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Sealing a New Covenant: Sermon for Corpus Christi, 2024

“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”


          After the long celebration of Eastertide, we are back where we started – in the Upper Room of the Last Supper. Why have we gone back? The Holy Spirit has been sent upon the Apostles and us at Pentecost, they and we have been sent out to preach the good news to all creation; we have celebrated what most makes us distinct as Christians, the Most Holy Trinity, motivating our desire to preach the Good News to all who need to hear it, in the face of the religious indifference that denies the need of all peoples for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So why are we now back where we started?

          We celebrate today, of course, the beautiful feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and Blood of Christ. But did not we already celebrate this mystery on Holy Thursday, when we commemorated the institution of the Eucharist, and of the priesthood that makes the continued celebration of the Eucharist possible? There are, of course, the historical reasons for the existence of this feast: that in a time of weakening faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church saw this need to celebrate Her faith in the real, true, substantial presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and to move the faithful to profound adoration and worship of Christ in the Eucharist through Eucharistic Adoration and processions with the Blessed Sacrament.

          But perhaps more relevantly for us today, Corpus Christi celebrates another important aspect of the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood present in the Eucharist. As the Scripture readings we heard today emphasize, Christ’s offering of the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, the union of the Last Supper and His sacrificial death on the Cross mystically re-presented in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where the Cross and the Supper are one – the offering of that sacrifice seals His covenant with His people. And the fact that this sacrifice establishes a covenant emphasizes to us today the reality of His presence in the Eucharist.

          In the Old Testament, when God made His first covenant, He Himself appeared as a burning brazier, hovering amidst the sacrificial offerings. God appears likewise to Moses on Mount Horeb, teaching him the law and giving him all the instructions he will need to lead the chosen people. The consequence of the encounter with God’s real presence is to offer a sacrifice that will sanctify the people, making them worthy to approach the Lord and to live according to His ordinances. Their willingness to follow what Moses has taught them – “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” – is ratified by being sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificial bulls.

          We emphasized during Easter that, in instituting the Eucharist, Christ uses sacrificial language: “This is my body, which is given for you.” Likewise, that His Blood is the blood of a covenant means that it is the blood of sacrifice. For the Jewish men at the Last Supper, this was a clear indication of the divine presence. If a covenant is being ratified by a sacrifice, God is present. He instructs them to continue to do this, to renew the covenant, which means that in the Eucharist, He is really present, in what continues to be His divine flesh and blood.

          It makes sense, then, that we celebrate Corpus Christi right after Trinity Sunday, because that Most High God of the whole universe we celebrated in the Most Holy Trinity is really present here. He has chosen us to renew His covenant with all creation through worshiping and receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord. The French refer to Corpus Christi as the Fete-Dieu, the God-feast. You would think that would more aptly refer to Trinity Sunday last week. But there is a great intuition there, that the same Most High God, in the second person of that same Most Holy Trinity, is truly here present.

          With whom, though, has the Lord entered into this covenant? The first covenant was with Abraham, and then the second, which we see ratified today through the actions of Moses, was with the whole people of Israel, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham of his numerous descendants. This new covenant, ratified by the blood not of bulls and goats but by the very blood of Christ, is made with the Lord’s new people, with the Church. Before Christ’s Body is given to each of us, before the intimacy of this encounter with Christ’s real presence can take place, this gift is given first, to the Church.

          In the past few decades, there have been many controversies around who is able to receive the Eucharist. How could the Church deny the Body and Blood of Christ to anyone, either because of not belonging to the Catholic Church, because of the moral life of that person, or because of scandalous public conduct? Who is the Church to cut anyone off from Christ? The answer to this dilemma begins here: Christ gave His Body and Blood to the Church; He entrusted Himself to Her. She, therefore, has every right to determine the manner of celebration of the Eucharist, as well as the proper preparation for the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, as well as what constitutes a worthy reception of the Eucharist, mindful of St. Paul’s injunction that to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily is to eat and drink judgement upon oneself.

          The fact that the Church, from Her earliest days, would take so seriously this needed preparation and worthy reception of the Eucharist is one of the most powerful proofs that She has always regarded the Eucharist as the real Body and Blood of the Lord. Eating and drinking a symbol unworthily could surely not bring eternal damnation upon anyone.

          But while this gift is given first to the Church, we are a part of the Church, which means that while Christ gives His Body and Blood first to us a body, in so doing, He also gives Himself to us personally. (I almost said there that He gives Himself to us as individuals, but that actually is wrong. He always gives us His Body and Blood precisely as members of the Body with whom He has made the covenant in His Blood. He gives Himself to us personally, not individually.)

          St. Paul likewise tells us today that participating in that new covenant, in which He gives us His Body and Blood, and we likewise give Him ourselves, ought to “cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” So what, then, is the covenant that we renew with the Lord today, and every time that we are sprinkled with the Lord’s blood as we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist?

          We call the act of receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in Eucharist, Communion, and that is not an accident. In receiving the Eucharist, we commune with the Lord’s Body, both with the real, physical Body – the same Body in which He rose from the dead, appeared to the Apostles, and now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven – and also with the mystical body, the Church. We cannot be in communion with Christ’s Body, the Church, if we do not believe with the Church’s faith and live according to Her teachings, and thus, reception of Holy Communion without this union with the mystical body, the Church, is a lie.

          Once again, we are back to Easter Sunday. The faithful women hoped to perform the best act of homage they could to a dead body. A body that was precious to them, but was just a corpse. So likewise, people expect to find in the Church another dead body. One that might have pretty smells, bells, and music, but is on life support at best. And just as the faithful women were, on Easter Sunday, surprised beyond their wildest hopes to find not a corpse, but the living body of the Lord, we too look up and behold the living body of the Lord in the Eucharist, in the Church. These two gifts are inseparable.

          Today we join the Church throughout the world in adoring the Lord’s Body in the Eucharist and bringing Him to the streets of our city, publicly adoring Him in the Eucharist. This bold act makes it clear to all who will see us that we are not here to participate in some moribund, medieval pageantry, but that the Lord’s Body is alive and well, his Sacred Heart continuing to beat in the living Host, and in His Church.


The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, A.D. MMXXIV


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