Consolator, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), date unknown; Brigham Young University Museum of Art

Fr Neil’s homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 22 August 2021

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”¹

Moses, in establishing the covenant with God’s people, presents the law — the commandments of God — before them and states, “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you…are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare, that you shall perish.”²

We encounter Joshua in our first reading at the point when they have entered the promised land across the Jordan. As the People of Israel take possession of it, Joshua repeats the need to renew their covenant with God. They have a choice, however: to be faithful to God or to turn their backs on him and the Covenant. He says: “If you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”³

This choice is important because it will shape the future lives of the people of Israel. Their persistent failure to be faithful to the covenant is the disastrous history of God’s chosen nation. To serve God is life; to abandon him is spiritual death. God is the source of life — to reject God is like a man insisting that he does need air to breathe: the outcome is inevitable. Despite this, sin is so perverse that we far too often believe the lie and act as if we do not need God. To reject God is to perform a spiritual lobotomy on ourselves.

In the Gospel reading today we come to the end of a four-week reflection on the central teaching of Christ as the bread of life. The high point of Jesus’ teaching concludes with these words of his, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”⁴

Christ had attracted many followers who were enthralled at the miracles, healings and powerful words that challenged the religious leaders. The question that was on their lips was whether this person was the promised messiah destined to lead God’s people to freedom. The answer, of course, was Yes he was. However, he reveals in his core teaching the extraordinary manner in which God was to fulfil his promise spoken through the prophets.

Salvation and freedom was to be brought about by a process of regeneration, a dying to the fallen world and rising to new life in God. This new life was not limited by the temporal, material world which must end, but is the divine, eternal life brought by God himself. Christ reveals this dynamic profound mystery in his teaching about himself being the true bread from heaven.

It was too much for many to get their heads around and: ‘Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.’⁵

This way of thinking and speaking is of course divine as Christ the Word, who is God, reveals the Father’s will and the mystery of heavenly glory. Their lack of understanding shows the spiritual poverty of God’s people and the misunderstanding of the old covenant. Remember our Lord’s interaction with Nicodemus when he spoke about the need to be born again — ‘Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?”’⁶

The receiving of Christ’s body and blood as the means of union with God was so misunderstood that some of the disciples could not get beyond the image of Christ cutting up his own body. Indeed in the early days of Christianity the Church was often condemned as practising cannibalism. Yet Christ insists that unless we receive his body and blood as the new Passover lamb and atonement sacrifice we cannot be saved.

It is the receiving of Christ in the sacrament of the Mass that enables us to ‘abide in him and he in us.’⁷ This abiding is explored in greater detail in Paul who engages the image of marriage to speak of this divine union⁸. In marriage the two become one flesh united in an intimate union that allows life to flourish. This is extraordinary language to speak about our relationship with God in Christ. This is not just the restoration of Eden but being in Christ so that he can speak of us, his Church, as being his body. It is the uniting with Christ that allows Mary, the Queen of heaven, to be our spiritual Mother, interceding for us with utter motherly care. It is Christ within us that the Father sees and can do nothing but pour out his fatherly care, grace and mercy upon us.

We are confronted with the decision as to whether we are willing continue to follow Christ and receive him with our heart, mind and spirit that will lead either to eternal life or continual alienation. However, demanding though this decision is, one can understand the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”¹

Frankly, what alternative is there? And why would we want anything other than the gift and healing of new life in Christ? Yes, it demands much and may set us at odds with society at large but the rewards are literally everlasting heavenly glory.

¹ John 6:68
² Deuteronomy 30:15
³ Joshua 24:15
⁴ John 6:53 foll
⁵ John 6:60 foll
⁶ John 3:9
⁷ Cf John 6:56
⁸ Ephesians 5:21–32

The editorial title refers to a hymn by Revd George Wallace Briggs.