Sunday Sermon for June 2, 2013, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year C
Readings: Gen 14:18-20; 1Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11b-17
In the first reading today we hear about Melchizedek, the King of Salem and Priest of God Most High. Abram comes to him after defeating three kings who had arrayed themselves against Abram; in defeating them Abram was able to take the spoils. Coming to Melchizedek, Abram gives him one tenth of everything he had plundered from the kings he had overcome. Melchizedek offers bread and wine to God on Abram’s behalf and then blesses the Patriarch.
People have often wondered about Melchizedek because he is mentioned only in this passage of Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. Some of the Church Fathers tell us that Melchizedek is actually Shem, the firstborn son of Noah and the only righteous firstborn in the entire book of Genesis. If you look at the genealogies you will note that Shem would still have been alive at the time of Abram and, in fact, he would be Abram’s Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather.
Melchizedek is the King of Salem (peace), the town which would later be called Jerusalem. Of course, this is the place Abraham would go to offer Isaac and the place where our Lord would offer Himself at the Last Supper and on the Cross. Jesus is the King of Peace. The name Melchizedek means Righteous King or King of Righteousness; Jesus is the Righteous One. Of all the people in the Bible Melchizedek alone is called the Priest of God Most High; for him it was a birthright, not an inheritance. Jesus is the Priest by nature, not by birth.
In the Psalm for the day we are told that the Messiah would be a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi; thus he could not be a priest in the order of Aaron. This is why we read in the accounts of the Last Supper and in the second reading today, that Jesus offered bread and wine as Melchizedek had done. Perfecting that ancient offering, He changed the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood.
This is the Covenant of which He spoke at the Last Supper and to which St. Paul refers in the second reading. It is also the covenant of which we speak at every Mass in the words of consecration. This is a necessity because every covenant is sealed in blood. Every covenant also has a sign to remind those incorporated into the covenant of the agreement into which they have entered. For us it is even greater because it is a reminder of who we are because we are defined by this covenant.
Having entered into the covenant at Baptism, there must then be a sign which reminds us of this incorporation. The sign is the Eucharist, but more than being a simple reminder of the covenant, the Eucharist is the Covenant. This is because the Covenant is Jesus Himself. So, He incorporates us into Himself at Baptism and then celebrates that reality, not with a mere sign to remind us, but with the reality of Communion or union with Himself in the Eucharist.
Our Lord, in the Gospel, multiplied the loaves and the fishes and fed five thousand from just a few fish and several small loaves of bread. Perhaps more astounding is that after all those people had eaten their fill, there were still twelve wicker baskets worth of bread that was left over. There are many things that could be said about this, but for our purposes today I want to highlight the point that our Lord can change bread and wine into Himself to feed as many people as wish to receive Him and still have more than what was needed.
So the bread and wine, changed into Jesus Himself, Body, Blood, soul and divinity, the fullness of the Person of our Lord, demonstrates that He has a priesthood that is in the line of Melchizedek and that He has established and ratified a New Covenant which is sealed in His own Blood. Each person who is baptized is a member of that Covenant which is celebrated each time we receive Holy Communion.
It is fascinating to see how God works so mysteriously and yet so precisely. Who would have guessed anything about a man who seemingly comes out of nowhere and is not heard about again in the Scriptures for another thousand or more years. A thousand years after that mention by David in the Psalms the true purpose for Melchizedek is fulfilled. God is working just as mysteriously and just as precisely in our lives to fulfill our baptismal dignity. The best way to cooperate is to celebrate that Covenant by uniting ourselves with Him in the Eucharist as often as possible.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.