Unthinkable, impossible, outrageous!

I guess we all know Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at the centre of a long narrow table with a white cloth, in a vast and grand Italian room. Six disciples sit on either side. He has just said those dreadful words “One of you will betray me” and the twelve seem to recoil from him in horror, leaving him somehow isolated - still and composed - the light from the window behind his head shining like a halo, while the disciples are in semi-darkness. Around him there is is utter consternation, bewilderment, distress. They remonstrate, they argue. What on earth can he mean?

Of course it did not look like this; it is Leonardo’s imagination. But consternation there must have been. They loved him; who could betray him? But this was not the only cause of consternation that night in The Upper Room. He’d already shocked and confused them by kneeling to wash their feet like a common slave…. you will remember St Peter’s protestation. “You will never wash my feet!”.

And worse was to come. Those twelve men were devout Jews: they knew what to expect.  They had celebrated the Passover meal every year of their lives. This was an ancient and holy rite, its ceremonies completely safe and predictable, the words familiar from their mother’s knee. Of course it was special and sacred,  this annual commemoration of the great liberation Moses had wrought as they passed over the Red Sea from captivity to freedom. But is was also ordinary. Jesus takes bread, blesses it and breaks it, just as the head of every household did that night. But then he adds new words, the words “This is my body”. What on earth can that mean? He takes a cup of wine and blesses it – they had seen it a hundred times. But then he adds “This is my blood”. Jesus broke not only bread but he broke the most set and sacrosanct ceremony of their religion. It was certainly confusing.

What is more, his words were in themselves so dreadful. Flesh to eat and blood to drink? Unthinkable, impossible, outrageous! – a violation of all their faith taught. Yet Jesus tells us that, however inexplicable it may seem, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of God and drink his blood you have no life in you”. Here was indeed a pass-over  …from the old to the new, from captivity to the safety of the known to the liberty of adventure.

Down the centuries the theologians have tried to explain this mystery of Christ’s Real Presence with us.  They’ve dreamed up great theories and long words – transubstantiation, consubstantiation, transymbolism – to tell us how  it happens. Such words are an attempt to tame the mystery. And we ordinary people prefer the mystery tamed. We want comfortable, predictable, words – the familiar, undemanding, safety. We want Jesus locked up, not only behind the door of the tabernacle on the altar, but behind the locked doors of our minds.

But in fact our God is a dangerous, adventurous God, the mysterious God …… unpredictable, uncontainable….the God who’s always ahead of us.

And that is at least part of what our Corpus Christi  procession is about. God leading us onward, We will take Jesus in the Holy Sacrament outside the church building – or, rather, Jesus will take us outside. We go, with Him, into the dangerous, hostile, suffering world; the world of sadness, loneliness, and despair – the world of broken relationships, of problems and pressures - the world which seems pointless and  living worthless – the world which so needs his saving peace and love. For the amazing, wonderful, almost terrifying truth is that Christ has no hands now but our hands, no feet but our feet, no lips but our lips.

The last words of every mass are among the most important words of the service: “Go, it is the sending forth” or “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. In a sense we came so that we might go. So let our celebration today be not only rather jolly ceremonies but a renewed commitment to Jesus’s double command “Do this”, and then the command “go”. However disconcerting, however mysterious, however  demanding, you, my brothers and sisters, are to BE corpus Christi in South Lynn, the Body of Christ in this place.