Category Archives: This week

The Assumption

There was much apocalyptic literature in the centuries before and after Christ – among the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian and even Indian literature. This literature which is about the development in the world of disasters and troubles expressed in dramatic stories, included those of evil ‘influences’ seeking to destroy the next ruler born to a chosen woman to be mother of the future ruler. Some form of these apocalyptic stories were part of Jewish literature – as also the book of Revelation in the N.T. which used to be called the apocalypse in Catholic bibles, because of its similarity to such literature. Our first reading (from Revelations 12:1-6) for the Catholic feast of the Assumption includes an adaptation of this mythic scenario to the situation of Christianity under Roman persecution in the 1st century to encourage believers in Jesus and his resurrection – a faith that secures them safety in heaven, but how the rest of us, still living in our world, are still threatened by evil. The story could bring to mind the assumption of Mary into heaven – waiting with Christ for the rest of us after our struggles against the evil forces in our world. There are ‘secular’ stories of old about such sort of events.

The second reading (1 Cor 15:20-27) is about the resurrection -life with God after death. The appearances of Jesus referred to chiefly in the gospels, are expressions of risen life after death which through Jesus is open to all – but all sin and deficiencies in us humans are gaps in our relationship through Christ with God. I think Paul like most of the early believers though this completion would come fairly soon for them. Bu, after two millennia we have to realise that we are still working on this i.e. on freeing ourselves and our world from many failings and imperfections. The belief in the assumption of Mary who illustrates this fulfilment drew this passage to the minds of those devising the liturgy for the Catholic feast.

The Gospel that is read this day is from Luke 1:39-56 and it gives us what follows after the story of the annunciation. And it includes the song that she sang when visiting Elizabeth, which is sometimes called the magnificat after the first word of it in Latin. It tells of the blessing that she has from God, but also of the way God favours those who are good-living, but suppresses those who are not – I guess most of us a bit of each – but Mary feels utterly blessed and that is the ground for celebrating her this day.

see Jeffs Jottings – Belief in practice

19th Cycle A

 

The prophet Elijah was a remarkable man and a worker of many miraculous deeds; through him God had raised the dead to life (see 1 Kings 17) and shamed all the ‘pagan’ prophets (1 Kings 18). But he was threatened with death by queen Jezebel and the whole nation seemed to have abandoned their covenant with God. In this disastrous situation for a prophet of God, he was in deep despair and really hoped to end it all by going out into the desert and just lying down to die; but an angel comes and feeds him and tells him to go to mount Horeb (also called Sinai), where Moses had met God and received the Commandments. So, as we read,  he goes and climbs the mountain and his prayer is a complaint to God that things are going very badly for him and he wants only to die. As he sheltered in a cave he expected God to appear in a powerful and dramatic way as He had to Moses, but it turned out that God was in the gentle breeze at the mouth of the cave. And there is a message for readers ever since about where God is to be encountered.

Chapter 9 of Paul’s letter to the Romans marks the beginning of a new thought ( our reading). He has dictated to his scribe all about the immense and wonderful love that God has for us, His chosen ones, shown through the life of Christ, the gift of the Spirit and the expectation of a glorious completion for creation. But then Paul seems to realise that the Jews, the race he belongs to, and in whose traditions he was brought up. – these people were chosen by God, His Son came among them and showed them the way to live for God, yet they have for the most part rejected Jesus and His teaching. Paul feels strongly moved by this thought and, like Jesus, would give his life to bring them into the company of the followers of Jesus’ Way. He starts dictating again with the passage that is the second reading for today. It is a lesson to us of how we should yearn for a better world in conformity to the perfect plan we believe God has for the hole of creation.

