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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

After the 50 day feast, the search for meaning goes on

Agape feast, from the catacombs of St. Priscilla
So we finally finished Easter and began Ordinary Time as we finished the feast of Pentecost back in May, and since have celebrated the two feasts of the Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of the Lord. I know I already wrote about those feasts, but I had one other thought that sort of covers both of them, and I thought I’d share it with you.

My thought last Sunday was this: after reflecting for 50 days, a perfect week of 8 Sundays on the paschal mystery of Jesus, these two feasts of Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ seem to me to be asking us to ask the angelic question from the first chapter of Acts: Why are you staring up into the skies? In the feast of the Holy Trinity and in the feast of Corpus Christi, we are asked to look outward at one another (“blessed are the people you have chosen”) and back into the nature of God, to try to grasp the depth of the paschal mystery. This great mystery, made flesh in Jesus, reveals to us what God is really like, and reveals to us what we are really like, to help us discern what is really living about ourselves, and what life-like counterfeits are really just death in disguise.

It seemed to me, thinking about the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, that there was so much possibility in preaching about the feast that never got touched on. Part of it, of course, was that the readings in Year B are unusual with their central image of blood, though it is a good reminder both of the necessity to deal with the reality of sacrifice and, concomitantly, to understand that “when we eat the bread and drink of the cup we proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus until he comes.” (1 Cor. 10) The central issues, it seems to me, are that Christ is Lord of the living, his sacrifice is worship of the living God; and furthermore that the meal that is shared in memory of Jesus, though calling to mind in a certain sense the Last Supper and the Passover, also is a remembrance of the whole table ministry of Jesus. It was the life he lived, from the center of which his table ministry radiated belonging and forgiveness, that landed him in hot water in the first place. Certainly, from one point of view, his willingness to share and practice of sharing table-fellowship with the “untouchables” was a crime that lead directly to his death. His insistence on freedom, on love above law, and mercy above sacrifice, these attitudes are all subsumed in the sharing of food with those whom the law and its proponents saw as outside the realm of divine favor. The table-ministry of Christ and of his disciples, certainly made abundantly clear in Acts in the dream of Peter in the story of the journey to the house of Cornelius, is directly in contradiction to such an attitude.

Agape feast, from the catacombs of St Domitilla, Rome.
Trinity Sunday invited us to see our whole experience of Christ as dead and risen, as executed as a criminal but alive by God’s acquittal, as a picture of what God really looks like. To baptize the world “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is to baptize the world in the paschal mystery, in the mystery of agape, of surrender, of love that seeks no reward but only the better life of the other. This seems foolish and suicidal to us sometimes; our watchword since the eighties seems to be “take care of yourself.” The paschal mystery doesn’t deny that at all; it simply suggests that somehow we take care of ourselves by loving other people. Jesus put it simply, in the form of a paradox: “The person who wishes to find self must lose self, take up the cross, and follow me.”

So the feasting is over for now, though it continues every Sunday when we gather as the Body of Christ to be made more perfectly into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, the life of God poured out in agape upon us and all that we bring to the table of Jesus. Movers and shakers, losers big and small, all are welcome at the table of the one whose glory is to be among those who aren’t invited anywhere else, along with the rest of us elites who have the illusion of entitlement, upward mobility, and places at the left or right hand of an emperor. Surprise! the party is with the waiters in the kitchen.