The Revd. N.J.A. Humphrey
Year C, Corpus Christi with Baptism
1 Cor. 10:1-4, 16-17; John 6:47-58
Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, but in a unique way, for on this day we are also celebrating the baptism of Alyiah Marie Jackson. Baptisms are traditionally celebrated on Pentecost Sunday, but two weeks ago I was out of town at a wedding. So when I looked at the calendar for alternate dates, this one came to the fore because of the logical connection between the feast that celebrates the real presence of the Body of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and the act of Baptism, by which we are sacramentally incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.
In this morning’s epistle, the Apostle Paul makes an explicit connection between our communion in the Body and Blood of Christ, and baptism itself, when he writes, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” Later he continues, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”
It is interesting to note that Paul sees the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea as itself a baptism “unto” or “into” Moses. Just as the people of Israel became one people through their baptism in the Red Sea, we become one Body when we are baptized into Christ.
Paul also recognizes the link between bodies and food. It is not enough to be born and to be baptized. We also need to be fed. It’s worth noting that all three lessons this morning make explicit mention of the “manna in the wilderness” on which the people of Israel fed, and by which they were sustained on their long pilgrimage to the Promised Land. In the context of the feast of Corpus Christi, there is a clear analogy between that manna in the wilderness and the bread of the Eucharist that we proclaim is the very Body of Christ. At the same time, Our Lord himself makes it clear that the food that he provides is superior to the manna of old: “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” Indeed, we are told in Exodus that manna itself would rot and breed worms after only one day if not consumed immediately, whereas Christ’s Body is eternal.
Of course, like those fathers in the wilderness, we too will die. But the point is that through Christ’s death and resurrection we will share in his eternal life, and this sharing begins when we are baptized, continues as we are fed with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and is consummated when our earthly pilgrimage ends and we abide with God for ever.
In the meantime, however, we must be nourished by Christ’s Body so that we can be his Body in the world around us. “You are what you eat,” in the sense that what you eat becomes a part of you. But in the Eucharist, we become a part of what we eat.
When preparing parents for the baptism of their children, I mention that in the past few decades the Episcopal Church in some places has adopted the attitude of the Eastern Orthodox Church towards the relationship between baptism and communion. It used to be that we were much more influenced by the Roman Catholic way of thinking, which didn’t admit people to communion until confirmation or after a period of preparation leading to a “first communion.” But in the Orthodox churches, infants are baptized, chrismated (that is, confirmed), and communicated all in the same liturgy. So nowadays in the Episcopal Church it is up to the parents to decide whether their children will receive communion immediately upon baptism, following the Eastern tradition, or after a period of preparation, as is the case nowadays in the Roman Catholic Church, or not until confirmation, as was the case for many years. I personally favor immediate communion, based on the notion that we don’t wait for our children to understand nutrition before we start feeding them, so why should we expect them to understand communion right away? Of course, there’s room for a variety of perspectives on this issue, as there always is in the Episcopal Church on pretty much every issue. But the important thing is to take these questions seriously, and to be intentional about how we go about addressing them within the Body of Christ.
And so this morning we welcome Alyiah Marie into the Body of Christ that is the Church, trusting that she will sooner or later be nourished by that Body of Christ that is the Eucharist, so that as she becomes what she eats, she may carry that Body of Christ into the world, and thereby bring others to the knowledge and love of God. Amen.