The feeding of the multitude of which we read last week, could well have raised people’s hopes that Jesus was going to liberate their country from Roman rule and bring them to salvation in the End of the world event. Jesus wanted to avoid this mistaken impression of him and so rushed the disciples away and off in a boat; and He Himself, to avoid the crowd’s misguided enthusiasm, withdrew from the scene. Even in the early church that Matthew was addressing there could arise this kind of selfish excitement. Then comes the story we hear today; Jesus goes up a mountain though strictly geographically it could only have been a hill; a mountain in the history and understanding of the people of the Bible is the place where you can get close to God. Matthew has already told of the calming of the storm at sea – a sign of God’s power in Christ over the chaos and failures in our world, now he retells it as a sign of the troubles that beset the followers of Jesus, both the disciples and Matthew’s readers. Other gospels have the same story but Matthew adds the incident of walking on water. If God is often seen as the controller of stormy and chaotic waters, then Jesus walking on Galilee’s sea during a storm has a special meaning about him. As in many visions and even post-resurrection appearances it is unclear to the beholders who or what they are seeing. Jesus’ words to the frightened disciples include the name of Yahweh when he says “it is I.” Now there is an example of the nature of Peter, who figures as a leader especially in Matthew’s gospel: Peter is over enthusiastic to the point of rashness, but his keen faith fades, yet is saved when he cries out a prayer in distress; then the storm is calmed and the disciples recognise Jesus as the Son of God. How often we do as keen believers fall short in our faith and need to be saved each time by God?

see Jeffs Jottings – Heed the whisper

18th Cycle A

The Book of Isaiah is not just about the prophet Isaiah, but also contains prophecies from a later period. Prophecy in the Bible is not so much about telling the future as about telling how God is with people and what He plans for them – plans that interpret past events, explain the present and hence indicate the future in general terms. So the slaves in Egypt were liberated, and when they grumbled about being in the desert they were kept there for a whole generation then given their own land; and when they neglected their religion and broke their covenant with God they were taken and annexed by the Babylonians; all the notable people were deported into exile in Babylon. Our reading today comes from a section of the book of Isaiah written during that time; Then there was a new Emperor and perhaps a different attitude to these exiles; the prophet sensed the situation, knew of God’s way in the past and spoke of the good things that God would bring upon the people; they must listen and appreciate this message from God – about God’s way with people, the covenant. It is the same God, with the same attitude, that is with us here and now!

St Paul’s life had not been plain sailing. He began life as a Jew living outside of the Promised Land; he was well educated in the Jewish Law and with a traditional Roman education. He believed that keeping the laws of his religion was important in order to gain favour with God in order to have a blest life. He would have heard of Jesus and those who followed His Way; and he would have seen it to be a life of enthusiasm rather than education, of love above laws, and of forgiveness for any faithlessness. He was all for suppressing this deviant sect of the Jewish religion; he was against the early Christians, before even they were known as Christians. But he changed, he came to see things differently, to see that the covenant relationship with God was essentially a relationship of enthusiasm, of love and of forgiveness. When he converted to become a Christian, he was held in much suspicion by the Church communities and felt exiled from them. But he found that his role was to bring the Good News that he had come to him, to those beyond the Jewish nation; he became an apostle to the Gentiles. For this he was suspect by no less a person than Peter and by many other Jewish Christians. So when he wanted to go to Rome to fulfil his mission he wrote to them to try to assure them of his understanding of the new covenant revealed by Jesus and experienced with the Spirit of God. Throughout his missionary work he suffered expulsion from cities and imprisonment. But in his letter to the Romans, as we read today (omitting verse 36), he firmly accepted that nothing could break the covenant of love that God has with people. – even with him and with us today!

The gospel reading is the miraculous feeding of a multitude; there are six such accounts across the four Gospels, indicating that it was an important story in the teaching of the early church. The early church had developed out from the Jewish religion, believers were first called followers of the Way of Jesus. Their communities would come together weekly to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and there was an enthusiasm and expectation for the End of the world. Sacred meals in the Jewish religion re-enacted the Passover and celebrated God’s leading them safely from Egyptian slavery and making them His people. Jesus, like all Jews, saw the sacred meals as keeping alive and celebrating the covenant relationship between people and God, and at His Last Supper He celebrated the gift of his whole life for the accomplishment of the Covenant. In memory of His completed life’s purpose, the early believers re-enacted this as they came together to strengthen their community in its life of responding to the call and love of God. Their celebrations, as those of Christians to this day, recognise the presence of Christ in our world, the participation we have and commit to increase in this Divine humanity of Christ, leading to the completion of God’s creative enterprise – our world!

see Jeffs Jottings – Know you don’t know

17th cycle A

The two books of Kings are what might be called religious histories of the rulers of the chosen people; they draw from available documentation whatever impinges on religion whether it is the state of or change in religious practice or the personal religion of the king as chosen by God. We might say that history is not so much to learn about the past as to learn from it. David the most lauded of kings was held up as an ideal for the expected coming of a perfect one anointed as king (messiah is the word for the anointed one). But in the section our reading comes from, David is old and ailing and needs to be replaced; this could be by the David’s choice, by successful rivalry of those with royal blood or by a call from God through a prophet. Solomon was so chosen and was anointed king by Zadok the priest. Solomon is noted chiefly for his gift of wisdom. Our reading tells of his acquisition of this gift from the Lord in a dream – a common method for describing this interaction with God in those days. But the really interesting aspect of this account is that Solomon was already wise, wise enough to put aside requests for other gifts other than wisdom. As in this case when we ask God for the right things we find that they have already been gifted to us!

