Omnibus Benediction: A Corpus Christi Sermon by Marilyn McCord Adams


Corpus Christi 2012


Today’s worship is all about real presence, mutual recognition and commitment.  For starters, we observe the medieval feast of Corpus Christi (transferred from the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday), instituted as an occasion to give special thanks for the rite of Holy Eucharist, in which Christ becomes really present to us and nourishes us with his Body and Blood.  To this, we will add a modified version of the medieval rite of Benediction, which further celebrates the real presence of God-with-us.  Benediction was invented as a spiritual exercize, as a way of stretching our demand for real presence to match the extravagance of God’s initiative, as a means of rooting assurance and gratitude deeper in our hearts.


Truth to tell, Godhead cannot help being really present.  God is the Source of all being.  Nothing could be anywhere any time if God were not there then.  Likewise, God is the Source of all activity.  No creature could do anything without God alongside, working together with it.  For human beings this means that–recognized or not–indwelling Godhead is our inner teacher, hovering over our psyches, drawing out our capacity to be personal, spiritual, creative in the image of God.  Inevitably, really present Godhead is the surround in which we live and move and have our being.  Put otherwise, the whole creation, we ourselves are God-infested, long before we recognize it, whether we like it or not!


By the nature of things, God would have to be really present to anything God made.  God makes us in this world for life-together, because what God wants is to be really present to us!  God-with-us is a necessity, but quality life-together requires us to recognize that we are together, to wake up to the fact that the presence surrounding us is personal, once again, that God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being.


God knows, God is everywhere!  But everywhere is hard for us to pay attention to.  For us to notice, God has to come out of the closet, to show Godself somewhere in particular.  God knows, God is very, very big, and we are very, very small.  God knows, Godhead is Spirit, but we are embodied.  A multi-media approach will be required for us to get acquainted, to grow up into an appreciation of who God is and how God loves.


The bible’s God appears to patriarchs, prophets, proto-disciples, yes, at times to us, in “wow” experiences that leave us stammering and blow our minds.  Creation may be God-infested, but the One Whose presence saturates it, utterly outclasses it, is infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  “Wow” experiences are edifying, because they re-size our sense of Reality.  But naked Divinity is too scary to be a steady diet.  To foster personal relationships with us, God will have to show Godself in other ways.


Christmas celebrates how God loved the world enough to want to become part of it.  The Word became flesh, God the Son took a human nature, the better to meet us on our level, God-with-us as a particular human being.  The first disciples were able to traffic with God, embodied-person to embodied-person.  Christ their teacher on the outside worked to educate them to a point where they could begin to recognize and intentionally work with Godhead on the inside.  God-with-us, sharing our human condition, for better for worse, come hell or high water, is meant to convince us that the “bigness” of God is on our side.  Usually, Christians begin to believe that God is friendly, because God was friendly enough to become Jesus, and Jesus is our friend!


Jesus is God attracting, without being too scary to hold, our attention.  We get familiar with God by reading the stories of Jesus over and over again.  All the same, if the Word remains flesh eternally, Jesus’ cradle-to-grave career was limited to thirty or so years in the first century.  It’s easy to feel that the first disciples enjoyed an advantage that we don’t have: of being really present, embodied-person to embodied-person.  Corpus Christi celebrates how Holy Eucharist is one way God meets this need.  In the middle ages, the Western Church became convinced that at the consecration, the Body and Blood of Christ come to be really present where the bread and wine were and still appear to be.  Not only is Omnipresent Godhead located on the altar, Christ’s Body and Blood, the very one that Mary bore, is present there in particular.  To be sure, we don’t see Christ’s Body as Christ’s Body.  But it is still a way for Christ to be really present to disciples concretely, embodied-person to embodied-person.  Like British subjects crowding London streets or the banks of the Thames hoping for a glimpse of the queen–we can see and approach where Christ’s Body really is.


The medieval Western Church tried to prolong this advantage by consecrating and reserving extra.  The consecrated host was placed into a piece of liturgical hardware known as a monstrance:  “look here, focus your attention on where the Body of Christ, Christ embodied, the Word-made-flesh by whom all things were made, the very One who walked the earth and suffered–look here, where that One is really present to you!”  God is everywhere, but concrete focus is more convincing than philosophical discourse.  Godhead is really represent on the inside.  But it can be easier to relate person-to-person with someone really present on the outside.  Anyway, we are embodied persons, hard-wired for sensory bombardment–smells and bells and visual focus–to stir our affections and fire our hearts.


The rite is called “Benediction” by association with the “Divine praises.”  “Blessed be God!  Blessed be God’s Holy Name!  Blessed be Jesus, truly God and truly human!  Blessed be the name of Jesus!…”  We “act out” what we mean to be to one another.  Mutual blessing is what God creates us for.  God blesses us with really present Godhead.  We return the favor: really present humanity blessing God back!


Really present Godhead is multiply located.  Liturgy makes us dizzy trying to teach us to make the connections by zooming out and in and out again.  Zoom out: God Our Creator is everywhere.  Everything is a site of really present Godhead.  Zoom in: God is really present in Jesus Christ.  The Body of Christ is really present in the sacrament of the altar.  Zoom out: God appears to Moses in the burning bush.  God Incarnate appears to the disciples embodied person to embodied person.  Holy eucharist hands over the really present Body of Christ under forms of broken bread.  Zoom in: You are a site of really present Godhead.  Really present Holy Spirit has always hovered over your psyche, willy nilly.  In Holy Eucharist, we take the Body of Christ into our mouths and swallow It down our throats, to “act out” the truth that Godhead really present on the outside–everywhere and always but specially Incarnate in Jesus–is the same as Godhead really present on the inside of each and every one of us.  Our calling is to grow in the knowledge and love of really present Godhead, yesterday, today, all the days of our lives.


Zoom out!  There is more!  The really present Godhead that indwells you is the really present Godhead that indwells me is the really present Godhead that indwells each and every human being.  Each and every human being is a site of really present Godhead.  God aims for us to recognize each and every person as a temple of Holy Spirit.  That’s why degrading any human being amounts to blasphemy!


There is still more!  None of us can help being a site of really present Godhead.  God, our Creator, ever resourceful to make a virtue of necessity, works incessantly to draw us into such co-operation with live-in Godhead that we become recognizable to others as sites of really present Godhead.  Think of Archbishop Tutu or the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King!


There is still more!  God’s aims are social.  Just as Jesus’ human personality was in synch with the Father in all that he did and said, so really present Godhead is working in each and all to win our cooperation, the better to coordinate us into a body-politic.  We are Christ’s Body by analogy, to the extent that we, individually and together, go along with God’s program, do what Christ calls us to do and say what Christ calls us to say.  Individually and together, live-in Godhead labors to convert us into a concrete focus that will wake others up to who God is and how God loves.


So today, we celebrate God-with-us, really present in many ways and places.  Traditional Benediction was content to place a consecrated host in the center of the monstrance: the Body of Jesus really present on the outside dressed up like bread.   Today’s “Omnibus Benediction” goes further.  At the offertory, we will place in the slots rolled up pieces of paper on which we write the names of people and situations that we regard as a blessing, and of people and situations on which we want to call down God’s blessing.  When Lisa moves the monstrance in the sign of the cross, we “act out” how we are blessed, not only by Godhead really present under forms of bread, but by Godhead really present in all those we have named.  God created us to be blessings to one another.  Saying the Divine praises, we acknowledge this, and pledge ourselves to be blessings to them.


The Reverend Marilyn McCord Adams