[Homily: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Sunday, June 19, 2022]
Before Abram was renamed Abraham (cf. Gen. 18:5), Abram was sent by God into Canaan, where God promised he would be the father of a great nation. Abram believed in God’s promise. In this faith, he journeyed with his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, from Ur to Canaan (cf. Gen 12:1-9).
But Canaan then had warring kings, five were warring against four. Eventually, the five captured the nephew of Abram, Lot, who had meanwhile been living in the Jordan plain; they captured him and seized all his possessions. News of this reached Abram.
With 310 of his household servants, Abram pursued the five kings to rescue his nephew. After a fortuitous battle, Abram won. He brought Lot, his household and his possessions home. A newcomer to Canaan, his victory stunned the Canaanite kings (cf. Gen 14:1-17).
Melchisedek, King and High Priest
At this point, the mysterious figure of Melchizedek appeared. Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem), encountering Abram, brought out bread and wine. Being a priest of God, he blessed Abram:
“Blessed be Abram by God the most high, the creator of heaven and earth!” he prayed.
“Blessed be God Most High who delivered your foes into your hands” (Gen 14:19-20a).
Abram deferred to Melchizedek. He was not just a representative of earthly power, possibly the first of the Canaanite kings. He was a king of Salem, of Salaam, peace. Melchizedek was not merely recognizing Abram’s military victory, but recognizing that he was blessed by God, the creator of heaven and earth. He recognized that it was God who had delivered Abram’s foes into his hands.
The bread and wine that Melchizedek brought out was for a meal. It celebrated Abram’s victory. But it was also a covenant meal, where two parties came together and ate in shared agreement. In shared bread and wine Melchizedek and Abram celebrated God’s decision to deliver Abram’s foes into his hands; they celebrated Abram’s acceptance of God’s power to redeem his nephew, Lot. The covenant was: God’s being for Abram, and Abram being of God; God blessing Abram, and Abram blessing God.
Representing God, Melchizedek blessed Abram. Receiving the blessing, Abram acknowledged Melchizedek as representing the Holy; yielding to his superiority, he “gave him a tenth of his possessions” (Gen. 14:19a).
Jesus, Priest According to the Order of Melchizedek
All this was a remote preparation for another Covenant Meal. Melchizedek’s meal of bread and wine was a foreshadowing of the High Priest, Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:1-10), who would take bread as a real symbol of himself giving up his body on a Cross for our salvation; he would then take wine as a real symbol of himself pouring out his blood from a Cross for our redemption (cf.Lk 22:19-20). The new covenant meal would remotely recall how the Father, in striking down all the first-born males of the Egyptian families who had enslaved his people, passed over the houses of those whose lintels had been marked with the blood of the sacrificed lamb sparing their first-born males (cf. Ex 12:1-36). The new covenant meal would now commemorate the sacrifice of the High Priest, Jesus, on the Cross, whose self sacrifice surpassed the temple sacrifices of the Levitical priests repeated year in and year out, but whose blood of animals failed to atone for sins. The Sacrifice of Jesus offered on the Cross through the Eucharistic meal allowed Jesus in his Death, Resurrection and Ascension to offer his body and blood once and for all times in the Heavenly Sanctuary to the Father as fitting atonement for our sins. (cf. Heb 9:11-28). Marked with the blood of the sacrificed Jesus, the Justice of the compassionate God passes over us sinners. In this context, Jesus’ priesthood was not of the Jewish house of Levitical priests, but of a superior order, that of Melchizedek. In Psalm 110, David spoke of his Lord God saying to his Lord, Jesus, “Take your throne at my right hand, while I make your enemies your footstool… In holy splendor before the daystar I begot you… You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedek (Ps. 110: 1a. 3b. 4b).
Through Baptism, We Participate in the Priesthood of Jesus
Jesus is the High Priest of the order of Melchisedek in whose priesthood we all now participate through our baptism. Today, in Jesus’ priesthood, it may be appropriate to appreciate what we pray after the consecration in our Eucharistic Prayer today:
“Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation,
His glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven,
and ready to greet him when he comes again,
we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”
We are one with Jesus at the Last Supper offering his body and blood for us on the Cross
winning for us in his resurrection reconciliation with the Father.
“Look with favor on your Church’s offering,
and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself.
Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood,
may be filled with the Holy Spirit
and become one body and one spirit in Christ” (Canon III)
In the First Eucharistic Prayer we pray also after the consecration,
“Look with favor on these offerings
and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant, Abel,
the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,
and the bread and wine offered by your priest, Melchisedek.”
And so as we celebrate the body and blood of Christ today
we are not just celebrating bread mysteriously transubstantiated into the body of Christ
and wine miraculously transformed into the blood of Christ;
we are not just celebrating two objects with mysterious religious properties preserved in a hallowed tabernacle before which we are trained to bow, kneel, prostrate ourselves and pray.
Our Lives Included, Transformed, Uplifted
Instead, we are participating through lived faith in Jesus’ eternal and redeeming Sacrifice that profoundly includes our lives. We participate in the Sacrifice offered once and for all times for the forgiveness of sins, by uniting ourselves with him, the High Priest according to the order of Melchisedek, shedding his own blood for our redemption, sacrificing his own body for our nourishment, dying in our dying to sin, rising in our rising to new life, being reconciled to us in our reconciliation with the Father and one another in him, loving us in our loving others in him, encouraging us in our struggles for others in him, and – finally – in preparing ourselves in him and the Holy Spirit as a humble offering of joy and praise lifted up by Jesus to our Loving Father in heaven forever.