Paul wrote his letter to the Romans to try to show to them the remarkable wonder of his and their faith viz. understanding and cooperating in God’s relationship with them in their Christian communities at that time through the reality and work of the Son and the Spirit. It is quite remarkable that this letter has become part of the Christian Bible and is read by us today so as to become involved in this visionary enterprise of God’s for the world. The three verses we read today follow on from last week’s selection; in that we learnt that we really don’t know what to pray to God for, but the Spirit within us communicates secretly and God responds to that. Although we ourselves have this incompetence, ‘yet’ today’s reading begins “we do know that for those who love God everything cooperates for the good.” Paul’s ancient message is as valid for us today as it was for the Christians of the 1st century: God has our life planned out along the lines of the life of Jesus, our prototype. In this way we are seen by God as in good standing with Him and hence are called to glory.

Chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel is a collection of parables, some of which we have had for readings over the last few weeks. Some of the material is copied from Mark’s gospel and some is unique to this gospel. The words of Jesus would have been spoken to a mostly Jewish group in their own land (although governed by Rome) and of course at a time prior to Christianity and even before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Later, His disciples recalled Jesus’ sayings but in the telling of them, adapted them to the post-resurrection era and for non-Jews as well as Jews. The followers of Jesus’ Way later began to have some organisation and structure, and Matthew’s gospel was written with the new leaders of these communities in mind. So, our reading for this day comprises parables retold to illustrate the need for total commitment from believers, some of whom may have chanced upon Christianity incidentally whereas others have found in it a meaning to life for which they have been searching (like the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price). Even within the communities there are people with different degrees of commitment (like the different fish in a dragnet). And a final word is given to the present leaders (sometimes called scribes) that they must draw on the best of the past but also be prepared to accept new ideas and new ways of following the Way of Jesus.

see Jeffs Jottings – Fr Brown

16th year A

The Book of Wisdom, sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, dates from the first century BC, not that long before the time of Christ. It was written in Greek for Greek speaking Jews who were quite numerous in the Jewish quarter of the famous city of Alexandria, then capital of Egypt. This city at that time was famous for its development of culture, science and mathematics (through names like Euclid and Archimedes), but also for its exploration of different ways of life like magic, mystery religions and Stoicism (which we might call new age or humanism). Alexandria was famous as a centre of learning, for its Library of about half a million books, and its teaching Museum. Here was produced the Septuagint (LXX) – the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Wisdom of Solomon is a book not in the Protestant Bible but Catholics and Episcopalians accept it. In our reading there is a real sense of sin but this is accompanied with a realisation of the infinite power of God to forgive, overcome and counteract the effects of sin; and the lesson we should learn from this is about our own attitude to others. It introduces the notion of the justice of God and presents the thought that because of His greatness God’s justice can include leniency – a supportive message for those living in such a modern and secular society as then in Alexandria and as here today.

We read again this week a little more from this key chapter in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have a greater exposure to the Universe and to the science of its material composition than Paul had in his day. In the previous verses (8:22-25), he has written of God’s effort in creating and of His help in our hope of overcoming human frailty and becoming what God wants us to be. But here we read that we don’t even know what to hope and pray for, yet God’s Spirit works in us as He does in the whole of creation, and utters the prayer that we cannot express. The Greek word for this way of saying what we ourselves cannot understand is the basis of our word stenography; that meant the use of shorthand to record spoken (dictated) text; but in our technological age, it is also used for the encryption of text within a file (of an image or of video) so that only the intended recipient can read it. The words that the Spirit utters are concealed in the inadequate prayers we make and are understood, accepted and answered by God.

