Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ A – June 26, 2011 – Don’t Fence Us In
Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a, Ps 147;12-15,19-20, 1 Cor 10:16-17, Jn 6:51-58
Some of you here might remember Cole Porter’s 1934 song, “Don’t Fence Me In.”  The cowboy in the lyrics wants to be turned loose under the Western skies. No one likes to be fenced in, shut out or denied the right to move about freely; not a cowboy, not you, not me, not even a female fox. A female fox?
In the opera by Janacek, performed this past week by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, The Cunning Little Vixen is a female fox — a feminist female fox at that. Caught by a forester, she simply refused to be fenced in. After escaping her pen she encourages all hens to liberate themselves from a greedy rooster.  This cunning fox meant trouble for those who captured her.
This magical Doug Fitch production is an example of conductor Alan Gilbert’s commitment to reinvent American orchestras. However, what, you might ask, does “The Cunning Little Vixen” have to do with our celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ?
Today’s feast has roots in the middle ages, during philosophical and religious debates over how bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood. Interestingly, the very early Christian church was not preoccupied with such details. They remembered, as they gathered for a holy meal, that God’s work continued in them through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and in concert with the mission of Jesus. That’s how Christ remained present.
The scriptures we heard this morning do not use words like transubstantiation to explain how the body and blood of Christ becomes present to us today. In the first reading we heard about a hungry, thirsty and often petulant people who themselves were fenced in … in a parched desert. The story suggests that God rescued them with food and water from heaven. The readings from Paul to the Corinthians and the gospel of John imply that the bread and wine we share during the liturgy are also from heaven. Whoever shares in the real presence of Christ will have eternal life. So, aren’t you glad you are here this morning?
Today’s solemnity gives us an opportunity to ponder a mystery similar to but different from the Trinity. Can we imagine that the presence of Jesus Christ, like the cunning little vixen, simply cannot be fenced in? No definition can fully explain such a mystery of faith. Yet, because of our own curiosity and, perhaps, the grip that medieval theology still has on us, we tend to confine the real presence of Christ only to the elements, the bread and wine, we share at Mass and then reserve in our tabernacles.
It is helpful to remember the body and blood we share do not primarily refer to things but to a person and to an event.  As scholar Herbert McCabe writes, the bread becomes the body of Christ which is the kingdom (kin-dom) of God.  When you and I celebrate the Eucharist we are in a process of marching to and becoming identified with that kingdom.
In other words each one of us constantly becomes Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood for the world and, like Christ, we cannot be fenced in. Our prayers are not only for the transformation of our gifts of bread and wine but also of ourselves. As we are nourished and united by our sacrament we can feed and free others. We provide hope and possibilities for people locked out of jobs, for hungry and homeless children, for those with debilitating diseases, for gays and lesbians still confined by cultural climates, for people in the Middle East deprived of liberties, and for ourselves imprisoned by our own lack of self confidence as a church.
Alan Gilbert’s choice to present this fanciful opera was an example of his desire to reinvent the American orchestra. He took a risk to make the orchestra more versatile, to make it more attractive especially to younger audiences. When I heard this opera the other night I thought — how can we reinvent the church and our liturgy to be more versatile, more hospitable and attractive to people young and old alike? Are we willing to take a risk? This is the question for us this week. How do we re-imagine ourselves as the body and blood of Christ?
1 Lyrics by Robert Fletcher
2 Tommasini, Anthony. “An Impish Creature That Won’t Be Fenced In” in New York Times, June 24, 2011, C1.
3 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. Pp. 112-115
4 McCabe, Herbert. “Eucharist Change,” in Priests and People 8 (June 1994) 220 in Mitchell, Nathan, Real Presence: The Work of the Eucharist (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications) 1998, 220.