Thursday, 16 August 2012

This week's Sunday Gospel: Jn 6.51-58

More bread of life!
At a cursory glance, this week’s Gospel, John 6.51-58, looks much the same as the past few doses. Jesus tells us, yet again, that He is the bread of life, the living bread which comes from heaven, not the manna given by Moses but the bread that gives eternal life, yada, yada. You’d think we’ve got the message by now.
But the point of this passage is that by and large, we haven’t. No matter how many times Jesus told his listeners, they really didn’t get the message. And so this time, when Jesus tells them that the bread that He will give is his flesh, they think he’s talking nonsense. “How can this man give his us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus hears them, and answers even more strongly before. He had just told them that they must eat his flesh, using the typical Greek word phagein. But now, in verse 53, reiterating and emphasising, he uses another word: trogein, ‘chew’ or ‘gnaw.’  Most translations just leave it as ‘eat,’ but surely Jesus is using a different word because he wants to make a point: you’ve not just got to eat my flesh, but to chew on it – because, as he says in verse 55, his flesh is ‘real meat.’
This is not to say that the bread of life which we receive in the Eucharist is a lump of bleeding meat just disguised as bread. Whatever you may have heard, no church has ever taught that this was so – indeed, the Catholic Church has always disavowed such an understanding (St Thomas Aquinas pointedly so). But we are called to believe that Jesus’ body is really and truly present in that bread, even if in a way which surpasses our understanding. For it is by eating His real flesh and drinking His blood, as He says in verse 56, that we dwell in Him and He in us.
The paradox is that by consuming Christ, we are simultaneously consumed by Him, and our humanity is thus assumed into His divinity.  So spend a little time before this Sunday’s Mass, if you can, preparing to partake of that living bread, calling to mind those parts of you that you have not yet let Christ consume, and let yourself be drawn ever closer into mystical union with God.

On Anglican dress

So much for those who claim not to be from 'a robed tradition' - that'd be the C of E, then? 

New service: combined Wedding, Baptism ... and Funeral

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Assumption: A second death is superfluous

How much of a mother dies when she sees her own son executed? Enough that a second death is superfluous. This is one narrative aspect of the feast celebrated by the whole Church since at least the fourth century every August 15th and called variously the Assumption or the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The tradition maintains that Mary did not die as the rest of us do. Her son loved her so much that he took her directly into union with Him, granting her instantly the bodily resurrection for which the rest of us must wait until the end of time.
The Church of England never rejected the Feast of the Assumption, but retained it officially as the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And indeed, Mary's importance in the narrative of Christian salvation should not be underestimated. It was she who was chosen to bear the Son of God and raise Him in the faith, and more fundamentally it was by her 'fiat' - her saying 'yes, let it be' to God at the Annunciation - that He could even be born in this world.
Various Protestants have denigrated Mary because of their doctrinal resistance to the idea that human will might play any part in our salvation. In the most extreme case, this led Calvin to deny that we have any free will at all, and so to the perverse doctrine that God has predestined every one of us either for heaven or for hell even before we are born, and there is nothing we can do about it. But the Bible tells a different story. God does not impregnate Mary against her will - there is a word for that, which is not fitting of God - and we are not merely His puppets. It took her human cooperation for the Saviour to be brought into the world.
At the Assumption, we give thanks for the one who willingly took the burden of bringing God into the world and who watched and wept as He, her son, died before her eyes; and we acknowledge her as the one whom God loved as only a son can love his mother, and so brought her soonest of all the saints to his side. 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Good Shepherd - Mark 6

Ah, the Good Shepherd. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, looking after us, his woolly wards. All those chocolate box pictures of our Lord replete with blond curls and somewhat suspiciously effeminate eyes with a sheep draped over his shoulders like some grande dame's ermine stole. Well, all I can to say to that image, is - "baah."

Yes, here in Mark 6, Jesus is portrayed as a good shepherd. Yes, our Lord cares for his flocks, he tends for them and - in the bit the lectionary has cut from the middle of today's reading - he feeds them in their thousands with food of miraculous generation. But! But, the disciples, the people who are supposed to be closest to him, his followers, his church, are not among those flocks.

Think about the story as Mark tells it. It's the other folk who are so eager to see Jesus, the other folk who believe in his miraculous powers, the other folk who are fed and even healed by him. Remember the woman with haemorrages? - 'it was your faith that healed you.' It is the others who have faith in Jesus, the sheep without a shepherd that Jesus comes to teach and save.