The Rev’d Armando Ghinaglia
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Feast of Corpus Christi
June 20, 2019
How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? (Psalm 116:10)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am currently serving at a church that uses Rite II for the Eucharist every Sunday. One Sunday earlier this year, the priest-in-charge there asked me what I thought about switching over to Rite I for a season. There was, after all, an east-facing altar, like the one here, that the church had used until a little over a decade ago.
“Why not?” I thought. “It won’t be that different.” But when we got around to it, the next Sunday, I realized something for the first time.
In Rite I and in Rite II, once everything is set up (or close to it) and ready to go, the invitation to Communion usually goes like this: “The Gifts of God for the People of God.”
When I celebrate in Rite II, I recite the optional line afterward: “Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.” And then I proceed to administer Communion with the typical and beautiful words of Rite II: “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”
Rite I, by contrast, has two alternatives to those words of administration. But they’re long. “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.”
If we recited them every time you came up to the altar rail, we’d be here for hours. Still, they’re worth lingering on for a bit, because they reflect something absolutely crucial about how we celebrate the Eucharist.
As a high school student, I remember my French teacher asking the classroom what the English equivalents of “tu” and “vous” were. I raised my hand smartly: “It’s like you and y’all!” That was not the sophisticated answer she was looking for. Silly as it may sound, the difference matters, not just in French or Spanish or other languages, but here, in our own language.
Rite II observes that Christ died for the ambiguous you, the singular you and the plural you. Rite II leaves it to me to decide what the priest means when she says “Christ died for you.” Does she mean that Christ died for me? For some of us? For all of us? I promise I’m not blaming the drafters; it’s not their fault—that’s just how contemporary English works.
But Rite I does something different because it’s able to, using early modern English instead. “Christ died for thee.” The Body of Christ “was given for thee.” The Blood of Christ “was shed for thee.” There is no doubt, no ambiguity, in this phrasing.
Christ died for each and every single one of you.
Christ’s body was given for each and every single one of you.
Christ’s blood was shed for each and every single one of you.
Not just y’all, or the indefinite you or us, or vous or nous.
But you and me individually, whom God knit together in the womb, whom God calls by name, whom God loves more deeply than we could ever ask for or imagine.
And that’s just as true for every single person outside the walls of this church.
The person walking on the streets around us. The person sitting in their car outside.
The person getting ready for a lavish meal. The person looking for shelter, or food, or water.
The person resting quietly at home. The person locked up in a detention camp.
Any worship or adoration of the Body of Christ must start with this fact: Our encounter with the sacrament of his Body and Blood is “not only,” as Thomas Cranmer writes, “a sign of the love that Christians ought to have with one another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death.”
We come before that Sacrament asking ourselves the same question as the psalmist today: “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” For freeing us from the bonds of sin and death?
Note that the psalmist has already given us the answer elsewhere: Repayment isn’t actually possible. “We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life,” we find in Psalm 49. “For the ransom of our life is so great that we should never have enough to repay it in order to live for ever and ever.” We can’t go to God and say, “well, thanks for getting me out of trouble, here’s my money, let’s call it even.” It doesn’t work like that.
And yet the psalmist talks about repayment. If repayment isn’t about executing a transaction where we balance our budget with God, then what does God want from us?
That we may have life, says Jesus—and have it more abundantly. That you and I may receive it as a gift, freely given, just as Jesus indeed gives his body for thee, for you and for me.
And so, Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” For “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
God wills that we come to the altar, to the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, to the marriage supper of the Lamb, not unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.
St. Paul effectively says the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”
All true loves meet in those commands. First, the love of God, as we lift our voices with the Israelites in the wilderness: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And our Lord takes bread and wine and makes them new: “Do this,” he says, “in remembrance of me.” And so we do—and we eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Then, the love of neighbor, as we heed St. Paul’s warning: “Examine yourselves.” Coming to the Sacrament is not enough by itself. There can be no love or communion with God if there is no love of neighbor. As we find in 1 John, “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Christ died for you and me. And Christ died for our neighbors, even the ones we don’t see, even we don’t like.
So we approach the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood with due reverence and deliberation. We pray to God for the forgiveness of our sins. We share the peace with our neighbors. We come to the altar and receive the bread and the wine.
There’s just one last thing to attend to.
As St. Augustine asks:
“When does human flesh receive the bread that Christ calls his own?”
In other words, when do we know that we have been good and faithful servants? That we have done all that the Lord has told us to do?
“The faithful know and receive the body of Christ if they labor to be the body of Christ. And the faithful become the body of Christ if they strive to live by the Spirit of Christ, for that which lives by the Spirit of Christ is the body of Christ. . . . This bread the Apostle sets forth saying: We being many are one body. O sacrament of mercy! O sign of unity! O bond of love! Whoever wishes to live, draw near, believe, become a member of the body, that you may have life.”
How else could we ever repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for us?