A homily preached at Guildford Cathedral on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 31st May 2018.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is one of those propitious days when two great celebrations of the Church Year converge. Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion, which always falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
Today is also the 31 May, on which falls the celebration of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth. The actual celebration of that feast will come tomorrow, it having been bumped a day by Corpus Christi.
So how might the two connect, and each give an insight into the other?
I invite you to picture two images.
|Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at Croydon Minster|
The first image for your mind is of the monstrance in which the Consecrated Host is placed for the Eucharistic procession and benediction. It is simply a receptacle – albeit a rather splendid one - that enables us to see and focus upon the intensity of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist.
The second image is the one printed on the front of your order of service. It is the ancient image known as the Virgin of the Sign. It shows the Blessed Virgin Mary displaying Christ just like a medallion; you could almost say that in that icon Mary is a monstrance, displaying Christ so that people may see and believe.
|'Virgin of the Sign' or 'Virgin Orans'|
But Mary was more than a receptacle to carry or to display something. As St John’s gospel tells us ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’. God’s full presence dwelt in Mary’s womb, such that from her he receives the very humanity that each one of us shares.
The Word made Flesh dwelt in Mary’s womb: gestating; growing; and being nourished by her body.
Christ, the Living Bread, first knew nourishment from the body of his Mother, receiving her lifeblood through the umbilical cord; now he nourishes his Church through his body and blood, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So for nine months Christ was carried; Christ was hidden.
Whilst hidden in Mary’s womb Christ was nevertheless present. The account of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth makes this clear. Elizabeth greets Mary saying, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb’. And John the Baptist - himself still hidden in his mother’s womb – dances for joy before Christ’s presence.
John’s leaping echoes the way in which King David danced and leapt before the Ark of the Covenant, which bore the presence of Yahweh, the LORD, which had preceded the Israelites on the sojourn of the exodus from Egypt. The ark was being brought into Jerusalem and ‘David danced before the LORD with all his might’ (1 Samuel 6.14).
In visiting Elizabeth Mary had out with haste to a Judean town in the hill country bearing Christ up hill and down dale to her cousin’s home (Luke 1.39). Christ in her had been recognised, honoured and adored.
Mary journeyed and tonight we process, as many will around the world, with Christ in our midst and visible in the Blessed Sacrament. The monstrance will be our ark.
Christ, in the Eucharist, will be carried through marble floored churches, across fields, around churchyards, down footpaths beside busy dual carriageways, as one church I know in Leeds will be doing tonight.
In some parts of the world that procession will be accompanied by dancing, some by formal processions, some by rose petals strewn along the way.
God moves and travels with his people, sometimes hidden, and sometimes made manifest and visible.
The challenge of all this is to see how we bear Christ in our lives in a world that oftentimes does not wish to see Christ, cannot see Christ or looks away at Christ’s presence: the world avoids Christ’s gaze.
The challenge of this is for us to see Christ both visible and hidden in the lives of other people.
The challenge for us in this is to be more than walking monstrances - simply receptacles - however splendid or beautiful we are, and to be more after the example of Mary: those who accept Christ into our lives, growing and taking form within us; to be like Mary of the icon, people from whom Christ shines out, with her, our hands lifted in prayer and praise of God. Therein lies human dignity and beauty.
‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Tonight we stretch out our hands to receive afresh the bread of life, the Body of Christ. The presence of the bread of life, hidden and made manifest in our lives, will transform us, help us to grow, open us to God and open to all people.
And then we move: bearers of Christ the Living Bread to a hungry world.