In my homily last week, I said that the Sign of the Cross is such a familiar and often said prayer that it is rare that we think about what the words mean and what they say about the Holy Trinity. This week, as we celebrate Corpus Christi, I wonder if the same thing is true about the Eucharist. We receive Communion every time we attend Mass but is the frequency and ease of receiving this gift such that it has become ordinary almost, making us forget how extraordinary and special it really is?
I like to tell the story of Ross McGinnis on the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. He was born in June 1987 and brought up in Knox, north of Pittsburgh, USA. At the age of 17, he joined the army and two years later, his unit, the 26th Infantry Regiment, went out to Iraq. Ross served as a gunner in a military vehicle, a Humvee, patrolling a notoriously violent area outside Baghdad. One day, a grenade was thrown from a rooftop at the vehicle, and it fell into the hatch. Ross yelled “Grenade!” and prepared to jump out of the vehicle. However, he realised that his four colleagues did not have time to escape, so, making a split-second decision, he threw himself on top of the grenade. The explosion blew the doors of the Humvee, but, apart from Ross, there were no other casualties. In June 2008, Ross McGinnis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour, America’s highest award for valour.
When Ross McGinnis used his body as a shield to protect his friends, he gave up his entire being. When Jesus died on the cross, he too was using his body as the shield to save his friends – that includes us, and the whole of fallen creation. He put his body between us and everything that makes us inhuman, all that brings destruction to the world. It was not just his words that Jesus gave in service, not just the ability to heal, to perform miracles, to teach with authority. He also served through giving up his body, his being, his life. In his body he gave concrete expression to the love of God for us. And in the Eucharist, he gives us himself as real food to build us into his body. This is why the Church, the body of Christ, today celebrates and delights in this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.