Rod doesn’t preach very often at All Saints, but I always love it when he does. He’s a parishiner at All Saints Church in San Francisco and the also the Dean at the School of Deacons in Berkeley. He’s one of my favorite preachers in the Bay Area.
Dr. Rod Dugliss
Corpus Christi Sermon
N THE NAME OF THE HOLY ONE, AMEN. A metaphor for the gathered faithful, here, in this moment and for all our sisters and brothers through two millennia. The Body of Christ–the declared reality of a tiny disc of unleavened wheat, a sip of modest fortified wine. This is the Body that we celebrate this day. It is the body that we are—or are called to be, meant to be. Declaring, “this is The Body of Christ” calls us to a kind of embodiment that is not intended to be a liturgical moment on a Sunday but the naming of our vocation for a radically renewing life in the world. Corpus Christi.
Some years ago, I heard a priest. at the moment of invitation for all to come forward and eat say, “Be what you see. Receive who you are.” It got my attention. It resonated. It was outrageously presumptive, and made a connection for me that I had never made in a lifetime of putting out my hands for the somehow transformed wafer. How is this who I am? Where does she get this stuff? And it also sounded a little bit , you know, new agey, or made up by someone who was bored with the Prayer Book. Maybe it was something I could just gloss over and forget, except I couldn’t. And then someone pointed out that these were the words of invitation used by St. Augustine. Now Augustine has been the source of a ton of grief in the Christian experience, particularly concerning the nature of sin and human sexuality, but in these words, he breaks through to a profound and challenging reality. Be what you see. Receive who you are. Eucharist that is life changing, world changing.
So what do we see? An unexceptional wee disc of approximate bread? The great sheet of Passover matzoth made convenient and crumb free for rapid consumption? Is this what we are? Is this whom we are to ingest and become? Corpus Christi.
We are to see, receive, and become the Body of Christ, not just to satisfy our own piety, or feel more connected to God, but to be renewed as agents of the Holy Reign of God that the Christ teaches, models, embodies, and then hands to us—literally in our hands—so that the world will hear, and know, and be changed.
The poet Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins (left) put it this way.
“I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.”
This is the Body of Christ. This is the cup of salvation. Be what you see. Receive who you are. Bring your guilty brokenness and become immortal diamond—bright and hard, for that is what a sick and suffering world desperately needs. The Eucharistic liturgy is a lovely thing, and here at All Saints it is done so well without being precious or pretentious. But, as with so much in and of the church, the great temptation is for us to be awakened only here, enthralled only here, fed here, and then leave it all here.
In our own Baptism, and those wonderful moments at All Saints when we get to witness Baptism and shout our “we will’s” we affirm that Corpus Christi is all about what we have signed up for:
- To proclaim by word and example, that is through visible action in the world, the Good News of God in Christ; God in the form of the anointed one come to reconcile us across all the divides of willfulness, forgetfulness, selfishness.
- To seek and serve the Christ in ALL persons, loving neighbor as self-to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.
- Be what we see?—the incarnate God ever present to feed, strengthen, and go with us into a waiting world acts of compassion and justice to bring God’s Holy Reign very near.
- Receive who you are: I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am . . . all of what I am, then to be given to, poured out for others.
Easy to say in rich poetry on a Corpus Christi morning. Hard to do, hard to live, hard to make real in the world we inhabit. This past week I had another lesson in just how hard.
Last Sunday I was on my way to a national church meeting when I encountered the two words you never want to hear in the same sentence: weather and Chicago. I had made it from San Francisco to Ohare through gathering thunderstorms, but my flight to Bethlehem, PA was delayed and delayed, and then cancelled. A cheerful voice invited me to the Customer Service Counter to rebook. When I got there, the line was two football fields long—for four harried agents—and snaked down a long hall of a busy terminal. So, for two and a half hours I got to stand, shuffling my carry-on six more inches every five minutes or so, watching hundreds of people walk by. A steady stream of human traffic, every third one on a cell phone, and I said to myself, “look; see the face of Christ in each one these.” Oh yeah.
It took an immense act of will, and my mind and eye wandered constantly, but I kept trying. My first and abiding thought was “ my sheep are lost, and wandering, scattered and without a shepherd.” Where was the Christ, the One anointed to reconcile us all, to bring us all into renewed and vital relationship with the Holy One, in the blank stares, the rank boredom, the supreme inattentiveness of face, after face, after face? And this went on for hours.
I did not despair, but I felt, profoundly, how radical, how audacious, how overwhelmingly challenging is my, our, Baptismal covenant with the maker, redeemer, strengthener. How do I possibly seek and serve the Christ in this guise? How, awash in the world, do I become what I see here at All Saints? It is very hard.
And then, what must it be like to walk along a line of refugees in Darfur? Violated women, gaunt children, a few old or wounded men, each with a bowl for the small portion of gruel or handful of grain that some relief organization has managed to get past the agents of the government of Sudan to keep alive this remnant of a people slaughtered because they are who they are?
Perhaps it would be easier to see the Christ—the suffering servant—in the eyes of these, than in the blank stares of privileged air travelers. But no matter where I am, if I am to take Corpus Christi at all seriously I have to somehow both see Christ and be Christ in every encounter, every situation, with every person in all those places where I live, and work, and worship, and commute, and eat, and walk, and hang out.
Again, Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
. . .
Crying What I do is me; for that I came . . .
. . . for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
Christ plays in ten thousand places. All we have to do is look and see. Hard work. Necessary work. Achievable work. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you….Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”
Be what you see. Receive who you are. To what end? So that the incarnate, embodied, reconciling Christ will continue to have eyes, ears, and hard working and generous hands in the broken world that God yearns to call back into relationship. This can happen in large ways and small. Many leaders of the developed world, our own glaringly absent, and many Christian churches including ours, have embraced the Millennium Development Goals as a concrete way in which the reconciling action of the God incarnate in the Christ can be realized. All Saints has showed itself as more than willing to participate in this expression of incarnation. The MDG project envisioned and launched by parishioners Davidson Bidwell-Waite, Kevin Charette, and Darien Delorenzo—to raise our .7% to build a well for a whole African village, was realized in half the allotted time. One small story of many that I just heard last evening: Fr. Tom Traylor, All Saints’ Pastoral Associate, took to his workplace some of the bowls that were the centerpiece of this initiative, with the simple sign: “Ask Me About These.” People asked. Incarnation occurred.
We can be what see; we can receive who we are and act on it, being Christ for the world. On this feast of Corpus Christi we celebrate this, and then ask afresh, as we must at each Eucharistic celebration—how, this day, shall I be what I see? How will this seeing change me? Who is it that I receive? How will this receiving change something now broken in the world I inhabit? When I receive who I am, what does God expect of me? How shall I reach out in community to others who see and receive so that together, we become more that who we are individually? How shall we be – – Corpus Christi.