29th May 2016 (Corpus Christi)
The first reading is a snippet (14:18-20) from the legend of Abraham in the book of Genesis. Abraham has fought a brave battle to rescue his cousin Lot and all of his tribe from an enemy’s control, then the character called Melchisedek appears on the scene from nowhere and sets out a meal of bread and wine and says a blessing for Abraham and praise for the Most High God. The name Melchisedek means ‘my king is righteous’ and we are told that he is king of a place called Salem (perhaps the same as Jerusalem), and that he is a priest of the Most High God. Then he disappears from the scene. However his name comes up just once more in the Old Testament, in the psalm that we have after the reading (number 110); it is a ancient psalm from the coronation ceremony of the Israelites and it proclaims the king as a priest for ever; this is different from the regular priests who were only from the tribe of Levi, for the king was most probably from the tribe of Judah. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews (chapters 5,6 and 7)) is the only other place in the Bible where Melchisedek is mentioned and there it speaks about Jesus as the one and only priest forever who also was not from the tribe of Levi.
The second reading is the earliest written account we have of how the early Christians regarded the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26). Paul is writing about the year 50 AD and refers back to what he himself had learnt from Christians’ earlier. The records of the Last Supper in the Gospels are written nearly twenty years later and, though also based on tradition handed down, would have been further affected by the way the local communities actually celebrated it. We should perhaps note that the word ‘body’ in the language of Jesus referred to the whole human being with an emphasis in the way the person presents himself; rather how in our language we might say of a crowd ‘there were fifty or so bodies there,’ or how the word appears in our compound words ‘somebody’ and ‘anybody;’ it means the whole person not just the flesh and bone. It is more understandable to us that the word ‘blood’ refers to the life of the person not just the liquid that pulses round one’s system; and here it is associated with the covenant which in the Old Testament was sealed with the sacrifice of an animal – spilling its blood. But this is the New Testament and refers to the life of Christ which was spent for the love of others right up to and especially by His death on the cross (when He gave His life – spilt His blood). This should be a memorial to us both of what He does for us and of how we, His followers, should be living.
The gospel is from Luke (9:11b-17), the story of the feeding of a multitude with a few loaves and fish. The crowd are enthusiastic followers of Jesus, but they have the notion that he is the Messiah who will free them from the Romans who rule their land, will set up their nation as the ideal kingdom and they will be great – great in political and all too human terms. But this is not who Jesus is. The event shows up the inadequacy of the disciples when left to themselves. The way it is told it harks back to events in the Old Testament; the wanderers in the desert were without food but God supplied the manna, which was to them miraculous bread from heaven; there were other similar miracles through the prophet Elisha (2 Kings chapter 4). For the earlier Christians the story would have made them think of the heavenly Banquet at the end of the world, which they thought was close at hand; but Luke realised that the End was not near, rather that Christ was with the churches in their lives and in their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper; like the disciples in the story, they might feel inadequate but with Christ all things are possible.