us so that we might live.
I think it’s important for us to remember that, important for me to remember that especially today, this my first mass, this my first time offering the sacrifice, blessing the meal—that this is not my sacrifice, this is not my meal—I am but a humble servant of God, asked to play my part. As fancy as I’m dressed, as many lines as I get in this “show,” I know that it is not my show, but his. I may be up here and you down there, but our experience together is fundamentally the same: we are, together, a people receiving a gift we did not earn and cannot pay for. Together, equally in need of God’s mercy and blessing, we celebrate this feast.
And yet, as I stand up here for the first time in this role, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with how different this feels. How many times in my life I must have heard the priest say “This is my body,” and yet today, on the feast of Corpus Christi no less, (how cool is that?) something is fundamentally different:
those words become my words.
For the first time, I will stand before you, saying those words, and in my hands will be the sacrifice; in my hands will be the true body of Christ. Just thinking about it I find myself going, “Wait what…? I get to… do… that? No! …Really?” I find myself in complete awe.
More than a great power, more than thinking about it as something that I can now do, all I can think about is what a responsibility I have now, a newfound call to personal holiness, a newfound call to serve others. If I truly believe Christ’s words, “this is my body,” truly believe that he is present through the sacraments and that I am able to bring that to others, my life is not my own. This gift is not mine to put limits on or withhold; this gift is not mine to change and fit to my preferences. Even when I am tired, even when I don’t feel like it, I have a call and responsibility to uphold what Christ has established.
These hands [my hands] are Christ’s hands, entrusted with the care of his body.
But of course, there’s more to it than that, right? It is on this feast of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the body and blood of Christ, that I am reminded that Jesus’ words “this is my body” have a second and no less important meaning: we are the body of Christ. As Christians, those who are baptized into Christ, we are more than just members of an organization, more than just casual associates… we are bound together in the blood of Christ, made one through the Holy Spirit. As much as we know that Christ is truly present here at this altar, we can be equally sure that Christ is truly present in you and in me.
In our Gospel today, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to simply perform a miracle, making his presence felt and adored in some mystical way. He said, “Give them some food.” In other words, “my body out there is hungry. Feed my people.” Christ says this is my body here at the altar, and he says this is my body out in the world. The connection between the two is so intimate, so inseparable, that the great Saint John Chrysostom once proclaimed to his congregation that if they failed to see Christ in the beggar at the door, failed to care for the lost and the broken, the hungry and thirsty, then they would truly fail to see him in the chalice. Just as the species on this altar are a free gift from God, a gift of Christ’s very self, so too are we to one another; so too are the poor; so too are the lost and forgotten. It’s why he says in Matthews Gospel that when you serve the poorest of the people, you actually serve him. He is with the poor, he dwells in them.
“This is my body.” How many times in my life I must have heard this, how passionately I have believed this for years, and yet I find myself today, once again, having quite a different relationship to these words than before. Today,
those words become my words.
Today, for the first time, I find myself internalizing them, owning them, speaking them with a newfound conviction. While I may not be your pastor, there is a distinct sense in me now that, as a priest, as a shepherd—truly, as a father—I am to care for Christ’s body as if you were my children.
Again, more than a great power, more than thinking about it as some authority that I now have, all I can think about is what a responsibility it now is, a newfound call to personal holiness, a newfound call to serve others. If I truly believe Christ’s words, “this is my body,” truly believe that he is present in you, in the poor, and the lost and forgotten, then my life is not my own. I must provide for those in need through works of charity. I must devote my life to work for the justice of the kingdom, and most of all, I must be the first to lay down my life so that others may live, just as he did. These hands [my hands] are Christ’s hands, entrusted with the care of his body.
So, yeah… today is a pretty profound day for me, no doubt a day I will never forget. But lest I give the impression that today is actually about me and not about what Christ is doing through me; lest I give the impression that all of you are somehow off the hook because there’s another priest to do the work, let me remind you: we are, together, a people receiving a gift we did not earn and cannot pay for. Together, equally in need of God’s mercy and blessing, we celebrate this feast.
Even though our specific duties, our specific roles might be a bit different, our fundamental response is the same. Having been given such an amazing gift, we find ourselves with a newfound call to holiness, a newfound call to serve others. Here before us—for you and for me—is the true body of the Christ, the real presence of our living God. How can we come to this table and not be changed? Here before us—in our brothers and sisters, in the world around us—is the true body of Christ, the real presence of our living God. How can we see our Lord broken and battered and not be changed? As much as today feels different for me, as much as this seems like a tremendous change in my life, I can’t help but be reminded that, at the core of my vocation to follow Christ, today remains the same for all of us. Today, as with every day of our lives, is about the extraordinary love that Christ pours out upon us, the gift that we could never purchase, and how our lives are fundamentally changed because of it.
Which brings us back to Melchizedek and you giving me a tenth of everything you own. You can keep it, I don’t want it. This celebration is not about me—not today, not ever—and I deserve nothing in return for what Christ accomplishes. But I have to say… I do want something. Yes, there is one thing that I hope for, one thing that is worth more to me than your wealth, something that would make my life as a priest worth ever challenge and failure. That thing is this: in all that I do in my life and ministry, you may see nothing but the love and humility of Christ, that you may be overwhelmed with the love that Christ gives you and amazed at what Christ is capable of through a useless sinner like me. And that when this happens, you may not give me any credit or feel that you owe me anything, but may want nothing more than to give everything you have, not just ten percent, but everything, your whole lives, to the one who gives you everything.
This is my body.
those words have become my words
but they are your words too. And we are forever changed by them.