Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Is it by chance that we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ on the Sunday immediately following the feast of the Trinity?

Maybe there is something more to it?

There is a famous icon written by the Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev. It is known as the icon of the Trinity.

The icon’s original title was “The Hospitality of Abraham” and was written in 1411. The story of Abraham and Sarah’s generous hospitality to three visitors who came to them by the oaks of Mamre is told in Genesis 18.

An examination of this icon suggests (to me at least) that there is an intimate relationship between the Trinity and Eucharist.

As the icon is written, the three persons are seated around a table in an attitude of harmony and peace; the very lines of the icon create a circle within which the unity of the persons, the manner of their presence to one another, is visible.

At the focal point of the icon there is a cup between them on the table. It is a wonderful use of symbol and suggestion.

The Trinity hints at the Eucharist.

It is as if the divine persons were saying: be one with one another as we are one. (See John 17:21) To make the invitation even clearer, there is an empty place at the table.

We are being invited and drawn into the inner life of the Trinity, to sit at that empty place at God’s table. Jesus is the way; the Spirit is the inner urge to move that way.

“No one can come to the Father unless the Father draw them” (Jn 6:44). Commenting on this in the fifth century, St Augustine wrote: “He did not say lead, but draw. This ‘violence’ is done to the heart, not to the body…. Believe and you come; love and you are drawn”.

Trinity Sunday

Once an earnest young man approached the Zen master and said, “Tell me what God is like.”

“Do you see the sun?” the Master began.

The young man raised his eyes towards the sky, but the Master said, “No, do not look at the sun or you will damage your eyes. Instead, hold out your arm and roll up your sleeve.” The young man did as he was directed.

“Do you feel the sun?” asked the Master.

“I do,” nodded the young man, somewhat mystified.

The Master left him.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a fourteenth century book by an unknown English author.

In the book the descriptive phrase is used, “the work of love”, as the individual’s search for their God.

The author writes “For silence is not God, nor speaking; fasting is not God, nor eating; solitude is not God, nor company; nor any other pair of opposites. God is hidden between them and cannot be found by anything your soul does, but only by the love of your heart. God cannot be known by reason, nor by thought, caught, or sought by understanding. But God can be love and chosen by the true, loving will of your heart.”

Maybe, Trinity Sunday is a reminder to us to find God, “hidden between them”!

The author of the First Letter of St. John writes bluntly, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1Jn 4: 16).

In A.A. Milnes’s book called “Winnie the Pooh, Piglet asks, “how do you spell love?”, to which Pooh replies, “You don’t spell it, you feel it!”

Trinity Sunday is a day to forget the ‘spelling’ and enjoy the ‘feeling’!


Christian Pentecost celebrates the event in which the Apostles “were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost…” (Acts 2:1-4).

Until the 12th century the images of Pentecost presented only the Apostles as gathered in the one room.

Beginning in the 12th century Pentecost images more and more frequently put the Virgin Mary in the centre of the image among the Apostles. Often St. Peter will be on her right and St. John on her left. Her inclusion imitates the pattern set by almost all Ascension images from at least the 6th century. Mary is not mentioned in scriptural accounts of the Ascension, but medieval commentators explained she was there as a type of the Church.

By the end of the Middle Ages her presence is just about mandatory, especially with the development of the Rosary prayer.

The inclusion of Mary transforms the “meeting room” from a ‘man cave’ to a symbol of a true Christian community – that is, gathered around the feminine! As we continue to gather in the process of Synod gatherings, a suggestion I offer is that a statue, or symbol of Mary – of the feminine be centre place.

An image captured in all Christian iconography of Pentecost I have found includes the tongues of fire, one settled on the head of each person present. A close inspection of such iconography shows the flame very near to the top of the head – close enough to get burnt! Also, fire to keep alive needs fuel. Which offers the question, am I prepared to be burnt by the fire of God? Also, what fuel am I prepared to give up enabling the fire of Pentecost to continue to burn?

Artists rarely try to suggest the “mighty wind.” An exception is an illumination in the Berthold Sacramentary (13th century), where allegorical figures at the four corners pour winds from large jars.  The Berthold Sacramentary is an illuminated manuscript that was produced in Weingarten Abbey in the first quarter of the 13th century. Weingarten is a Benedictine monastery. Today it is in the Morgan Library in New York.

The second image is a Champleve enamel plaque from the mid-12thC which depicts only the apostles present. The plaque is housed at The Cloisters, New York, NY.

Ascension Sunday

Ascension Sunday  – that moment when it came time for Jesus the Christ to conclude his earthly ministry and return to his place with his Abba/Father.

I would invite you to reflect on two “other than” paintings of this moment of Ascension.

The first is titled, “The Ascension of Christ” and is by the German artist Hans Suess Von Kulmbach. Painted in 1513, the picture now hangs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

What I find striking is very little of the ascending figure of Jesus, the Christ, is visible – shins and a pair of bare feet! What is in sharp focus is those gathered to farewell Jesus.

Maybe, that is the point of the Ascension story; not the one departing rather those staying!

This is highlighted by the second artwork. Painted sometime in the 18thC  by Hans Stiegler, it is part of a diptych on the North Gallery of the Amandus Church, Freiberg, Germany.

Certainly, more of the person of Jesus the Christ is visible, however, a close inspection of the painting reveals something extraordinary – He is leaving his shoes behind!

The 16th C Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Ávila may provide us with an answer. There is a prayer attributed to Teresa which is printed under the title, “Christ has no body now but yours”. The prayer reads

 “Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Maybe, the shoes have been left for us to fill, and rather than looking skyward, we are invited to step into the shoes of the other!