The designers of the format of the Western Catholic Reporter merit a goodly measure of credit in their choice of the name for this column the Word Made Flesh; even if on occasion the title may have an ironic, if unintended quality. (Did these planners enjoy its twin treasures of reverence and humour?)
Oft-times, a search of the selections for a Sunday finds the vulnerability of the "flesh" exposed, inasmuch as the message developed in the several passages leaves the reader bemused, elbow on arm of chair, finger stroking jaw line, distant look in eyes and a clear unspoken sentiment, "Now what lesson do I discern herein?"
So it came to me pondering the readings for this Corpus Christi Sunday until the prominence of the word "covenant" declared itself. It marks a climax in each of the three main readings.
'I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.'
A "covenant is a solemn agreement that is binding on all parties" so the dictionary tells us. The Psalm puts its definition sublimely, in behavioural terms: "What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?"
The passage from Exodus in the First Reading registers the covenant between the Lord and the people of Israel. In response to Moses' reading of the words given him by the Lord, the people say, "All that the Lord has spoken, we will do, and we will be obedient." Such power that covenant has - it plays a part in the intricate politics of the Middle East to this day.
As a sidelight, the First Reading from Exodus reveals a measure of a fastidious nature; my 21st century attitudes cause me to recoil at the thought of the experience of the sprinkle of the blood of sacrificed oxen, its symbolism as an act of purification notwithstanding.
Making due allowance for the change in times, we recognize the depth of the meaning of this primitive activity. Perhaps, as the clever modern day rejoinder puts it, "You had to be there."
But witty put-downs won't do. The excerpt from the Letter to the Hebrews in the Second Reading puts another light on the matter. It seems the author of the letter might have drawn on his memory of the words from Exodus when he says that Christ makes his claim on redemptive powers, not through the sacrificial blood of goats and calves, and he might have said oxen, but with the sacrifice of his own blood. We can see that a new reality has replaced symbolism.
The Gospel reading makes the point indelibly as we come upon the drama of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus says "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many."
The use of the word "covenant" by Jesus in this setting brings us back to the question of the Psalm, "What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?"
Like the psalmist, we ask, "What must I do as my part of the eternal covenant declared by Jesus?"
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)