Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – The Body and Blood of Christ – 22 June 2014 – It is Our Mystery

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The Body and Blood of Christ A – June 22, 2014 – It is Our Mystery

Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-15,19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

Can you imagine our liturgy being led by people who are hungry and homeless … ministering as greeters, readers, singers and musicians, homilists and presiders?  What prayers and songs would be used? What would holy communion look like? 

Union Theological Seminary in New York City cosponsors a program called  the Poverty Initiative. The movement, whose mission is to build up a social movement to end poverty, is led by the very people who live in poverty. At one of the seminary’s daily liturgies people who live on the streets of New York wrote the prayers, led the worship and gave the sermon. For the people who were there it looked different, it felt different, it smelled different. It was different.

The late Bill Gaffney, who was a long time parishioner and deacon here, once said during a staff meeting back in the mid-1970s, we will never come to fully understand what liturgy is until we invite people living in poverty out there in the streets to come in here to worship with us.

Today is the celebration of the body and blood of Christ. The feast grew out of the eucharistic devotions of the 9th to 12th centuries while communion by the faithful was declining. Looking at the sacred host was more important than sharing it. What does the holy eucharist mean for us today? 

Because we believe the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ how does this liturgy change us?  If ordinary bread and wine can be transformed into the body and blood of Christ why can’t we?

The passage from Deuteronomy recalls how God sustained the tired, hungry and homeless Israelites with water from rocks and manna from heaven. [1] 

 Later, Christians would come to believe that God would continue to sustain them through Christ Jesus and a holy Spirit. Table fellowship would be key.

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul interprets what happened during Jesus’s last meals with his friends. Modeled after Greco-Roman banquets, the meals in Paul’s churches ritualized social bonding. He emphasized the power of the meal to break down boundaries, to create community solidarity. [2] For Paul the eucharistic meal binds one not only to Christ but also to one’s neighbors. [3]  “In the great sacrament of the altar they [we] are joined to Christ Jesus and one another.” [4]

Why do we who live in 48 zip codes come here to worship? The usual answers are hospitality, preaching and music. What if we also said we worship here because it draws us deeper into the life of Christ and the work of this faith community? What if worshiping here inspired all of us to improve our lives, to pay attention to the needs of others, to be with people who are hungry and homeless, to eradicate injustices on earth? 

Today we close this worship center so it can be transformed. Our new space will strongly emphasize our solidarity, our unity in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth. [5] 

 How? All of us will be gathered around the altar table in a circle. Like our tables at home around which families, friends, guests gather, we gather around this altar. It may look like an ordinary table but what happens here is not. It is extravagant and rich with meaning for you and me.

Here in this place this altar symbolizes Christ as the center of our lives. We reverence and respect this ritual table even when it not used for liturgy. We use incense and sacred oil to bless it. We bow to it, we kiss it, we dress it with a table cloth as if to vest the high priest of the eucharist who is Jesus Christ. We set it with candles, plates and cups, real bread and good wine. 

Our enhanced worship environment will help us further understand that we are not spectators at Mass but that we all celebrate this eucharist together with our priests. St. Augustine said it a long time ago. It is our mystery.

The sign on our church says “This Church is a work in progress.” We are not finished yet. The journey began with our ancestors in the desert and continues with us today. At the end of this liturgy some of our members will carry this holy table into our temporary worship space and we will follow. This symbol of Christ will continue to be the altar table from which we are nourished on our journeys.

Over the next few months, while our church is being transformed we can ask, how are we being transformed? Where we pray shapes our prayer. How we pray shapes the way we live.

___

1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press, 1984) Revised Edition. 112-115.

2 Smith, Dennis and Taussig, H.  Many Tables: The Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today. (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001) 69

3 Fuller, Westbrook. Ibid.

4 This Holy and Living Sacrifice: Norms for the Celebration and Reception of Communion under Both Kinds in The Dioceses of the United States of America, Proposed Revision June, 2001. No. 5

5 Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000) 171-172 in Rausch, Thomas. Eschatology, Liturgy and Christology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012) 136

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

4 thoughts on “Homily – The Body and Blood of Christ – 22 June 2014 – It is Our Mystery

  1. Brilliant. Whether we can imagine such a feast, led by “the least” or not, it is what we are called to… and what so much of organized church assiduously avoids.

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  2. I appreciate the historical reminders and the memory of Bill and Union, all part of the story of my life. And a wonderful ritualizing of the changes coming in our worship space. Thank you and I look forward to being part of the community at 11 am Eucharist. Your words are gift.

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  3. What if they said: See how they know and truly love each other in a palpable way! What if they said: See how they tackle issues without fear of reprisals to themselves, instead of what St. Vincent’s gives to them all the time—good music, excellent homilies, prayerful ambiance, well trained Post Conciliar pastoral priests and ministers.

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  4. Wow! This really ties it all together! Together, we are all a work in progress. The spiritual wealth of those who do not have worldly wealth can be a powerful inspiration to all of us.

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