Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Sermon Corpus Christi 2016

Genesis 14.18-20
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
John 6.51-58

This is a great feast day, the culmination of the Church’s year. From Advent to Pentecost we have gone through the whole history of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

But we end today. Before the long season of Ordinary Time, the green Sundays that will take us well into Autumn, the church has one last celebration. And we end not with the glorious vision of the Trinity that we celebrated last week, though that is the full revelation of God, but with the Eucharist. We are brought down to earth again: for if the revelation of the Trinity invites us to love, worship and communion, it is the Eucharist that enables us to do those things.

So, we celebrate. There will be the usual extra devotions at the end of Mass today to express our joy. But what is going on in the Gospel reading? Instead of celebration we have argument, dissension, questions: “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

As so often in the Gospels the teaching of Jesus is uncompromising and divisive. He provokes a crisis: once you have encountered Jesus you can’t be neutral about him. He presents his hearers with two possibilities: faith, or rejection. We heard a short extract of John Chapter 6 today, but the whole of that chapter is about these two reactions to Jesus.

It with Jesus feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish; then, he crosses the lake walking on the water. But the people do not understand these signs. These are things that only God can do, but they do not see that God is acting before them in the person of Jesus. They just see a human being who can do tricks. They follow Jesus simply because they want more bread. Jesus, however, wants to offer them the food that endures for eternal life, which only God can give. What is that food? It is Jesus himself.

But the people do not understand, they are scandalised and divided by his teaching. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But Jesus insists, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”.

The crowd are scandalised because they think Jesus is only human, they have not seen that God is acting in him. For an ordinary human being to talk of eating flesh is to talk of death, of cannibalism. It is the diminution of life, not the gift of eternal life.

But there is no death in God. God is life, giving himself continually without being diminished. When Jesus says “eat my flesh, and drink my blood” he speaks to us as the Incarnate Word. He is both man, who has flesh and blood, and God, who alone is able to give his life without being diminished.

Only one who is both God and man can feed us with his body and blood, and so give us eternal life. Only the Word of Creation, by whom all things were made, can take bread and wine and by his word change their nature, so that under those outward signs he gives his body and blood to those who receive them in faith, filling them not with death but with Divine life.

At the end of John chapter 6 some believe in Jesus, and continue to follow him, while others are scandalised and turn away. He asks them, “‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” It is the Divinity of the Son of Man, the Divine nature joined to the human nature, that is the key to faith in Jesus. He is God joined to our human nature in one person, so that we can be adopted in him as children of God.

Faith begins by encountering Jesus, the Lord who is before us, and surrendering ourselves to him. At the end of John 6, “Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”

Faith is a living relationship which means surrendering ourselves and our claims and questions and answers, so that Christ can come alive in us. The questions and answers that he gives us are different. Not our question “how can he do this?”, but his question “will you follow me?”. It is only in and from a living relationship with Jesus we can grasp his meaning, who he is and what he does.

The Church, the people who are in that living relationship, is called into being by Jesus, the God-man, and the source of its life is supernatural. It lives only in him. Grace, the life of the Spirit, comes to us from above, conveyed by the Holy Spirit under sacramental signs. The Eucharist makes no sense unless it is something that God does – not our gathering and action to remember Jesus as someone who is gone from us, but his action to re-member us, to make us anew as his body, living with his life.

The Eucharist is what Jesus does, in and through his Church. In the Eucharist it is Jesus himself, our great High Priest, who offers to the Father his perfect worship, in which we join: his sacrifice of adoration, praise and self-emptying even to death. That sacrifice is shown forth, and pleaded before the Father, under sacramental signs: his body given, his blood shed; but it is the risen Lord in all his glory who is truly present under those signs.

Now we might think, really? Is all that going on, here, today? Is an act of God taking place before us, a thing of supernatural origin and Divine power, effected for and through this little group of people, doing this thing with bread and wine? Well as with the person of Jesus, so with what he does in his church, faith is the key to entering the mystery.

And faith tells us, however unformed our knowledge may be, that here we meet Jesus, and that we need him. Here is strength and power to resist temptation, to grow in virtue, to go out from ourselves in love and generosity, here is bread for the journey and the food of eternal life. Here, as the number of prayer requests we receive testifies, is an intercessory power to move heaven and earth, because here we join in Christ’s own intercession before the Father.

Yes, all this really is going on here as we gather at the altar. This is the summit and source of the Church’s life, the one absolutely necessary thing that we must do, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, simply to be Christ’s Church and to bear his mission in the world. So it is beautifully fitting that this celebration should be the culmination of the Church’s year, and in it we rejoice.

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