His Blood be Upon Us
The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). fr Dominic White reflects on how the Holy Eucharist connects us to God through the sacrificed body of Jesus Christ.
Last Bank Holiday, a friend took me to St. Paul’s Abbey in Jarrow, near Newcastle. This is where the Venerable Bede lived a simple and holy life, as a spiritual guide and scholar, as humble as he was revered. The Saxon church which was part of Bede’s monastery has been incorporated into the existing Anglican church. It’s surrounded by the ruins of the medieval abbey, and a beautiful park, which has a big xylophone that gave us endless pleasure (see soundplay.com). But the most wonderful thing of all was seeing adults and children playing together in the ruins and park, and no one was glued to their phone.
Addiction to technology, the virtual world of the screen, is simply the latest form of an ancient temptation: the desire to escape from the physical world, to escape from our bodies into an imaginary, hyper-controllable world of the mind. And it flows back into the body, as the “perfect” bodies on the front of magazines may leave us unhappy with our own. (These “perfect” bodies don’t really exist, of course – they’re just the product of photo software, and as such are an abuse of both the body and of the gift of technology.) Previous versions of this include treating all sensory pleasures, whether food and drink, sex or art, as more or less sinful or at least worthless; regarding the body as a burden because of its propensity to illness; or regarding the physical world as evil (the position of the Gnostics and Cathars).
All of these positions contain elements of truth: technology can improve our world, and the mind can penetrate realities beyond the physical; food, drink, sex and art can all be abused such that they dampen our spiritual sense and our grip on reality, rather than increase it; a sick body is obviously a burden (and therefore medicine is a blessing); and the Gnostic and Cathar beliefs were in many ways a protest against persecution and social injustice. The Word of God responds to them in today’s feast with a radical spirituality which journeys through the division and separation of body and soul to reunite and transform them.
The sacrifice of cattle offered by the young Israelites in Exodus was a physical, visible sacrifice which brought about a communion with the spiritual, invisible Lord. The people committed themselves to the Lord’s commandments – the structure of a healthy personal and community life. So then they could receive back the life of God in the lifeblood of the sacrifices which Moses threw over them.
Yet there was still a separation, a distance, because the cattle were sacrificed in place of the people. When Jesus celebrated the Passover, he closed the gap. He offers to his heavenly Father not an animal, but his very own self: ‘This is my body, this is my blood.’ And he gives himself back to his disciples his body and blood in transformed bread and wine. We are what we eat: so we are in communion with Christ’s sacrifice, in communion with each other, transformed into other Christs, transforming the world in turn. Body and spirit are reunited as spiritualized matter.
And Christ the High Priest is not glued to a screen of unreality. He has passed through the screen into a “more perfect” sanctuary. As we pass through with him, we die with him to falsehood, oppression and injustice; we do not escape our bodies or this created world, but rather pass deeper into the reality of our physical existence and of the cosmos: into Resurrection.
My friend and I prayed Vespers in the sunshine while children and adults alike played around Bede’s monastery and the park. And I thought that perhaps some of the grace of thousands of Eucharistic celebrations there over the centuries had fallen on those people, grace hidden, maybe quite unknown, yet so visible in a moment of joy and freedom.
His blood be upon us, and upon our children.
Readings: Genesis 3:9-15|2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1|Mark 3:20-35