by Eileen Markey
I love that our story has God become flesh. I love that partaking of that flesh is the central ritual of our faith. This week’s readings celebrate Corpus Christi – the solemnity of the body and blood of Christ.
It doesn’t seem difficult, at least in a general sense, to conceive of a God that is spirit, an animating energy, the magnetism that keeps the planets spinning. But a personal God like Yahweh, a God who is interested in us is revolutionary. This creator of the universe wants to know us? Little old me? And in Christianity this God takes on the body of a human, walks with us, scratches his nose, feels hunger and touch. Christ shared this experience. The Incarnation and Eucharist give us so many ways to grow close to God. Instead of rejecting our bodies, being shamed by them or trying to escape them, we should delight in them. The story of Christ inviting us to share in His flesh is a second blessing of the physical world (the first is in Genesis).
As women particularly we know how complicating physicality is. Throughout history and today our bodies are so often contested, adjudicated, objectified and condemned. But knowing that Christ’s physicality was central to His mission, indeed that Eucharist is directly about flesh, feels very freeing to me. I tend to think about Eucharist as being about community and eating. Jesus revealed Eucharist at the last supper, the apostles recognized Him on the road to Emmaus when they ate with him. The Mass is really a stylized communal meal. I think of eating with friends or family as a holy thing, a place where God is certainly present. And indeed Corpus Christi is about Eucharist in those ways, about this incredible sacrifice Christ makes and the miracle by which in joining with others and making peace we experience God’s flesh and blood. But maybe we can also focus on the pure embodiedness of it. In living a physical experience we are drawn close to God. This is holy. This hunger, this touch, this eating, this caress, is infused with the divine.
Christ as flesh and blood, covenant and sacrificial lamb is, like so much in Christian testament, a continuation and echo of the Hebrew testament. The first reading tells of early stages of the Israelites’s relationship with Yahweh. Moses goes to speak with God and returns to the people with a set of rules – the Ten Commandments. This is the original covenant, the bind between Yahweh and Yahweh’s people. The Ten Commandments, along with the code of Hammurabi and other early texts, are the foundation of civil law, too. These Ten Commandments are relational, they are telling these hapless Israelites how to live as civilized people: “Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t covet your neighbor’s ass (her flat stomach maybe, but not her ass).” So in God’s early interactions with our spiritual ancestors God is drawing people to each other. And in following God’s commandments to treat each-other with justice they are drawn closer to God. The first reading emphasizes the enormity of Moses being able to see God and still live in an interesting way that underscores the importance of food -our carnal experience; “After gazing on God, they could still eat and drink.”
The Gospel message does the same thing. It’s the Holy Thursday story. Jesus tells his friends to prepare for a communal meal. In offering them the transubstantiated wine, he says “This is the blood of my covenant.” So He becomes both the covenant itself and the sacrifice. In the first reading the Israelites offer animal sacrifices to Yahweh to show their fealty. In the Christian testament Jesus is the sacrifice.
My family is camping this weekend with a few other friends and five children all together. Parenthood and camping are both so much about bodies. We’re cooking and eating together, keeping track of the children’s nourishment as they hike and run and swim. We’re in a state forest in Southern Massachusetts, enjoying the beauty of woodland creation, the fireflies, the lush trees, the rushing brook (and not enjoying the mosquitos). We feel the soft pine needles under our tents, hope not to be woken by rain tonight (it always rains when we camp). Camping with other families puts you in such close contact with your companions. You’re witness to all the teeth-brushing and bedtime rituals and eating habits. This is what Christ called us to: dining on life as community, savoring Corpus Christi through eachother.
Last night my five year old son Owen woke up in the tent he was sharing with his friend Shoshana. One of her mothers (she’s got two) tenderly picked him up and carried him across the darkness of the campsite to the tent my husband and I were in. We lay him down inside my sleeping bag, a warm, sleep-heavy little child body. As I put my arms around him and felt his breath on my face, I think I glimpsed a bit of what Yahweh feels for Yahweh’s people. I think I understood a bit better what it means that God became flesh; these bodies are holy.
Eileen Markey is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, City Limits, National Catholic Reporter, BustedHalo, Commonweal, The Cambodia Daily and other publications.