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The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

He Hungers to Love Us

Both the second reading and the Gospel for today's feast relate to food as it bears on the community we form with one another and the Lord.

We are given Luke's account of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus made them welcome by what he spoke, and his healings. Then came an astonishing initiative. 'The day began to decline'; the multitude stayed on, though, in that 'desert place'. The fading light marks the available time for him to provide food and have the disciples distribute it, and then clear up the scraps.

He gives instructions. The disciples have to group them into fifties. Jesus has the few loaves and fish at hand and says the blessing. His hands break them, they are multiplied. Hardly is the miracle in operation than all are fed and filled. To this extent Jesus 'communicates' with them all.

After being presented with so much from his hands, the crowds in this account are not said to have any comment: no gratitude, no acclaim. The miracle ends with the excess collected scraps. This largesse had filled bellies, but hearts and minds seem unmoved. For the crowds this miracle seems to have fallen flat.

The account from St Paul of Jesus's institution of the Eucharist is given within stringent rebuke to Christians for their behaviour when coming together for it. The practice seemingly was for each to bring his or her own food and drink, making the Supper a full meal before the Eucharistic elements were consumed, so that the copious and finer food that some could bring (and would quickly start eating) caused humiliation to the poor.

In this judgemental context Paul gives his only allusion (apart from the crucifixion) to an incident in Jesus's life, and states that 'anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily towards the body and blood of the Lord . . . eating and drinking his own condemnation'.

The custom of 'secular' eating that exercised St Paul has no place today around altars in our churches. Some of us come nonchalantly to holy communion, making it a matter of routine, in which case St Paul's reproof applies in essence to us. But the Lord does want to communicate with us, just as he communicated with the crowd at the feeding of the five thousand.

His body and blood sacramentally present are not primarily for adoration but for usage, to take and eat and drink. Jesus's hunger to give love is expressed by having himself thus for us who reciprocally hunger and thirst for him.

In Mediaeval Latin Lyrics Helen Waddell translates six lines by the poet Radbod, who was Bishop of Utrecht in about AD 900:

Hunger and thirst, O Christ, for sight of Thee,
Came between me and all the feasts of earth.
Give Thou Thyself the Bread, Thyself the Wine,
Thou, sole provision for the unknown way.
Long hunger wasted the world wanderer,
With sight of Thee may he be satisfied.

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