The Body of Christ

Last week I wrote here about the importance of an embodied faith. This belief, that God makes himself known to us in a direct and personal encounter, is central to the Christian tradition.

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Since then, the Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Commnunion, also known as Corpus Christi, has taken place. Corpus Christi means ‘Body of Christ’, a phrase which has three distinct yet inseparable meanings. The Body of Christ is, first of all, the physical flesh and blood of the man Jesus. This is the life of God’s own self made present in human history in a unique event, the union of the divine and the human natures in a specific person.

The second meaning of ‘Body of Christ’ also refers to the life of God’s own self made present in human history, this time in the way that we encounter ‘in the breaking of the bread’. The eternal, risen life of Christ is offered to the world in the Eucharist.

The third meaning of ‘Body of Christ’ refers to another way in which the life of God’s own self is made present in human history – the Church. We are the Body of Christ. We are the people who are called to be the focus of personal encounter with God.

Quite obviously this is something that cannot be achieved in the way that one might set about organising a holiday or building an extension. To be the Body of Christ requires an act of God in us, and it is here that the three meanings of the phrase come together. The life of God made present in the world in the man Jesus, crucified and risen again, and offered to us in the Eucharist is what makes us the Body of Christ.

In my early days as Vicar of St Nicholas I tried a few times to keep the Festival of Corpus Christi. There was little appetite for it! This reflected, I think, the fact that it has not been a significant part of the tradition of the parish in living memory. I don’t say this to scold. The liturgical expression of Corpus Christi is vital to the spirituality of some, but not all, Christian people. But it is important for every Christian person to reflect prayerfully on these deceptively simple words, the Body of Christ. We hear them when we receive Holy Communion, applied to the sacrament. We hear them at the introduction of the Peace, and in our Bible readings, applied to ourselves.

Again, to be the Body of Christ requires an act of God in us, and that act is, I believe, principally brought about by the Holy Communion. This is how we are made and remade as the Body of Christ. This is how, in turn, we are able to fulfil our calling to be people and communities where the world can encounter God’s own self.

May God bless you all,