 

This long reading is shortened in many churches by leaving out verses 31-35 which contain two short parables about the mustard seed and the yeast. Without these we have a parable and its explanation. The parable itself (verses 24-30) is about good seed growing up surrounded by weeds; these are not dealt with until the crop is harvested; this is what the kingdom of God is likened to. The weeds, called tares in the older translations, are probably zizania or darnel, which are fairly indistinguishable at first from the wheat among which they grow. This parable is not in the other Gospels in the New Testament, but it probably was developed from a simpler seed parable, as a way to illustrating the admixture in our world and even within Christian communities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people; and also to say you cannot sort them out in this life, but at the final judgement, then they will be dealt with appropriately by God.

see Jeffs Jottings – Sophie

15th cycle A

The first reading may well have been written after the poem in Genesis at the beginning of the Bible. In that poem it is the word of God that brings things about, it reads: “God said, let there be light and there was light;” and so with all the things the poem mentions, they are created by God saying “let there be…”. But in our first reading today the word of God is treated more as a reality like the rain or snow that comes from God, it is the word of God that comes down to bring about in our world what God wants done; the word of God has the power of creating. This part of the Book of Isaiah communicates hope, for God always achieves what He plans – we have reason to rejoice, and we believe now that “the Word became human” (John 1:14).

The second reading reminds us that creation is an ongoing process the end of which will be ‘glorious.’ The world we experience is not complete yet, indeed we are part of this unfinished process of creation, and it is we who sometimes hinder its progress through our failings, selfishness and sin, when we do not live up to our calling as children of God. However God’s powerful Spirit plays a part in creation, as we can read in the opening poem of the Bible, where it says: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). The urge towards the glorious fulfilment of this process of creation is described as the groaning of the spirit; the Spirit is within us, anxious to express the life of God in the way we live, we just have to let it work its power in us and we shall become the person God wants us to be. People who live in a beautiful land of hills and mountains might appreciate these readings more, especially the the verse which follows the first reading from Isaiah (55:12):-

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

 

The scene in the gospel is very understandable: Jesus, who spoke words that seemed so encouraging to many ordinary people, attracted a following and a crowd who wanted to hear him; in a boat just off the shore or sometimes up a prominence, it was a more convenient for him to be seen and heard by all who wished to hear him. His manner of speaking was natural for one brought up in a small village in the countryside, and was readily understood, at least at its surface meaning; but the deeper meaning of his parables and illustrations might only be appreciated by those who were wanting, or willing to try to live with a deeper and more challenging commitment to the ways of God. His teachings and parables would have been re-used by his disciples and followers in the early days; they would have been developed and adapted to the new situation after the resurrection and when the church spread and struggled in the secular world. So the different types of seed in the reading might refer to the different kinds of Christians addressed. Even today some who join the church respond differently, some very enthusiastic at first but then tailing off, others unable to maintain their commitment because of their immersion in a society of different standards, but there will be some who “produce fruit” to various degrees.

see Jeffs Jottings – The Idea of God

14th Sunday A

The Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, is divided into three parts; in order of importance they are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings; the Prophets covers the major writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, followed by the 12 Minor Prophets; the last of these is Malachi which is headed, ‘an Oracle,” and before that is Zechariah from which today’s first reading is taken; chapters and 9, 11, 12 and14 are each also called ‘Oracle.’  Our reading is taken from the first of these oracles. The first verses before it are about the ill-fate of the nations surrounding Judah, but our reading contrasts that with the announcement of a great king, who is righteous and saves – often translated simply as being triumphant and victorious. Yet as well as being great he does not ride the horse of a warrior but a simpler, and maybe humbler, donkey. The last oracles in the collection of the Prophets were added by a later editor, we cannot be sure of their date nor consequently of the circumstances to which they refer. The general message is one of ‘God will save His people;’ and Christians would see this as a reference to Jesus who was selfless and humble and He certainly makes salvation available to us. The other readings might elaborate on the practical ‘workings’ of this process for individuals.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is largely an exposition of how he perceives the whole relationship between people and God. The section we have today follows one about the human and particularly Jewish situation: we are inevitably going to die someday; we are going to suffer from both the wickedness of those around us and our own stupidity and sinfulness; for the Jews there is also the difficulty of trying to keep all the rules of their Law and of their religion; and we might add nowadays that the world in which we live brings disasters that are both natural and brought about by our own misuse of nature. A satisfactory solution to this comes from God. Hence in our extract Paul identifies the problem in our lives with the word ‘flesh’ – we live according to the flesh; and the solution is to live instead in the spirit – the Spirit of God in us. These two sides (literally of flesh and spirit) are difficult to translate and as we try to see what it means it is worth looking at the variety of attempts at translation though many are still too literal. This reading is noteworthy for its emphasis on the Spirit, Who is often played down in favour of the Creator, father-figure and the sacrifice for our sins of His Son; some theologians think this has come about because those in authority in the Church, as anywhere, like things to be orderly and under control rather than inspired by enthusiasm or a spirit of freedom.

