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"This is My Body" -- Sermon for the III Sunday of Easter, 2024

“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”


The joy of Easter continues today! Easter is such an incredible mystery that the Church provides us with 40 days of Paschaltide to unpack the many graces we have received in celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection. Our celebration of Easter began with the Sacred Paschal Vigil on the night of Holy Saturday. A long series of readings from the Old Testament, read only by candlelight, set the dramatic scene for the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection. We began with the story of creation from Genesis, chapter one – the very beginning – in order to understand the new beginning offered by Christ – that His rising from the dead is a new beginning, a new creation.

          “Behold, I make all things new!”, Christ tells us in the Book of Revelation. With Christ’s rising from the dead, He does not become a Frankenstein, an animated corpse. His real human body is recreated, just as our real human bodies will be recreated rather than just reanimated in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. In baptism, in fact, we have already become a new creation, invited to live in a different way. On Easter Sunday morning, we were told by St. Paul to throw out the “old yeast … of malice and wickedness,” and to celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection with “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

          This newness is brought about through the beautiful symbolism of the Sacred Liturgy. After the Mass of Holy Thursday, all the old holy water was thrown out. In the paschal fire at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, we burned the remaining sacred oils from the previous year, used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick, having received the newly blessed and consecrated oils from the Bishop at the Chrism Mass. During the Easter Vigil, we blessed the new water of the Baptismal font, and sprinkled it on ourselves after renewing our baptismal promises. During Eastertide, the church even smells differently with the new incense (which happens, this year, to be scented with the same perfume used to create the beautiful aroma of Sacred Chrism). The most notable sign of newness in the church, though, is the new paschal candle.

          The paschal candle is lit for the first time from the Easter fire – the new fire that symbolizes the new light that comes into the world through the Resurrection of Christ. Lighting the candle, the priest prays, “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The new candle is marked with the present year, 2024, to remind us that Christ enters into our time to call us to follow Him with joy. Tracing the present year on the candle, the priest prays, “Christ yesterday and today, beginning and end, Alpha and Omega. His is all time and eternity.” Christ enters into our time, and we enter into a time that belongs first to Him.

          Each year we commission a new candle from an artist named Gina Switzer. The theme she chose this year is the Paschal Lamb. Represented on the candle (which I invite you to check out up-close after Mass!) is the famous paschal lamb painted by the great master of the Spanish baroque, Francisco de Zurbarán. You can see a male lamb with its legs tied, ready to be sacrificed, but silent and still – an image of Christ as sacrificial victim, silent and docile before His torturers. Between the lamb’s legs, though, stretching the pattern of Zurbarán’s painting, is the Sacred Heart, represented naturalistically, as a living heart, bleeding into a chalice, reminding us that the Body and Blood that we receive in the Eucharist are, as we emphasized on Easter Sunday, the living body of the Lord. Look up, and behold His living body!

          You could ask, “Why would this symbol of the Resurrection focus so heavily on the passion and death of the Lord?” However, the hymn of praise that is sung to the paschal candle, the Exultet, emphasizes that this candle is a sacrifice. In the Paschal Vigil, the deacon or priest sings, “holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.”

          The candle is a symbol of sacrifice because it has to sacrifice itself to produce light. The Exultet continues, “But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God's honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.” The candle sacrifices itself to produce its light – two weeks ago, it was much taller! – a symbol of the sacrifice of Christ, who did not hesitate to offer Himself as a propitiatory victim.

          This beautiful symbolism helps us to appreciate more profoundly what the Lord has done for us. But more importantly, it encourages us to follow His example. The Easter sequence encouraged us, “Christians to the paschal victim, offer your thankful praises.” The word that is translated here into English as “offer,” though, more literally means, “immolate.” To immolate is to put something to death for a sacrifice – a bloody putting to death.

          Throughout the many celebrations of Holy Week, from the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem; to the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood; to the Passion and death of the Lord; to His Resurrection, the Scriptures and the Sacred Liturgy emphasized that all this the Lord did in His body. In His body he handed Himself over to death, and in His body, He rose again to new life.

          This realization helps us understand more deeply the mysterious words of the consecration of the Eucharist: “This is my body.” With these words, the Lord is indicating much more than just the identity of what is in front of Him (that which used to be bread and wine). It is something deeper and greater. “This is my Body! I give it to you. I give you all the sufferings I experienced in this body, all the agony of my Passion and death in this same body, and all the glory of my Resurrection in this body. I give myself to you. This is my body!”

          These words that we have heard so many times at Holy Mass, “this is my body,” are revealed as sacrificial language. They also remind us of another gift of one’s body to another person. They are sacrificial words, and they are nuptial words. “This is my body,” Christian spouses say, giving themselves wholly to each other, giving away their exclusive rights over their own body: “This is my body, offered for you!”

          So we can see that the mystery of Jesus giving His body for us, of saying to us, “This is my body, which is given for you!” should change our perspective on the human body. The world tells us that our body is for expressing ourselves, that we should be able to do whatever we want with our bodies in order to express our ideas and emotions. It even tells us that sex is essentially a part of this expressing ourselves, that whether it is good or bad to use your body in one way or another is determined by whether or not that use of your body corresponds to the way that you feel. Instead, Jesus’s gift of His body to us shows us the real meaning of the human body. It is not about self-expression, but about self-gift. God has given us the beautiful mystery of the human body so that Christian spouses might be able to say to one another, “This is my body, which is given for you. It has not been given to anyone else, and will not be given to anyone else. My actions, my words, my thoughts, my looks, I give them to you,” in imitation of Jesus who gave His body for His bride, the Church. “This is my body.” What you do with your body is not good or bad because of corresponding to the way you feel, but whether it corresponds to reality, the reality of who you are, and the reality of a relationship with another person.

          Seeing how Jesus completely gave His body to His mystical bride, the Church (really, to all of us), helps us understand as well why the Church asks priests and religious to live a life of perfect, celibate chastity. Just as Jesus says, “This is my body,” the priest and religious sister who gives up the great good of marriage for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom says to the Lord, “This is my body. Before it was mine, it is yours!”

          That is true not only of priests and religious, though, but of everyone striving to live the virtue of chastity, to reject the difficult temptations to seek disordered pleasure outside of marriage or to use the body for self-expression. To do so is not only tough – sometimes, it is excruciating – but it is your chance to do something truly heroic, to be a real man or woman, to be able to say to the Lord, “This is my body, and just as you give your body to me, I give mine to you.” At times, yes, you will feel like the paschal candle, being consumed as a sacrificial victim. But in being burned up as an offering to the Lord, the paschal candle finds its perfection, its meaning – and so do we.

          Today, the Lord demonstrates the reality of His Resurrection by showing His body to the Apostles, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see.” He shows us once again that, “This is my body, given up for you,” and He invites you to say and do the same.


The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

Third Sunday of Easter, A.D. MMXXIV


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