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Sunday June 22, 2014
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

A Corpus Christi Procession

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

From childhood to college I was brought up by my parents in the Disciples of Christ Church. The Disciples as they are called are a nineteenth century American protestant ecumenical movement based, as such leaders as Alexander Campbell saw it, on the principle of the early church as seen in Scripture. They claim to eschew doctrinal formularies, substituting instead the saying, “No Creed but Christ.” The overall slant was Liberal Protestant. My memories of Disciples of Christ Ministers are positive – good preaching, intelligent teaching, conscientious pastoral care; presiding over good fellowship, good Sunday Schools and social outreach. The Disciples also have Communion every Sunday – because their leaders realized that weekly Communion was characteristic of the early church.

We had a big new church in Louisville, Kentucky, Beargrass Christian Church. It’s still there. Near where my family sat in the pews was an older, elegant, devout lady. When the “tokens” (as they were called) of small crackers and little cups of grape juice came around through the pews, she would close her eyes for what seemed minutes as she held the elements. I would watch her, then look at the elements in my own hands. And I had my first catholic moment, as I thought, “Jesus, are you in there?”

One day Dad brought home a book called The Elder at the Lord’s Table whichI read with interest. It was a book of guidelines for lay elders on how to preside at the Communion Table. Ordained Ministers did the preaching. Lay leaders, elders like Dad, presided at Communion – the opposite of catholic sacramental order. One rule really got my attention, and it produced a second catholic moment in my soul. The rule said that under no circumstances was the elder to refer to the “tokens” (the elements) as “The Body” or “The Blood” of Jesus. I recoiled, “Why not? Jesus did!”

In high school I began not to want to go to church. I started with simple teenage resistance about Sunday morning. Then I fortified my resistance with skepticism. Dad was not amused. One day he said, “If I have to go to church, so do you.” So I obeyed house rules.

In college, free of parental oversight, I stopped church-going. One day during summer vacation when I was home, the Minister came to visit me – my parents weren’t there. He put the issue to me. I said I didn’t need to go to church. I could look at the sky and appreciate nature and have deep thoughts on my own; listen to good music or read good books instead of listening to the sermons. True, he responded. But then he said, “How are you going to get Communion?” He had me. It was my third catholic moment, and from the lips of a Liberal Protestant!

After I rediscovered my faith as a college junior and senior – when Christ powerfully re-introduced himself to me – I went to church on my own for the first time; and I experienced freedom and discovery. I went to the little Episcopal Church in Greencastle, Indiana, Saint Andrew’s. It was very different from what I had known. There were creeds and formularies in Prayer Books. Out came the Rector and he was every inch – a Priest! He wore Eucharistic vestments. He raised up the Host. He genuflected. In the pews, we didn’t just sit there – we stood, we responded, we knelt, we said corporate prayers, we sat down, we got back up. It was as though we were part of the drama and – God was the audience watching! And for Communion, we had to go up and kneel, and into our hands were put the “tokens,” and they were repeatedly referred to as the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given to preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life. I thought: This is old. They aren’t making this up as they go along. This is – catholic! It was my fourth catholic moment, and it propelled me into the Episcopal Church. Not long afterward the Rector and my New Testament professor, also an Episcopal priest, told me they thought I should be ordained.

What do we mean by the catholic Eucharist? The Anglican/Episcopal tradition defines four things: 1) The Minister is a Priest in the apostolic succession stemming historically from Jesus and the Apostles. 2) The Priest must use the same elements used by Jesus and the Apostles, wheat bread and fermented wine. 3) The Priest must use Jesus’s Words of Institution – “This is my Body; this is my Blood.” 4) Thereby the Sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented and communicated to the faithful in all times and places where the Eucharist is celebrated.

I have celebrated the Eucharist, said or sung, over ten thousand times. This sacramental repetition is never a burden. It is always refreshing. And in this mystery we are what we eat – the Body of Christ.

So the vertical consecration of Corpus Christi leads to the horizontal mystery of Corpus Christi. Reverence and devotion towards the Body of Christ under the forms of bread and wine is equally expressed in courtesy and charity towards the persons who are the members of the Church, which is Christ’s mystical Body.

As I look back with gratitude and consider my upbringing as a Disciple of Christ, I see a providential line of development, a pilgrimage, whose destination is the feast we keep today, Corpus Christi. And Corpus Christi leads to a feast in heaven.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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