Contemplating the Eucharist
I. “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Prophet Isaiah was swept up into heaven in a vision. He stood face to face with God, and you can imagine, trembled from overwhelming awe. I have never been out in the deep sea during a storm, but sometimes wonder what it would have been like a hundred years ago, on a small wooden boat, to lookup and see a wave larger than life just about to break. I imagine this is how Isaiah must have felt when he found himself before God.
Immediately, a Seraphim with six wings swept up a burning coal from the altar. He flew towards Isaiah and touched the prophet’s lips with the coal. Then the Seraphim spoke, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
The Church Fathers have long taught that the burning coal in this vision is a foreshadowing of the Blessed Eucharist. Isaiah merely touched it. We consume it.
In his pre-communion prayer, St. John of Damascus writes, “Let us draw near to Him with burning desire and…let us take hold of the divine coal, so that the fire of our longing, fed by the flame of the coal, may purge away our sins and enlighten our hearts.”
II. A Christian can never contemplate the Eucharist enough.
When Jesus Christ and His disciples gathered at the last supper, our Lord took bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup saying, “Take and drink…this is the cup of my blood, of the New and Eternal Testament, which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.”
You’ll notice, He didn’t say, “This is a symbol of my body,” but “This is my body.”
The Gospel could not be clearer about what the Eucharist is. St. Paul warns that those who take the sacrament without first examining their conscience and living in purity “eat and drink judgment,” some becoming sick and some even dying (I Cor. 11:29,20). I have never seen a symbol do that. God, in all His power and all His might, is with us in the Eucharist.
III. The Eucharist is the most intimate experience that we can know.
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16,17). The Greek word for ‘sharing’ is κοινωνία. Some English translations render this as partaking and others as fellowship. The Greek is far more potent. It means communion in the most intimate and transformative way. Kοινωνία is what a man and a wife experience in a holy marriage of constant self-sacrifice and unquenched love. However, that communion between spouses is merely a hint of the communion between us and God in the act of eating this bread and drinking this blood.
IV. The Eucharist changes us.
Christ says that we drink “unto the remission of sins.”
This phrase is sometimes misunderstood. Our sins are not forgiven at that instant of drinking from the chalice. The Blood of Christ works within us gradually. It’s the yeast that causes the beer to ferment; the inoculation that slowly destroys the disease. This is what St. Ignatius meant, that disciple of St. John in the first century, who called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality.” It changes us. In our Lord’s own words, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). The Eucharist is Life.
Lois Lowry wrote The Giver in 1993, about a dystopia where all the men and women are given shots that dull their emotions. One of the side affects is that everyone sees in black and white. One day, something changes in a boy named Jonas. He has an apple in his hand, and for the first time, sees in that apple a dash of red in a sea of grey. With time, his human senses sharpen and he sees the whole world in color. Sin makes us see in black and white. It makes us blind…stupid. But the Eucharist is our antidote. It sharpens our senses. What was once a grey world and a dead world, has become a world full of color and life.
“We are transformed into His image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).
V. So we gather, once a year, on this great Feast of Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ.
It’s a testimony and reminder of the grandeur of God’s gift to us. We hold up the gift, fix our eyes on it, fall down in adoration, and proclaim it to the world.
This feast is celebrated to the fullest degree in traditional Christian countries. The whole town or city meets at the church, and from there, lines up to process through every block, from home to home, through fields and crops, bearing the Eucharist. In preparation, the streets are blanketed in flowers. The soldiers, police officers, and firemen come in their finest uniforms, the men wear pressed suits and women flowing dresses. The young girls lead ahead, dressed in white and tossing flowers. Around the Priest and ministers, men bear a golden canopy. For hundreds of years, all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, a canopy was held over the throne of a king while He processed through his kingdom. Today, we hold this canopy over the true King of Kings and true Lord of Lords.
VI. Why make such a big fuss over this Feast?
Heaven is in our midst. It isn’t up there somewhere. It isn’t further off in the future, a hundred, or a thousand years ahead. The Kingdom is here now. We only have to take the time now, to open our eyes and start living it.
VII. God revealed Himself in a vision to the prophet Isaiah, and the prophet fell down trembling. God reveals Himself to us in flesh and blood. How one responds is up to you and me.
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture, in the Body and the Blood
He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food. Amen”