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Corpus Christi Sunday2 June 2024


Saint Margaret’s

Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10;

2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Corpus Christi Sunday

2 June 2024

This past Thursday was in the calendar of the church year the Festival Day of Corpus

Christi, a relatively new celebration in the history of the Church dating back only to

the high Middle Ages, so just about one thousand years ago. As the Latin name

Corpus Christi implies, the day is a commemoration of Christ’s Body, and for that

matter his Blood as well, as given to us in Holy Communion; or the Holy Eucharist, as it

is nowadays more often called. It is in other words a reaffirmation of the real

presence of Christ in the consecrated Communion Bread and Wine; a reaffirmation of

Christ’s abiding presence among us.

It was an important holy day in centuries past kept with great and solemn processions

throughout towns and villages led by priest or bishop bearing the consecrated

Communion elements in a Monstrance, a beautiful silver or gold vessel fitted for the

Communion bread or wafer, followed by festivities, and fun and games. In England,

famous university colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge were named Corpus Christi

after the festival day. As was a city in the American state of Texas.

And, the Day is still a national holiday in many overwhelmingly Catholic countries such

as, for instance, our neighbouring Austria. In most Anglican circles, including the

Church of England, it has been, so to speak, rebranded as a day of Thanksgiving for

Holy Communion and the Sacrament of the Altar; and the commemoration has been

moved for convenience to the following Sunday, such as today. And thanksgiving is

indeed the right word since Eucharist itself means just that, thanksgiving.

Alas, while the Church, and Churches, have always had great reverence for the Body

and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Eucharistic elements of bread and

wine, there has seldom been consensus or agreement about what to make of it; what

it means. Late medieval theologians and philosophers developed elaborate schemes

and concepts to explain the transformation which takes place as simple bread and

wine become the very presence of Christ among us.

Many Reformation-era thinkers on the other hand came to see the Eucharist more as

a commemorative meal recalling the events leading up to our Lord’s death and ourredemption. And while Orthodox and Anglican Church communities have always

affirmed the real presence of our Lord in the Communion elements, they have been

generally reluctant to embrace elaborate metaphysical explanations, instead content

simply to contemplate the mystery.

Now, our account this morning from the Gospel of Mark relates the story of Jesus and

his disciples passing through grainfields on the Sabbath. This narrative by the way

comes immediately after our Lord’s famous dictum about putting new wine in new

wineskins. “No one pours new wine into old wineskins” says Jesus.

“No, they pour

new wine into new wineskins.” But then, one verse later, here we are with our Lord

and the disciples as they casually pluck grain, the source of bread, as they make their

way through the grainfields.

The story has generally been interpreted, correctly of course, as a Gospel commentary

on the Law and the meaning of the Sabbath observance since the Pharisees here

construe gathering grain and presumably munching on it as breaking Sabbath. Yet our

Lord reminds his hardline antagonists that David and his men long before even ate the

sacred bread of the temple when hungry. David “ate the Bread of the Presence,”

Jesus reminds them, something unlawful for even a king. But permitted to those who

are hungry.

New wine and sacred bread. I may be off on a tangent or out on a limb here, but I see

in these Gospel elements constituents as well, reminders, of the Eucharist we

celebrate still to this day; on this Corpus Christi Sunday. We are, it seems to me, the

new wineskins of the New Covenant of the Gospel. We are David bold to eat of the

Bread of the Presence in our own spiritual hunger. We are as well the disciples

plucking grain along our life path. For, Eucharist is first and foremost food and drink;

spiritual nourishment and sustenance this Sabbath and every day.

Corpus Christi processions may be a thing of the past in most places. Controversies

over transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and the metaphysics of the sacraments

are of interest to few nowadays but theologians and Church historians. But the

Eucharist remains. It is not magic. It is mystery, the mystery of faith made alive upon

our altar. It is Christ’s blood Body given for us. It is his Blood shed for us. As grains of

wheat are brought together in bread and grapes in wine we share, so are we, the

People of God, brought together in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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