The gospel comes from a tradition also used by Luke and its language about the Father and Son and their relationship to us is almost in the style of some parts of John’s gospel. There is also the contrast in believers, between those who rely on their own sophistication to know something of God, and children who generally just accept what they are told and seems obvious.  The second part can easily be read as saying that Jesus will bring us relaxation and an easy life; but we should note that we will have a burden and a yoke, but when it is Christ’s it is not so burdensome because He carries it too!

see Jeffs Jottings – Wise guys

SS Peter and Paul

In the Acts 12:1-11 Luke is writing the remarkable account of the expansion of Christianity and the development of the church; and this is despite external opposition, even persecution, and their leaders’ inadequacies and failings. The story is built around the two different characters in the early church of Peter and Paul. Whereas Peter was a headstrong, simple Galilean Jewish fisherman who followed Jesus throughout His public ministry, Paul was a well educated Jew and Roman citizen living outside of the Jewish territory, who after a special encounter with Jesus turned from antagonism to christians to become an apostle Christianity to the Gentiles. The phrase “in those days” at the beginning of today’s reading, alludes to the time when the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the surrounding area expanded and even included followers of Jesus’ Way who were not Jews – they were Samaritans or even Gentiles. It was this expansion that began to cause disturbances in Jerusalem. Herod, the local ruler, wanted to keep the peace in order to retain favour within the Roman empire, and so began to arrest the Jewish Christian leaders who were the source of the trouble. So our reading concerns the imprisonment of Peter; it was during the feast of unleavened Bread – a sacred time in Jerusalem – so he would be executed after the Passover, as James had been earlier. The story of his escape was passed down by word of mouth and that is what is related here by Luke. This is a good story illustrating how faith can lead us into difficulties and yet God can save us.

The two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus are together called the pastoral epistles. They may well date from about the year 100 AD at a time when the organisation of the body of Christians was developing and the difficulties of admitting Gentiles and the like were overcome. But at that time part of the difficulty was the distance in time since Jesus, and even since the time of the disciples who knew him. So these letters are about life and practice in this later church. But the letters do include some passages that seem most likely to come from Paul himself, and our reading today is from one of these sections. In the first paragraph Paul writes about himself in later life as he looks back on the devoted life that he has led and looks forward to his expected reward like that of all who work for the fullness of coming of Christ on earth. The second paragraph in the original begins with a “But” because the text tells of the loneliness and difficult situation of Paul – even being unsupported when taken to court – which explains the ‘but’ before our second paragraph. On this feast of Peter and Paul, this reading shows Paul as a saint in the sense of the word, someone that we would do well to emulate; we should be pouring out our lives for God’s work and confident that the Lord is with us even at difficult times and that we shall eventually get our reward.

Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah is told in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). But Matthew, which we read today, adds a commissioning of Peter to be a leader of the church. This may be because the churches for which Matthew is particularly writing had a special respect for Peter their founder and leader for a time. He is called a rock, which is what Peter means. Neverthe less he also was the most headstrong disciple who so often let Jesus down. This is why he is an admiral saint – someone we can look to emulate in some way because even when we mess things up we can be sorry, be forgiven and still go on to do good things. He was eventually executed for his faith in Rome. Catholics particularly view him as the first overall leader of the Church worldwide – a Pope

There is a delightful incident about Rhoda (in our language Rose) which follows our first reading and is the subject of my jotting this week.

click Jeffs Jottings – the lassie Rose

12th Sunday of Year A

The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah displays a common pattern in the experiences of all humans when they are intending to do their best and what they think is right. In this 7th century BC this prophet really feels the call from God to try to bring the people – all people – back into a good relationship with a loving God and to preach with severity and reproach against the poor behaviour of his people. It seems almost natural that they oppose him more and more as he upbraids them – and Jeremiah had a really tough time. But he earnestly wants to believe that God will see him alright in the end, will put his accuses to shame; he has faith yet it is shot through with human weakness for he hopes and expects that God will ‘get His own back’ on these miscreants … Jeremiah hopes for revenge! The best of us will still get things wrong about God and His ways.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wants to express the central beliefs he has as a follower of Christ. In this brief extract we see evidence of his Jewish education, in that he sees the story of Adam in the bible in two ways: it is about the temptation of the first man to do what is forbidden, the giving-in to this lure and the consequent expulsion from the happy situation in the garden of Eden for himself and for the whole human race that descended from him; but it also sees Adam as a representation of the general human condition, the fact that all of us will be tempted, will give in to temptation and in consequence suffer some sort of alienation from reality and our true selves. Sin is not just breaking a rule, but falling short of the sort of human one could and ought to be. However, Jesus is the man who has reversed this situation for everyone (which is the import of his phrase “for many”).

The extract from Matthew that is today’s gospel reading comes after Jesus has been telling his followers that they will face persecution but will be loved by God, whatever people do to them that is hurtful. Jesus says that all will be made clear and will make sense in the end. It is strange that Matthew uses terms like body and soul, because this way of seeing a person was that of the Greek culture whereas Matthew is generally more influenced by Jewish teaching in which this distinction isn’t made – but his audience would be Diaspora Jews. But we should have reverential fear for God, though He loves all his creation especially humans. This whole passage might give us an insight into some of the difficulties Jesus’ followers might be having at the time Matthew is writing – after the destruction of the Temple about 70 AD

see Jeffs Jottings – Do something about it

Corpus Christi

The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, which comes from the Greek words for five and for scroll; together these books are called the Law, particularly in the Jewish religion. The last of these five books is called Deuteronomy, which come from the Greek words for second and for law, because this book is like a summing up of the laws and experiences of the previous books of the Law. It is chiefly a story of the relationship between God and the people; He saves and looks after them time and again in wonderful ways, they repeatedly complain and let Him down – it’s the story of our lives too, perhaps. The verses we have today focus on the manna, which they received as a gift from God when they found themselves in the desert with no knowledge of how to survive there and hence made a complaint against God for leading them there through Moses. Manna was seen as miraculous food that was the gift of life for them from God even though they were not deserving. From this it is clear how this is related to the sacrament of Communion.

The second reading is just a couple of verses from a letter of Paul to the Corinthians written about the year 54 AD. The selection follows on well after the first reading where the wanderers in the desert formed a community chosen by God, protected by Him and often failing to please Him. The Corinthians are living in a pagan setting and can easily fall into the pagan ways; so two verses earlier, Paul writes to them, “my dear friends, flee from idolatry!” Then, like a good teacher or caring and tactful parent, he tells them to be sensible – as they are – and asks them to think carefully about what he is going to say (“I am speaking as to sensible people: judge for yourselves what I say”); this is what precedes our reading. The Christians in Corinth would come together, probably weekly, to share a meal; it was a custom imported from Jewish practice to have a prayer of thanks during the drinking of a cup of wine, and also to break and share bread to symbolise their fellowship. The Christian Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) developed from this. But here Paul is thinking of the Blood of Christ as the life He led and the death He met for the sake of others – including the Corinthians and us today; he makes it quite clear that for the sharing of bread he is thinking of the body of Christians gathered together who now live out the life of Christ in their lives. The more specific beliefs that the feast of Corpus Christi celebrates developed gradually in the churches and can differ across the denominations.

What we read for today’s gospel is a section of a lengthy discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s gospel, after his telling of the miraculous feeding of the multitude. The discourse has already referred to the manna in the desert (vv32f) which links with today’s first reading. In the discourse the use of “living bread” is similar to the “living water” in the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well (John 4:7-15), both are to do with eternal life. Jesus has already said in this speech that believing is what leads to this special life, but in our reading He is clearly referring to the Eucharist, for his phrases mirror those of the Last Supper as told elsewhere in the New Testament. Here, however, the word ‘flesh’ replaces the more usual ‘body.’ John has used this word when describing how God came to be one of us (“the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” John 1:14). Some recent (adventurous) translations have replaced ‘flesh’ in this verse with ‘human,’ but the word, even in English today, has other connotations in phrases like ‘in the flesh’, ‘it makes my flesh creep’ and ‘she’s my own flesh and blood.’) Here together with ‘blood,’ it clearly refers to the Eucharist especially the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ whole life and death – this is what offers us eternal life, and what we celebrate this day!

See Jeffs Jottings – The body of Christ